MAYA'S BEAUTY COLUMN: BLONDE KANYE & "IRONY"
There are two things I know for certain: that Kanye West is esoterically important and that I misspoke in my last column when I dubbed him a “fallen brother.” Where these two intersect is quite obvious given recent events surrounding the notions of Ye’s new “vibes.”
There is a lot of talk about what Kanye means by his TMZ interview and seemingly schizophrenic (as alleged by many Reddit threads) tweets. The people are divided over Kanye just as they were divided over Tr*mp, which is ironic for obvious reasons (pssst, Kanye’s ~bLaCk~ and Tr*mp’s racist). But besides all this, here’s my theory:
I believe this is all rooted in Blonde-Ye. This whole shebang began in 2013 when he revealed YEEZUS tour tee shirts donning the confederate flag. Two years later, he rocked a bomber jacket with a confederate flag, and the Met Gala of 2016 had Kanye serving us a trippy blue-eyed moment with colored contacts. Following Kanye’s hospital release at the end of that year, he even sported an Aryan-esque brassy blonde scalp with eyebrows to match. A confederate flag, blue eyes, and blonde hair – where am I going with this?
Kanye’s adoption of classic racist symbols on his own Black body is no coincidence in my opinion. We all know that Kanye’s, well, like that. Since his 2006 interview on television following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when he declared, “George W. Bush doesn’t care about Black people,” we’ve all been aware of what underscores all of his creative ventures. Kanye West’s name in fashion can easily be grouped with P. Diddy, Shayne Oliver, and now Virgil Abloh under the unifying rarity of succeeding as a Black designer with full ownership of a namesake brand. (And I am not even going to bring up College Dropout because you already know wus good widdat.)
This “old Kanye” is confusing when juxtaposed to the new one – you know, the Kanye that tweets in support of Trump and says that slavery is a choice. And Ye’s self-aware 2016 track ‘I Love Kanye’ only further complicates the issue. It’s hard to keep in touch with government questioning, beat chopping, pink polo clad Kanye, when he very seriously raps the words “poopity scoop” following a pro-Tr*mp Internet rant. So, have we lost Brother Kanye?
Quick answer: no, look at his hair. Specifically, Kanye’s blonde moments considered in conjunction with his creative drops connote the same message that ‘I Love Kanye’ does: that Brother Kanye is self-aware. In 2015 I wrote something on my personal blog about how the whole “that’s some white people shit” joke is the most colloquial Black irony of the Black comedic sphere. The joke is ironic in the sense that it can be used to say something like, “What? Eating healthy? That’s some white people shit,” as a means to call into question why something as productive as eating healthily MUST be considered ‘a white thing.’
The whole reductive “Black people don’t do that” assumption is something that I think Kanye is trying to challenge by presenting ironic images of a Black person appropriating symbols of white power the same way white people co-opt Black artforms and aesthetics. He’s not trying to say that racism and appropriation go both ways, but to point out how we can only see this when a Black man doesn’t act how he’s supposed to, because “Black people don’t do that.”
In terms of his hair, Kanye sporting a blonde skinhead with blonde eyebrows references the symbol of a born-this-way Aryan hair look that, with its hegemonic power contrasted with the way a powerful Black man is supposed to act, and I think that this highlights some self-awareness.
Kanye has provoked all Internet people who overuse the word “problematic,” and I’m kind of in the same boat but for a different reason. In trying to break this mold of the limited image of Black men, he inadvertently alienates the community. There’s a reason why there are stereotypes of Black people, and it’s slavery. Black people have to be more aware and twice as good to be considered alongside their white counterparts. This is not news, and Black people and minorities have build structures – both real and ideological – to make sure we can survive in a system built on our backs.
Kanye is able to say some bullshit like “slavery was a choice” because in late stage capitalism, his money has given him a taste of the economic privilege white people are set up to earn with comparative ease, even if they aren’t already born into historically wealthy families. In ‘New Slaves,’ Kanye addresses the monetization of Blacks at the hands of a capitalism that sells the only consumable image of success as buying things, and compares that mindset to slavery.
The very obvious problem is that it is incredibly easy for Kanye to say “slavery is a choice” when his money (which he largely earns via white spectatorship) has unlocked a level of privilege that grants imagination. Those ideological structures within the Black community that I mentioned previously are limiting; I can attest to this as the weird Black kid who liked to wear dresses over their bootcuts in elementary school and had two try-hard goth phases in their budding adolescence. My being bullied for being the weird Black kid by Black kids is not justified, but understood, because not only am I mixed race, but I grew up with enough money to buy the imaginative point of view that is systematically kept away from minorities.
But to say that the structures of self-regulation that Black people, yes, Kanye, HAVE created for themselves, is comparable to willful enslavement is wrong; it completely fails to mention the fact that those structures are ways for Black people to survive in a system that tries and succeeds in killing hoards of us every day. Ye, your money that you earned from suburban white boys yelling ‘Niggas in Paris’ bought your ability to think this freely and inadvertently condemn your own community. Please think about this, because I love you and I think you misspoke in your own Ye way.
All of that being said: this is not a personal Kanye issue, this is an issue with latestage capitalism that guilty white liberals love to martyr themselves for in their own indirectly-yet-still-very-real way. Kanye KNOWS how he is consumed and plays into it because it can get him paid but *yawn* we’ve seen that before. Kanye’s become self-aware of his self-awareness, and now it’s time to get ironic. His art has evolved. Not only does he appropriate white symbols, but he appropriates the same art styles that get rich white people paid – only difference is Kanye is Black.
Here’s where I’m at ideologically with this: think of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Imagine if that classic absurdist, messy irony was written and portrayed by a Black cast.
To me, Kanye is that Black cast, and people are tearing their hair out over how “problematic” he is when he’s just co-opting a form of irony that literally classified edgy white media and art.
So, here’s a half-statement to be interpreted as half-question to you, Brother Kanye, from a fan: whatever you’re doing Ye, I don’t want to assume the direction of your agency. You could be trolling us, you could be making a point about how a Black man’s agency is all too often forced into a tight mold that you want to break, you could be serious. (Hey, look at Ben Carson.) But that’s up to you, and your power or celebrity status should not affect your right to be problematic. Especially when all artistic signs point to your appropriation of Tr*mp culture as a really cool, meta way to critique guilty whites with good rhythm and a large outer circle of Black friends.
I believe Blonde-Ye is trying to call for the depoliticization of morals and social alignments, and I believe he’s doing it through irony because that’s how rich white artists become, well, rich white artists. I’m not 100% sure what he’s doing, but I feel like it’s important. Our labels of things reduce the actual meaning behind activism and human rights to products and consumable images. Now Ye’s a non-consumable image in an attempt to shift the way Black people see themselves. Is it his responsibility? No. Is the way he’s doing it with a 24-minute album (it slaps, of course) and weird veiled statements of possible Black-on-Black discrimination? Yeah. But don’t get it twisted because Ye’s a celebrity, and his whole Blonde-Ye image is merely a device of what he wants us to see.
All of that from some damn hair.