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“When you hear about slavery for 400 years — for 400 years? That sounds like a choice…"

Updated: Jan 21, 2023

Kanye, already silver surfing the MAGA waves, and seemingly at the peak of his exhausting talking run, made some of his biggest ripples and broke the hearts of his remaining long-suffering supporters with his slavery was a choice comments in 2017. He later admitted to the New York Times that his words were so extreme that he worried that Kim was considering leaving him over the interview, saying, "There was a moment where I felt like after TMZ, maybe a week after that, I felt like the energy levels were low, and I called different family members and was asking, you know, ‘Was Kim thinking about leaving me after TMZ?’”  Ye literally had to ~vibe check~ his family after that absurd statement. If you watch the TMZ clip, my personal favorite moment is immediately after Kanye posits his slavery as a choice theory, he engages the pause known to Black men the country over where they wait for you to affirm the brilliance that’s just departed their mouths. Yeezy really believed he had struck some new gold right there.

While he and his wife would be quick to tell you he never said slavery was a choice, what he did actually say was that “sounds like a choice to me” which sounds like he said that it was a choice … to me.  Later that day Yeezy doubled down on Twitter:  "Of course I know that slaves did not get shackled and put on a boat by free will My point is for us to have stayed in that position even though the numbers were on our side means that we were mentally enslaved.” 

Kanye rarely apologizes. He apologized here, kind of. In an interview with hometown-hero station WGCI, Kanye said, “I don’t know if I properly apologized for how the slavery comment made people feel… I’m sorry for the one-two effect of the MAGA hat into the slave comment, and I’m sorry for people that felt let down by that moment." Yeezy didn’t withdraw his comments or support for the Orange Atrocity, but the fact remains that an apology from Kanye to the public is so rare it's like a white guy who defers to the opinion of a Black woman.  However, two years after the initial abhorrent statement, Kanye said, “If they throwing slave nets again, how about we don’t all stand in the exact same place” at Howard University (an HBCU no-less!!).

In terms of Kanye statements, the slavery was a choice comment is likely the God-wrong, Alpha and Omega of wrongs. How wrong is Kanye, a wise Lindsey Lohan once said, “The Limit Does Not Exist.” Let’s look at the history of this so-called choice shall we. 

The history of the African slave trade is a long one, and we’re dealing with the pernicious effects of its legacy to this day. In this long history, there are a number of approaches that show how Yeezy’s insulting theory falls completely apart. We could start with the slave trade, outlining the brutal and gruesome ways people were kidnapped from their lands, chained, and forced on a nightmare journey across the Atlantic. We could talk about the putrid conditions Africans faced on the journey to hell. We could talk about those that jumped, or those who made it to the auctioning blocks. We could talk about all the gory details Hollywood won’t let us stop reliving. Meanwhile, the world we live in is chained to legacy of this atrocity (see Ta-Nehisi Coates The Case for Reparations). Kanye seems to think that if the slaves had just used slack to organize better they could have overcome their abusive oppressors and change the course of American history. In just moments, Kanye insulted the immense suffering of our grandparents, and trivialized one of the greatest obscenities of humankind.

Ye is not the first man enabled by an audience to attempt faulting African-American slaves for their bondage. In his book American Negro Slave Revolts, historian Herbert Aptheker points out the theories of racist-ass Harvard historian James Schouler, according to Henry Louis Gates Jr. Schouler’s 1882 writing speaks of the “innate patience, docility and child-like simplicity of the negro” who was “easily intimidated, incapable of deep plots.”  

Schouler and Yeezy rely on insulting intuitions to suggest the compliance of Black American slaves ensured their enslavement for 400 years until political expediency ended the country’s “peculiar institution." Both ignore the willful, institutional barriers the slaves' white oppressors enacted that maintained the country's evil system for centuries.

Firstly, Black slaves in the antebellum states composed about 1/3 of the American south. While they were certainly numerous, they were also severely outnumbered by their oppressors. Additionally, they were faced with a number of systematic obstacles to ensure that rebellions would be few and easily quashed. Plantations in the US were much smaller than those below the equator in the Caribbean and South American. Therefore, the greater number of uprisings in those regions of the slave-holding Americas can be partially attributed to the advantage of larger slave communities. Additionally, plantations themselves in the American south were so spread out that congregation, whether legal or illegal, was especially difficult for America’s early Black population. In fact, as the editors of point out, US slave revolts occurred more often in urban areas or on small farms, where slaves could meet more regularly, instead of the plantations. 

In addition to physical barriers, laws governing slavery also worked to quell the likeliness of revolt. Many of these laws restricting movement, assembly, and the education of Black people were established following Nat Turner’s Rebellion, when a group of slaves led by Nat Turner organized a rebellion, killing around 60 white people en route to freedom in Spanish-controlled Florida.

The consistent infringement on the rights of the outnumbered slaves as well as the geographical limitations of their spheres effectively worked to stem any rebellions that could break out in the American south. Despite these limiting factors, a number of slaves were able to uprise and revolt. As we know, none of these revolts were as successful as ending slavery as much as a flawed little document called the Emancipation Proclamation, but they're a testament to the sheer strength and willpower of the Americans slaves that Yeezy and Schouler say didn't exist. Here's a cursory (extremely cursory, we should all dedicate time to reading more in-depth about slave revolts) overview of a few rebellions in the land that slavery built.

Nat Turner’s Rebellion 

The most famous rebellion in the United States territory is likely the 1831 Nat Turner’s Rebellion. The revolt, also known as the Southhampton Insurrection, started when the educated Nat Turner organized a group of slaves to uprise. The rebels traveled from house to house in Southhampton County, Virginia killing white household members and freeing the slaves that resided in the homes. They killed around 60 people before state militias and American military stopped them. Around 60 Black people were executed and an estimated 120 more were murdered. Many of those murdered were not themselves involved in the rebellion. Following the revolt, new laws were passed restricting education for Black slaves and limiting their movement. 

Stono Rebellion 

The 1739 Stono Rebellion took place in colonial South Carolina. An educated slave named Jemmy, who is also sometimes referred to as Cato, led 20 slaves in a march bound for Spanish Florida. En route, they recruited another 60 other slaves while killing around 20 white people before they were stopped by militia. The Stono Rebellion also resulted in legislature restricting the movement, education and rights to assembly for enslaved people.

German Coast Uprising

Inspired by the massive successful Haitian uprising in 1804, slaves in US territory revolted 7 years later 40 miles north of New Orleans in the German Coast area of Louisiana. Charles Deslondes organized a group of people to revolt starting at the Andry plantation, where they killed the owner and his family. As they traveled to New Orleans, their numbers grew to include hundreds of rebels. US Army soldiers and militia stopped their movement, and the groups battled until the slaves ran out of ammunition. Enslaved people who were not killed by the US fighters were later executed. 

These three rebellions are just a few examples of the times in which Black Americans boldly dared to reclaim their personhood so violently taken from them.  All this to say, Wake Up Mr. West, you have disrespected the lives of those who endured lifetimes of obscene struggle. The Black architects of the United States had no choice in their bondage, but Kanye does have a choice in how he uses his platform. Saying absurd shit on TMZ? That sounds like a choice to me. So what to do today in the face of his wrongness? Support Black business, read a book, and vote often and always for candidates that support reparations.


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