After listening to Kanye West's rambling, unhinged-from-reality monologue at the White House last week before a rapt President Donald Trump, I thought, “This must be what the producers of the iconic Negro College Fund slogan — a mind is a terrible thing to waste — meant.”
It was simply stunning and frightening to hear the words that came out of the mouth of such a talented musician and successful businessman.
Trump, Kanye said in so many words, is the dad he has always dreamed of having. Trump, he said, “makes me feel like superman,” and the president’s “Make America Great Again” hat “gives me power” and is his Superman cape.
Hillary, he loves, but her campaign “I'm with her” slogan just didn’t provide him with the male energy he needed, he said.
I was ready to tune him out, until he repeated his past statement that the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, should be abolished.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: “Doesn’t this fool understand that if it wasn’t for the 13th Amendment, he would probably still be picking cotton on some plantation in the South?"
That was my thinking, too, but it occurred to me that Kanye, who received a scholarship out of high school to attend the American Academy of Art in Chicago, and later did some college work at Chicago State University, and whose mother was a college professor, and who has been described as being "among the most critically acclaimed musicians of the 21st century," is no dummy.
Yet, his bizarre fascination with the 13th Amendment begs an explanation beyond him simply being misinformed, and since no one has yet offered one, I'll take a stab at it.
It’s purely conjecture, but Kanye, I believe, has a case of legitimate paranoia - you know, the paranoia that grips most every African-American, the fear that no matter how far you move up the social ladder, the rug can be pulled from under you at any moment. It is possible that Kanye, who aspires to be a billionaire, is experiencing a heightened level of this paranoia, since the closer he gets to his goal the more he stands to lose.
Now, most of us tend to look at the 13th Amendment as the law that abolished slavery and paved the way, at least on the books, for former slaves to gain full emancipation. Yet, Kanye, like too many African-Americans, knows that the laws on the books aren’t necessarily honored in practice.
From its passage up until this moment, for example, the promise of the 13th Amendment, along with the 14th Amendment, which provided former slaves with citizenship rights and equal protection of the law, and the 15th Amendment, which prohibits the state and federal governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on race and color, has been thwarted by those wishing to limit African-American participation in this democracy.
I won’t go into all the shenanigans they have played on African-Americans, but here are a few:
• The Black Codes the Southern states created after slavery was abolished.
“Under Black Codes, many states required blacks to sign yearly labor contracts; if they refused, they risked being arrested, fined and forced into unpaid labor,” an entry on History.Com notes. A peonage system also strapped large numbers of black workers with loads of debt, which led many to work indefinitely, given their inability to repay the loans.
• The Jim Crow laws, which established rigid racial segregation in public facilities in the former Confederate States.
• Criminal justice practices that disproportionately incarcerate African-Americans.
• The many attempts to strip African-Americans of their voting rights - literacy tests, poll taxes, primaries in which only whites were allowed to vote, intimidation by violent white supremacist groups, etc.
Even now, the accusation by voting rights advocacy groups in Georgia that Brian Kemp, the Republican candidate for governor in that state, who is in charge of elections and voter registration, is using his position to suppress African-American votes in the upcoming midterm election shows how insidious the efforts can be.
According to advocacy groups, Kemp is using a questionable processing approach to hold up some 53,000 voter registration applications, the majority from African-Americans. Kemp contends that his actions in this case, along with the more than 1.4 million voter registrations he has canceled since 2012, are merely an effort to protect the integrity of the state’s elections.
If true, that supports my earlier contention that laws on the books to protect African-Americans don't necessarily do so.
Now, some of us might look at the 13th Amendment as a safety net, the thing that keeps African-Americans from falling back into slavery. But to Kanye, it is a “trapdoor” in the Constitution.
“Why would you keep something around that is a trapdoor,” he said of the 13th Amendment at that White House event.
“If you are building a floor … the Constitution is a base … a foundation of our … country, would you build a trapdoor that if you messed up, and you accidentally … fall and you end up next to the Unabomber? You got to remove that trapdoor out of the relationship.”
Here is something important to keep in mind. You have to understand the way Kanye’s mind works. He is a “creative genius" (his words), so you have to listen between the phrases when he speaks.
When he thinks of the 13th Amendment, in his mind it reminds him that his freedom, his ability to make money and to rub shoulders with people like President Trump are based on a trick and a trap. So when he says it should be abolished, he is speaking symbolically of the urgency with which the country needs to rid itself of all the traps that it has set in the path of African-Americans.
It’s a subtle but powerful political message from our creative genius. Of course, until that happens, Kanye doesn’t seem to mind selling his soul in the hopes it will help him avoid those traps.
If you have a better explanation, I'd love to hear it.