Kanye West suggests slavery was "a choice," tweets false Harriet Tubman quote

Luckily, people who do read books and know history took the recording artist to task

Published May 2, 2018 4:06PM (EDT)

Kanye West (AP/Evan Agostini)
Kanye West (AP/Evan Agostini)

Kanye West went to TMZ's headquarters Tuesday to continue the self-described "free thinking" expression that has consumed his Twitter feed – and the conversation across social media. He told the newsroom, "When you hear about slavery for 400 years . . . For 400 years? That sounds like a choice."

West continued, "You were there for 400 years, and it's all of y'all. It's like we're mentally imprisoned."

Since the Chicago recording artist returned to Twitter mid-April, his tweets have largely ranged from trite to obnoxious and offensive. His endorsements of far-right pundit Candace Owens and President Donald Trump and the "Make America Great Again" movement seemed shallow, but had real-world implications. (In a recent article for Salon, D. Watkins asked, "Are Kanye's 'crazy' pro-Trump tweets just hype for a new album?") Trump later tweeted, "Kanye West has performed a great service to the black community . . ."

TMZ employee Van Lathan responded to West's deeply uninformed remark in the newsroom. "While you are making music and being an artist and living the life that you've earned by being a genius, the rest of us in society have to deal with these threats to our lives," Lathan said. "We have to deal with the marginalization that's come from the 400 years of slavery that you said for our people was a choice."

He added, "Frankly, I'm disappointed, I'm appalled, and brother, I am unbelievably hurt by the fact that you have morphed into something, to me, that's not real."

Rather than take in the lecture, or perhaps decide to read more on the subject, as West's comment indicates he done zero research on the myriad of ways people who were enslaved resisted daily, he doubled down on Twitter.

"To make myself clear, of course I know that slaves did not get shackled and put on a boat by free will," he tweeted. "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 added, "The reason why I brought up the 400 years point is because we can't be mentally imprisoned for another 400 years. We need free thought now. Even the statement was an example of free thought. It was just an idea."

To back up his claims of so-called mentally enslavement, he attributed a quote to Harriet Tubman: "I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves." The fact-checking site Snopes concluded that there is "no evidence a famous quote often attributed to the African-American abolitionist was actually spoken by her." The tweet has since been deleted.

CNN's Don Lemon responded to the tweets. "He's embarrassing himself actually," he said. "Because he doesn't know history . . . He doesn't read."

Lemon continued, "Just because people feel a certain way about slavery and about the African-American experience in this country, there's a reason why there's a consensus around that – because of facts."

And Lemon was not alone. A chorus of individuals were outraged by West's abhorrent statement, especially after the recent opening of The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration in Montgomery, AL, which was built on land where enslaved people were imprisoned.

Filmmaker Ava Duvernay used photos from the museum to illuminate her disgust for West's (and R. Kelly's) words.

Historian Blair L. M. Kelley further interrogated West's point with some added details that he either didn't know or neglected to consider.

Haven’t watched the whole Kanye event today, working my way up to it. I will say, that a milder version of the “slavery is a choice” argument is made by uninformed people all the time. I’ve had young men in my courses say “they never would have enslaved me.”

— Blair LM Kelley (@profblmkelley) May 2, 2018

People aren’t aware of the alienation of people ripped from their homes, abused, walked hundreds of miles across Africa, sometimes so far they ceased understanding the language spoken around them...

— Blair LM Kelley (@profblmkelley) May 2, 2018



Could they have survived being sold like a good at market by people in a foreign land speaking a foreign tongue? Could they have survived torturous work, in scraps of clothing eating the food that was unwanted? — Blair LM Kelley (@profblmkelley) May 2, 2018 Not only did my ancestors and Kanye’s ancestors survive, they managed to make a way to make a new culture, remake family and faith. And in the process, make a culture so formidable that it continues to change the world. — Blair LM Kelley (@profblmkelley) May 2, 2018

#IfSlaveryWasAChoice later became a trending hashtag on Twitter as users mocked the absurdity of Kanye's statements.


By Rachel Leah

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

America Ava Duvernay Cnn Don Lemon History Kanye West Racism Slavery Tmz