The emotional labor of being a Kanye West fan is not paying off

We get enough of this from people we actually work with, Ye

Published May 4, 2018 6:59PM (EDT)

Kanye West (Getty/Dimitrios Kambouris)
Kanye West (Getty/Dimitrios Kambouris)

Kanye West is a longtime champion of offering up “new ideas,” as he raps in his newly released single “Ye vs. the People.” The Chicago rapper has proven to be outspoken throughout his career, growing more and more free with sharing his ideas over time. Celebrities' public opinions more often than not don’t come packaged with a line of reason, but Kanye’s most recent reemergence on Twitter has still left many puzzled.

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve watched one of the rap game’s top provocateurs reemerge on Twitter after a year-long hiatus. He started with show-and-tell, posting photos of his most recent line of Yeezus apparel and news of upcoming production credits, including the release of his album. Then his tweets became erratic. Less than a week after his return, West praised YouTuber Candace Owens, an African-American Trump supporter who regularly criticizes the Black Lives Matter movement. In his latest frenzy of tweets, he’s also professed his love for President Donald Trump, claimed Yeezus’ success has outpaced that of Jordan Brand and bashed former President Barack Obama for the perceived shortcoming of not fixing all of Chicago’s problems while he was in office.

Lately, the rapper’s public journal entrees seem to serve no other purpose than trolling those most invested in his career, particularly the African-American community.

Many fans who have paid attention to key moments in his personal life, such as his nearly fatal car accident, the death of his mother and his marriage to Kim Kardashian, have, up until this point, continued to forgive Kanye for his failings. He was the crazy cousin we still loved from a distance, and we remained invested in his narrative as we attempted to understand each stage in the evolution of his new ideas.

Now, though, the relationship has shifted — we’ve gone from parsing groundbreaking concepts to having emotional labor forced upon us. This time, however, we have found ourselves unprepared to shoulder the burden of helping Kanye manage his feelings and answer what is perhaps a cry for help in managing his celebrity status, which has been compounded by his marriage to the internet-shattering Kim Kardashian.

It’s not Kanye having a new idea that offends us, it’s his adoption of a colonized way of thinking that appears to employ his celebrity and marriage to the Kardashians as an excuse for wearing a “white mask,” as philosopher Frantz Fanon calls it, attempting to adopt not only the identity but the language of the oppressor as well.

Kanye didn’t always wear the mask. For a long time he was still “a nigga in a coupe,” a man who had obtained material status and wealth but remained somewhat relatable. In 2005, about four days after Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans devastated, West, frustrated by the government’s failure to help the city’s most vulnerable victims, looked straight into a TV camera and boldly stated what so many felt: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” He also memorably stormed onto the VMAs stage in 2009 while Taylor Swift was giving the acceptance speech for her victory in the Best Female Video category, saying, “Yo Taylor, I'm really happy for you, I'll let you finish, but Beyoncé has one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time!"

These controversial outbursts were, at their heart, expressions of advocacy for his community. Throughout the years, Kanye has also used his platform to create opportunities and visibility for other black artists, including Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa and Teyana Taylor.

So Kanye wearing a red Make America Great Again hat in public and professing his love for Trump, a president whose policies and commentary have proven to be anti-black, comes across as not just a betrayal to his black fans but to his historical self, too.

As the Kanye backlash continues, some fans have unfollowed him, while fellow celebrities like John Legend have reached out to help. A flood of memes and gifs memorializing the old Kanye — who once rattled off lines like, “I know that the government administer AIDS” — followed. This switch of political allegiance left fans begging for answers — perhaps ones we are not owed, but feel entitled to nevertheless, because we have invested so much of ourselves into his story, and we want Kanye to bring these thoughts full circle and fully flesh them out, the way he does with his verses.

Earlier this week, Kanye attempted to offer some clarity on his provocative tweets in a nearly-two hour radio interview with The Breakfast Club’s Charlamagne tha God. During the discussion he opened up about his mental health, family and his art. He explained how Trump represents to him the idea that anything is possible. He also suggested that he uses anyone around him, including his Twitter followers, to hash out his thoughts, instead of a therapist.

Following his talk with Charlamagne, he then showed up at TMZ headquarters, where he said, "When you hear about slavery for 400 years . . .  For 400 years? That sounds like a choice." He went on to say, "you were there for 400 years and it's all of y'all. It's like we're mentally imprisoned."

Here Kanye sounds, ironically enough, like nothing so much as unbridled white male privilege, presenting a distorted mirror image of Trump’s Twitter-Commando-in-Chief style of leadership. His comment was ahistorical and devoid of cultural sensitivity, as if he was turning his back not only on the African-American community but on his own blackness. This “new idea” can be perceived as anti-black emotional labor.

While Twitter is a great place to try out new ideas, it’s unfair for Kanye to expect his fans in the African-American community to shoulder the burden of this unpaid and thankless emotional labor. We constantly have to absorb the emotional labor placed on us by people with poor mental health hygiene. Brash commentary, unrealistic demands, egotistical claims — there is often an unspoken expectation that someone will devise a workaround to these behaviors. Kanye has resources — both financial and creative — to deal out his “new ideas” in a less intrusive and more productive manner, and yet he's dumping his problems in our laps like an irresponsible coworker.

His expectation that we'll just allow him to troll us with cutting words and actions without considering us or his historical self is unrealistic. We've given him numerous chances to explain himself. He has crossed the line in a way many aren't equipped or willing to handle this time, and he might find himself canceled instead of understood.

By Priscilla Ward

Priscilla Ward is an over-caffeinated, D.C.-based writer, running enthusiast, music explorer, and founder of BLCKNLIT. You can find her tweeting @Macaronifro.

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African Americans Emotional Labor Hip Hop Identity Kanye West Social Media Twitter