Kanye crosses the line: The 13th Amendment is sacred, especially when all are still not free

Black skin in America already equals limited freedom, so why would West want make it worse?

By D. Watkins

Published October 1, 2018 3:47PM (EDT)

Kanye West (AP/Brent N. Clarke)
Kanye West (AP/Brent N. Clarke)

“Yo, I'm at this special listing for Kanye’s new horrible album and he’s wearing a Trump hat with a Kap sweatshirt," a friend told me. "I’m done with this clown.”

Pairing a Colin Kaepernick shirt with a MAGA hat? I thought he was lying until photographic proof circulated online. Like my friend, I’ve been done with Kanye since he first praised Donald Trump, but his current antics do deserve examination. Insight is likely lost on him, as he probably won't read this, but could still be useful for the people who still deem him relevant.

Ignoring Kanye's strange outbursts because he has bipolar disorder would make sense if he didn’t have such a huge reach, or if we lived in a society where people with mental illnesses were being properly diagnosed and treated, when most aren’t. Kanye has a superstar's platform, and yet his fans downplay the seriousness of his statements as “just Kanye being Kanye.”  That might also work if he wasn’t also part of the Kardashian reality mogul family, a super group that dumps hours and hours of nothingness in the form of fake bodies, fake ideas, and fake drama into millions of cellphones, laptops and living rooms on a regular basis. So West has a ridiculously large following, and the Kardashian affiliation makes it bigger. Unfortunately, when he speaks it matters. As the 41-year-old self-proclaimed visionary made his rounds through New York this weekend, spreading his definition of love and his new album, he found the time to tweet:

“this represents good and America becoming whole again.  We will no longer outsource to other countries. We build factories here in America and create jobs.  We will provide jobs for all who are free from prisons as we abolish the 13th amendment. Message sent with love”

Kanye’s tweet is flawed for a number of reasons. The Putin-loving president is allegedly made by Russia. I don’t know who made his Kap shirt, but multiple news agencies including the Associated Press and The Hill reported that MAGA hats may not be made, or are only partially made, in America. West talks about building factories in America and hiring Americans, not acknowledging that his buddy Trump’s initial pick for Secretary of Labor was CKE Restaurants CEO Andy Puzder, who said using robots are better than employing real people because "they're always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there's never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.”

But the bigger issue for me is how Kanye had the audacity to mention “free” and abolish the 13th Amendment in the same sentence. As a reminder, the 13th Amendment is the one that abolished slavery: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

It is single-handedly one of the most important Constitutional amendments to black Americans, including Kanye West, and why he would ridiculously advocate for its reversal, I have no idea. But keep in mind, earlier this year, West also went on TMZ and said, "when you hear about slavery for 400 years — for 400 years?! — that sounds like a choice."

As if Africans chose to be sold and traded, disconnected from their families and communities, overworked, and constantly humiliated and jailed and raped and beaten and murdered? Sure, Kanye.

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People died for the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. West is spreading his message in a time where some institutions still act like slavery never existed, and others perpetuate a modern-day version, like the prison-industrial complex does behind bars.

Ask Coby Burren, a high school student in Texas, issued in 2015 a McGraw-Hill Education textbook that referred to African slaves as immigrant workers. “It talked about the U.S.A. being a country of immigration, but mentioning the slave trade in terms of immigration was just off,” said Coby’s mother, Roni Dean-Burren, “It’s that nuance of language. This is what erasure looks like.”

A top hip hop artist and cultural icon running with this message will pay dividends to those who benefit from that narrative. Other big names in Hollywood reacted to Kanye's stupidity, such as "Captain America" star Chris Evans, who tweeted, “There’s nothing more maddening than debating someone who doesn’t know history, doesn’t read books, and frames their myopia as virtue. The level of unapologetic conjecture I’ve encountered lately isn’t just frustrating, it’s retrogressive, unprecedented and absolutely terrifying.”

Ava DuVernay, director of "The 13th," a wildly successful documentary that that breaks down the amendment and its connection to our current prison-industrial complex, tweeted, “I’m consciously choosing to tweet about plant-based burgers and not current statements about the 13th Amendment from a certain MAGA follower. Respectfully, please don’t @ me. I can’t do nothing for him."

Delusional West, who looks up to a delusional president, advocates against freedom in a time when so many innocent black people are behind bars or dying at the hands of cops who are never held accountable. Black skin in America already equals limited freedom, so why would he want make it worse? This affects more than poor African Americans, too. Colin Kaepernick is still unemployed by the NFL, because he chose to speak out against injustice through nonviolent protest, which is supposed to be a basic American freedom. Over in  basketball, the NBA is threatening to fine Cleveland Cavaliers star J.R. Smith if his "Supreme" tattoo is visible during games.

So look at J.R. Look at Kap. Watch Ava’s documentary. So many black people — rich and poor — don’t have control over their bodies. The prison-industrial complex allows slavery to exist to this day. Abolishing the 13th Amendment won’t help any black person — Kanye included.

D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a professor at the University of Baltimore and founder of the BMORE Writers Project. Watkins is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America” and "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir." His latest book, "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress," is out now.

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13th Amendment Kanye West Maga