By Guest Contributor Dumi Lewis, originally published at Uptown Notes
On Sunday night, Kanye West once again burst into the limelight with his interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at MTV’s video music awards. His interruption and hyperbolic declaration of Beyonce’s video as the best of the decade caused the twitterverse, facebook, and likely nights and weekends minutes to explode. The cries of “he’s so”: foul, without class, self-centered, ______ (fill in your blank) rang out. These cries are the same ones that we’ve all made about West in the past. Despite these cries, somehow he remains at the center of the music universe and Black America and almost universally recognized as spoiled. I began to think, “how can a man that is so disliked remain in that position?” Well, I think the reason he remains is that he reflects a perfectly spoiled Black middle class identity. That’s right, you can’t disavow Kanye anymore than you can disavow yourself or the folks you went to school with or your fellow readers of this blog.
In a strange way, Kanye represents the dreams of many from the suburban and urban fringe who grew up listening to Hip-Hop but never spent a night in the South Bronx or stepped over crack viles on their daily path to the schoolhouse. Instead, West flaunts his emergent middle class style, penchant for the preppy, and his difference as a positive identity in a hyper-masculine performatively hood-centric rap industry. Whether it’s a glow in the dark or a shag, he uses his late bloomer status to demand all the attention that he thinks he deserves, but was not afforded earlier in his life. Whether he’s talking about his hard times when he moved North when he had to put his Ikea bed together “by himself” or repudiation of formal education/reading, his arrogance publicly displays the markings at a child who had enough, but not all he wanted. Now Kanye is out to have it all and on his own terms. Kanye’s roots capture the new Black middle class, his late mother Donda West, held a PhD and was a college professor and his father, who was non-custodial, is a photojournalist. I’m always amused and repulsed at watching West’s antics, much like watching teen angst … kind of with “contempt and pity”. West insists that he and comrades are being overlooked and rendered invisible within the music world, despite their contributions. Never mind that Kanye and his imagined damsel in distress Beyonce, are hyper-visible. His outbursts and conversations about his class, race, and sexuality could be pulled straight from a Beverly Tatum book. For so long, the Black middle class has been at the margins of our discourse of Blackness and America at large, Kanye wants to set the record straight (pun intended) though in classic fashion, he’ll start with making himself known.
After his outburst, West apologized via his blog (mind you in all capitals, which was later revised) which resulted in so many hits his site was temporarily shut down. The blog, a arguably middle class tech tool, allowed him to reach out to his fans and foes who wanted to know what the outspoken artist had to say about his outspokenness. The blog, when not home to apologies, is the locale of conspicuous consumption and the flaunting of extravagant cars, shoes, design projects and other aesthetic porn. The blog itself has a huge following because we too understand West’s concern for the material and the exclusive but dually want some form of legitimacy among the larger Black population. Whether blogging, publicly guzzling Hennessey or battling paparazzi Kanye represents what many feel and desire, but simple don’t enact. His brash mockery of the traditional education route, which is a luxury of having highly educated parents, allows us “college kids” to get out of out angst of following the straight and narrow. His outbursts about his greatness, which are laden with overtones of self-doubt, remind us that we too are something special even if we aren’t the rose that grew from concrete. Kanye West is not a person, he is a verb and a metaphor for the lives of the clamoring Black middle class. I feel like the day that we’re ready to deal with our own issues around race, class, and identity will be the same day we’re ready to tell Kanye “ENOUGH!” and mean it. Until then, I’ll expect more tweets, more album sales, and more tragic outbursts that result from a life of living betwixt and between the color and class lines.