An open letter to Kanye Kardashian-West


Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West walk the red carpet outside the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards at Microsoft Theatre on Aug. 30, 2015 in Los Angeles. While accepting the Video Vanguard Award, West announced that he will run for president in 2020. (Owen Kolasinski/BFA/Sipa USA/TNS) BFA and BFA

Dear Mr. West,

It’d be easier for me to write this piece as an ode to Beyoncé rather than an open letter to you.

Beyoncé is the woman who used her time on a national stage to inspire black folks to feel unapologetic about their heritage and their appearance, and to continue to challenge authority. Today, Beyoncé is that artist for me.

A few years ago, though, I would have said the same for you.

When people talk about Old Kanye versus New Kanye, I think less in terms of albums but rather in terms of Katrina-era and Kardashian-era. I think this is more indicative of your life and what will ultimately be your legacy.

One day, your heroes became white men.

You admired Steve Jobs, Walt Disney. You took off the Louis Vuitton backpack you used to wear and fashioned it into a lifestyle, pushing your way into fashion houses and runways, crying alienation when they wouldn’t let you in. When they didn’t give you a key to the boy’s club. You gave a white man permission to use “Last Niggas in Paris” as a part of his collection. You co-signed making our oppression trendy.

I heard someone say once that you traded in your spaceship for 40 acres and a mule.

I admired you, ‘Ye. Not in the passive way I admire Jimi Hendrix or Michael Jackson by virtue of who they are and what they’ve done, I mean I really admired you. I still listen to “The College Dropout” on wax. I bought your records and recited your lyrics to the envy of all of my elementary school friends.

I, with what little knowledge I had of politics or social inequality, somehow knew that when you said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” it was truth. I regarded your word as law. And maybe that was where I went wrong.

You see, Kanye, at the end of the day, you’re just a man. You live and breathe, you say things you regret, you take them back, you create, you destroy and you will die as humans do.

Somewhere along the line, I think even you forgot you were mortal. Somehow, between the gleam of Kardashian and the check from Adidas, you began to think you were impervious to criticism, that you were above reproach. You claimed you were an OG, the greatest artist of all time and in the process, somehow became more “Twitter fingers” than Meek.

The thing is, though, you attacked a man’s (ex)wife and child on Twitter the other day and that’s where I drew the line. You slut-shamed a woman for the same qualities you once loved her for.

You continue to praise your non-black wife for the traits she appropriated from us, black women, while simultaneously implying we should be ashamed for the same sensuality, the same autonomy Kim seems to have.

But then again, you told us a long time ago that “when he get on, he’ll leave your ass for a white girl.” So perhaps I’m to blame for believing otherwise.

Do you still talk about Chicago the way you once did, in terms of resilience and struggle and beauty in a world that aims to erase it? Do you still think about the kid who wasn’t supposed to make it past 25?

Is that narrative still in you?


Leah Johnson

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