Rapper Kanye West was the focus of intense backlash this week after wearing a controversial “White Lives Matter” shirt that was part of his Yeezy season 9 presentation at Paris Fashion Week. From celebrities like Jayden Smith to Vogue stylist and fashion editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson to commentators like Marc Lamont Hill, the outrage at West’s irreverent black establishment stunt was endless.
In a post on Instagram, West responded to his fervent critics in an Instagram Story, writing, “The Black Lives Matter movement was a scam” and “Now it’s over, you’re welcome.” In subsequent posts, he doubled down on his decision to show the shirts, flippantly ignoring the wave of backlash. He captioned another post featuring one of the shirts with the words “THEY DO.”
Kanye West’s “White Lives Matter” stunt could well be a soulless media stunt aimed at attracting attention and stirring controversy for his clothing line. But the backlash to his stunt suggests a greater hypocrisy within the black media establishment that has come for him. Because the truth is, Kanye is right when it comes to Black Lives Matter. And black celebrity outrage should be directed at the Black Lives Matter organization itself, not Kanye.
For years there has been an outcry from within the Black Lives Matter constituency itself at the organization’s commercialization and capitalization of the spectacle of black injustice in America. Most notably, Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice, and Lisa Simpson, mother of Richard Rishner, released a joint statement in 2021 admonishing the BLM for profiting from the spectacle of police brutality and a lack of transparency regarding the Distribution of funds demonstrated across BLM chapters, organizers and communities.
“Tamika D. Mallory, Shaun King, Benjamin Crump, Lee Merritt, Patrisse Cullors, Melina Abdullah and the Black Lives Matter Global Network must step down, step down and stop monopolizing and capitalizing on our fight for justice and human rights,” it said in the statement. “We never hired them to represent us in the fight for justice for our deceased loved ones who were murdered by the police. The ‘activists’ have events in our cities and have not given us anything substantial to use our loved ones’ pictures and names on their flyers.”
“We don’t want or need you all marching around the streets raising funds, platforms, film deals etc for the passing of our loved ones while leaving families and communities clueless and broken,” the statement said.
Additionally, BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors has notoriously been the subject of investigations for lavish spending on expensive real estate. These spendings have prompted investigations into BLM’s financial affairs by several states and legal bodies, including the California Department of Justice and the IRS, for answers about the allocation of the $90 million the organization spent during the outcry over George Floyd’s killing in California year 2020 had collected .
There is no denying that widespread feelings about police brutality and racial injustice in America have been reduced to easily consumable propaganda by the Black Lives Matter organization. Their cultural production of flashy slogans and aesthetics that were so advertiser- and consumer-friendly that even big corporations like Nike and Apple could seize the moment to appear “socially conscious” and responsible.
Celebrity culture followed suit, fully embracing these simple slogans and aesthetics while ignoring the contradictions and hypocrisies of the organization and the voices of those affected by the culture of racist violence they allegedly countered with their flashy signals of virtue.
Kanye West’s decision to feature “White Lives Matter” shirts on a Paris Fashion Week runway as part of his colorful collection of fashion-forward merchandise should not be viewed as cultural sacrilege, but rather as a manifestation of the already existing ethos that drives Black Lives Matter: a consumerist signaling mechanism designed to accumulate and negotiate status.
And therein lies the crux of the hypocrisy that fuels performative outrage over Kanye’s stunt: It’s far easier to target a cultural boogeyman like Kanye West than it is to reflect on how slogans, aesthetics, and agit-prop themselves contribute Merchandise, how easily they do, become status symbols that signal moral and social topicality in a way that distracts from the real issue of protecting Black lives by allowing those with more self-aggrandizing intentions to accept the struggles and injustices deal with against which they assert themselves.
None of West’s critics have even mentioned the Black Lives Matter controversy. None of the black media figures endlessly chiding West for his “blasphemous” repeal of their holy edict have spoken out about the families of victims of police brutality, who have spoken out in full anger against the organization.
In many ways, Kanye West has become an antagonist to the black American cultural elite. His outspoken support for Donald Trump, his outspoken social conservatism, and now this White Lives Matter media moment should all be used as opportunities for self-reflection, but instead we see the opposite.
No matter what one thinks of Kanye’s personal beliefs, genius or lack thereof, it’s always healthier to face your insecurities head-on rather than projecting them onto a convenient scapegoat. The black establishment media figures and celebrities currently scolding Kanye West for his stunt simultaneously support and entrench an organization and slogan associated with the commodification of black struggle and the reckless profiting of racial trauma.
They may not know it, but when they attack Kanye, they attack their reflection.
Angie Speaks is the co-host of the Low Society Podcast.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
https://www.newsweek.com/kanye-west-right-about-black-lives-matter-opinion-1749668 Kanye West is right about Black Lives Matter