Kanye and the New Age “Freethinkers”
Personas like Kanye West and Donald Trump draw scorn from the public for their provocative, raw, and ignorant comments. Yet, their ‘unsanitized’ comments mirror the ethical state of a large segment of our society, particularly powerful American institutions that are similarly unaware of historical context and lack a nuanced understanding of current events.
Kanye's proclamation of being a "free thinker" and Trump's "both sides" comment about neo-Nazis’ killing protesters, is ironically how most mainstream media and community leaders deal with power and storytelling. The media is supposed to hold government and corporations accountable, but continue to fail as they give equal weight to “both sides” of the story and power imbalances on agency.
In the age of America’s global War on Terror, newspapers run stories penning U.S. government narratives around Muslims and Islam while claiming to be objective. They don’t challenge racist and Islamophobic surveillance programs whilst these “anti-terror” or “anti-radicalization” programs treat all Muslims as inherently violent, and potential terrorists and ISIS militants.
In fact, terrorism has become an entire genre of news. There are dozens of series on Islam, radicalization, and elements of discontent worldwide engaged in political warfare. From headline news to front page feature stories, negative and disproportional news of Muslims and poor communities tell a one-sided tale. These stories dismiss that there is an actual war taking place, and instead, seek to demonize Muslims, poor folks, and brown and Black people worldwide. That's the “objective” news that is fed to the masses. For instance, in reporting on the Syrian civil war, there was no context given to Bashar al-Assad’s war crime, young people’s desire to fight a war criminal and a regime that slaughters children and families. Instead, the media focuses on a one dimensional reporting of ISIS and centers America as potential victim and not the millions of Syrian victims to state and international sanctioned terror.
In its continued aggression in fighting the war on terror locally, law enforcement agencies continue to force low income communities to participate in “community engagements” with the police and the FBI. Knowing that they cannot get community buy-in, these agencies, influence a few influential community members to legitimize the government’s surveillance of vulnerable communities in the name of “community safety.” For instance, in Minneapolis, the most powerful prosecutor brought a select few to rein in his war on terror program with the facade of being inclusive.
The government’s targeting of low income communities is deliberate and has created a wedge in the community. Unfortunately, the government exploited their vulnerabilities offering them a "seat at the table" to create a "dialogue” with a powerful office. These community members thought they were bringing safety and economic opportunity to their community, instead, they are now implicit in pushing an Islamophobic, anti-Black, and anti-immigrant program that has been orchestrated within a white supremacist agenda.
When a well established conservative belief about the poor and disenfranchised is presented as free thinking or objective, it actually amplifies the voices of the powerful and excuses the structural violence taking place.
The #IfSlaveryWasAChoice conversation aptly pointed out Kanye’s ignorance and lack of basic understanding of historical events. Many joked that he should pick up a book. It behooves mass media to do the same and report on issues with tenacity – and without being an extension of the government. At the end of the day, Kanye is just a man with increasingly fewer Twitter followers, but our Fourth Estate is a key piece of our civil society.