Race-work, Race-love

When did Kanye West become a racist?

In African American, Latino; Latina, race work, race, love, racism on November 15, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Something is rotten in the world today. Something is racially rotten when we can shame Black and Latin@ people to think they are racist for making racial accusations. How is it possible that Matt Lauer was able to shame Kanye West into believing he was racist because of the temper tantrum thrown at Taylor Swift and at the same time apologize to George Bush for stating that Bush doesn’t like Black people?

For a while I believed that this world was colorblind. I am not sure what this racial shame is about though. When for almost 30 years, we have now heard cries from dominant populations about reverse racism and today media shames Black people into believing that in fact Black people are racist. A racial accusation turned into a racial boomerang. Who ever smelt it dealt it kind of deal. Playground antics. If I accuse someone of racism, then that must mean I am a racist too. And I should be ashamed of pointing out Racist Truths. Or even implying them. A psychological and emotional lynching, when now Black, Brown, and White allies can be hung for pointing out the simple and plain Racist Truth. What strange fruit will we see hung in today’s age of racism?

Our miner’s canary here is found in the media. I take examples in media because my students, as many of us, are in touch and receive messages from this medium. They tell me what they see and I go out to investigate. The examples provided in this post come from The Real Housewives of DC, Matt Lauer’s interview with Kanye West, and The View.

On the Real Housewives of DC, a cast member — Stacie Turner — implies another white female cast member, Cat Ommanney, of being racist because of Ommanney’s discomfort around Black people. However, this is not the only reason. The host of this event, Andy Cohen, also asks about Ommanney’s description of Black people as “colored people”. All the while, Turner, a Black woman, defends herself and retorts that she never accused Ommanney of being “that word” (i.e. racist). Turner keeps saying “that word” as if saying the word “racist” would imply that Turner is the racist for accusing Ommanney of being one.

Real Housewives of DC — on Ommanney and Turner conflict

In the Kanye West example, Matt Lauer asks West about his (and many others) frustration over the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. West stated that Bush does not like Black people. Five years later, Lauer reminds him of this incident, tells West of an angered Bush who did not “appreciate” being called a racist and says to West the following: “You did take it across the line and you said, you made it a little more sinister that the federal response to Katrina was because of race”. While West grapples with this question Lauer continues to shame West by telling him and later showing him how affected Bush was by West’s statement that Bush doesn’t like Black people. West replies he knows how Bush must have felt because he was accused of being a racist because of his temper tantrum toward Taylor Swift. Lauer shames. West takes. West tries to retort. Lauer shames again. Having his morning show as his podium, Lauer continues to explain his perspective and magically makes it “our perspective”.

How did this happen? When did Matt Lauer become the authority on race?

While not specifically abut race, in a similar instance, Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar walked off the set of their show “The View” after Bill O’Reilly accused Muslims of murder in the World Trade Center bombings. This rationale, O’Reilly believes, is the reason why there shouldn’t be a mosque in the area. Hearing this anti-Muslim rhetoric caused for Goldberg and Behar to walk off their set. Barbara Walters immediately chastised Goldberg and Behar saying that should never have happened in their show.

In the latter two instances, the people doing the chastising were the journalists. The ones with the mics. The ones who could perhaps sympathize with their brethren being accused of racism.

And in today’s day and age, they are the media – the ones with some power.

West, Goldberg, and Behar all had to defer to them because after all the show belongs to Lauer and Walters. In the first example, Turner had no idea how to handle the accusation that she accused someone of being a racist. Despite Andy Cohen bringing in more support for Turner’s response, Turner is too ashamed to even use the word “racist”.

There is something more that just the physical symbol of power (i.e. Matt Lauer and Barbara Walters) going on here. And it goes beyond White people fear of being accused of being racists. Not only do they fear being accused of being racist but now some people are shaming those who accuse them.

What kind of racial hunt is this?

On the one hand, I think it is healthy for White people to feel remorse or guilt or fear of being accused of racism. Racism is not a good thing, to put it mildly. So being accused of being one should not feel good, either. But for these individuals in power, those accused of racism, have allies who can help them shame their accusers. So Bush does not have to go on a rant about how bad he felt for West’s accusation. Instead he has Matt Lauer, a journalist who is respected and viewed by millions to do it for him. Bill O’Reilly could say that the walk out was great because Walters after all did her share of shaming her co-hosts too.

Then we hear the backlash – should Kanye West retract his statement? Should Goldberg and Behar have walked off? Should Turner have accused Ommanney of not being comfortable around Black people?

Media, like education and religion, has become a powerful tool in letting us know who has authority. Journalists embody and share the values embedded in media. Like dictionaries, journalists like Lauer and Walters can reinforce beliefs, state definitions, reproduce inequalities, and now even shape who is a racist and who is not. And the viewing audience adheres to their authority rather than question these journalists own racial intentions. If they can shame others into calling people racists or walk off stages for making racist comments, then they themselves are in some way protected from being called racists too – because then NO one can be called a racist.

What is the Racial Truth here?

I will venture to say that these journalists don’t even know what racism is. Additionally, neither do people like West and Turner. If they did, perhaps they would reflect on how the phrase is used and may not be scared to use or defend the term. Many of these people understand racism to be a “feeling” and not an action. They do not understand that racial systemic power is held by White people in power. Those who look like them but feel they have no power sometimes subconsciously contribute if they are not racially conscious.

So here Lauer is going by the feelings – “I want you to look at his face…this is the most emotional he [Bush] got .. just asking you if you look at his face what would you say to him?” It is obvious that Lauer is determined to shame West and castigate him into an apology. Even though West already gave one.

It is highly important to problematize West’s response and Turner’s comments and Goldberg’s and Behar’s actions. But I believe that is as equally important, if not more so, to problematize Lauer’s interview, Walter’s response, and Turner’s castmate ‘s reactions as well. These are people in the position to authorize who is a racist and who is not. Why? Because we, as an audience allow them to without ever questioning these journalists. And if we do, it is in the comfort of our own homes. Or we think, who is going to listen to them anyway? But many people do. Journalists, regardless of racial consciousness, are respected.

Still among this group, there have been journalists who have engaged in truth-telling. Some journalists are race-workers. But rarely do these journalists get the opportunities that people like Lauer and Walters do.

Lauer’s racial castigation of West, masked as journalist protocol, is more difficult to problematize or dissect. Lauer is under the veil of professionalism. Lauer is protected by his continued presence in the lives of many directed in many homes. Lauer is responsible for racial shame – what he calls “hub-bub” at the end of the interview.

Racial shame. Racial castigation. On Black and Brown people? On White allies? What is happening here?

Folks being accused of racism can’t just say you know what let me think about that for a minute. Let me talk to some people who study race, who talk about race, who understand this a bit more than I do and see why they think I am being called a racist. If you heard this accusation once, maybe it is not a big deal. But if you heard this accusation a couple more times after that, perhaps there is something to inquire about, don’t you think?

And for my Brown and Black brothers and sisters and White allies in the struggle for racial justice, it is time we help lift this veil of racial shame and talk to each other openly about what race means in America. We need a Ghetto Messiah

We need race-workers to work with our brothers and sisters in journalism, the media, film, etc to help them understand what the terms race and racism really mean and not what they think these term can mean. We have to educate people like Kanye West to help him explain his stance back in the day without having to completely depart from his original statement. We have to stop hiding within this veil of “diversity” and “multiculturalism” when some of us really mean race! To have a racial lens does not mean you have a negative perspective. KKK members and subtle racists have ruined our ability to see that a racial lens is a lens, a perspective, a way to encourage others to think a bit more about how we identify ourselves and each other — how this society structures our opportunities and our outcomes. The Racial Truth, the Racial Divine is what we seek to make our society more whole. Rather than evade it, we should use it to better understand all people in this society. We all have the racial lens – we just don’t know how to use it, have been shamed into seeing through it, don’t understand it, and continue to scratch it out.

Scholars and writers, even Chief Justice Sotomayor have been shamed into adding their racial/cultural perspective into their work. There is a fine line between hiding and feeling ashamed (see Portia de Rossi on Oprah) and those of us who are interested in understanding race and talking about it need to help others not feel ashamed to do the same things. In order to confront racism, we have to know what it is before we dismantle it, live with it, change it, endure it. In so doing, we continue true race-work, engaged by Black, Brown, and White allies not the kind of racial shame that Matt Lauer is imposing on the likes such as Kanye West.

My final question: Did you hear Lauer do the same thing to Bush?

And you won’t either.

There is a lot of race-work to be done out there gente. Let’s get to it.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: