Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Kanye West And His "Thirty White Bitches"

"Yeezus," the new and almost pathologically anticipated Kanye West album, was leaked online two weeks ago and then, probably out of custom, released legally last week. Upon first listen it reminded me of Nine Inch Nails, Death Grips, and my dad—but not because West now has a two-week-old child with girlfriend Kim Kardashian.

When my father was in undergrad at a small HBCU in the Midwest, he joined the storied black fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi. Fraternity chapters, despite their ethnic and regional differences, will nevertheless always share some DNA, and so it shouldn't surprise you that my dad's frat was big on giving people nicknames. Some brothers were called things like "Bumpy" and "Snowman." My dad, owing to the fact that his girlfriend at the time was a beautiful and extremely fair-skinned black woman with flowing hair, was bestowed the honorific "Brother Jefferson, Keeper of the White Woman."

To be raised as a man of color in America—especially a black man, and particularly a very dark black man—is to eventually learn that much about you is threatening to the general public. Obvious exposures to that fact include classic racist hits like people crossing the street to avoid you, convenience store owners following you up and down their aisles, and police shooting you for no real reason at all. Less transparent reminders are things like my dad's frat nickname.

While just a casual, stupid sobriquet on its surface, like many jokes it contained a modicum of honest emotion: Here was a group of young black men, in the Civil Rights Era, no less, who had internalized and then propagated the idea that one true mark of strength a man could demonstrate was his ability to dominate white women. And when there were no white women to reign over, a black woman who looked white would have to suffice.

Four decades later, "Yeezus" is risen, and Pitchfork says the album sparkles with "bold intent." But if much of Kanye's latest effort is intrepid, industrial progress, one big swath remains anchored firmly in the past, like a rocket ship heated with a wood-burning stove.

Consider this lyric from "Yeezus": "Black dick all in your spouse again/ And I know she like chocolate men/ She got more niggas off than Cochran."

This one, too: "They see a black man with a white woman at the top floor/ They gon' come to kill King Kong."

In this one, while "white" isn't openly stated, it's rather heavily implied: "Fuck you and your Hampton house/ I fucked your Hampton spouse/ Came on her Hampton blouse/ And in her Hampton mouth."

If you're sensing a pattern, I'd imagine that was the artist's intent.

Kanye West's ostensible obsession with fucking white women, and what it means to fuck white women, is not unique to his raps, of course. Even 24 years ago, on his track "Pimpin' Ain't Easy," Big Daddy Kane bragged, "I'm tall, dark and handsome and all that junk/ Even white girls be sayin' ‘Ooh, Kane's a hunk!'" Neither is West's fetish a new addition to his craft. In one of his biggest and earliest hits, “Gold Digger,” West warns black women of the disloyalty of their ambitious black men, who will “leave [their] ass for a white girl.” Later, West's 2010 solo album, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," included the stick-in-your-head one-liner "Champagne wishes/ Thirty white bitches." In West's video for "Monster," also from "MBDTF," one scene finds the rapper sitting in bed playing with the lingerie-clad bodies of lifeless white women. There's no indication as to whether Kanye killed them, but there they are, their light eyes clouded with a milky stillness.

Not-so-recent but not-so-ancient history helps clarify why a black man might be interested in making it widely known that he can and will sleep with white women. In antebellum and then post-Civil War America, the retribution meted out to black men accused of molesting white women—regardless of the validity of the accusations—was often swift and deadly, with suspected rapists being publicly castrated, beaten, burned alive, perhaps all three.

Black boxing champion Jack Johnson was arrested in 1912 for violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to bring women across state lines for "immoral" purposes. The woman Johnson was transporting was his girlfriend, who would one day be his wife, but Johnson's white arresting officers reported that she was a prostitute.

In 1955, the murder of Chicago teenager Emmett Till in Mississippi centered largely around Till allegedly making a pass at a white woman in a convenience store, telling her he'd "had" white women before. When the woman told her husband what happened, he and his friends tortured and murdered Till. As they beat him before they killed him, Till's tormentors dared him to say again that he'd had white women. The 14-year-old Till, reportedly unflinching in the face of certain death, obliged: "You bastards, I'm not afraid of you," he said. "I'm as good as you are. I've 'had' white women."

After an all-white, all-male jury had acquitted them of murdering Till, Till's killers, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, would publicly confess to the crime. In a media interview, Milam would say he had no other option (emphasis mine):

"Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. … [W]hen a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he's tired o' livin'. I'm likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights. I stood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. 'Chicago boy,' I said, 'I'm tired of 'em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I'm going to make an example of you—just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.'"

Confronted with the obvious fact that white men thought white women to be their most prized possession, it's not surprising that some black men began considering it a triumph to bed white ladies, especially in a nation as structurally racist as America. When you strip away a person's ability to dignify himself through rational means—educational attainment, fulfilling work, etc.—you leave him flailing to dignify himself through irrational means, like buying a certain brand of shoes or sleeping with a certain color of woman.

That impulse gets ugly fast. Former Black Panther Minister of Information Eldridge Cleaver said in some of his earlier writings that he believed raping white women was revolutionary, an “insurrectionary act.” In a similar vein, Amiri Baraka once postulated that taking white women from white men was payback for centuries of inhuman oppression. "[T]he average ofay thinks of the black man as potentially raping every white lady in sight," he once wrote. "Which is true, in the sense that the black man should want to rob the white man of everything he has."

Kanye West has never advocated raping anyone. His persistent fixation on conquering white women—the lure of white women, injuring white men via their women, etc.—is troublingly retrograde for a multimillionaire who some consider to be the harbinger of a neo-Black Power movement. It ultimately gives lie to the fact that Kanye sees himself as “a god,” as he claims on Yeezus, or, as he told Jon Caramanica in that winding New York Times interview, that he is "so credible and so influential and so relevant." I've yet to see a black man who is truly confident in his human worth and his power spend time crowing about ejaculating onto white chicks. What's more, what does it yield West in the end? As Kiese Laymon askedthe other day: "Do you think the white men who run these corporations you're critiquing really give a fuck about you dissing, fucking, fisting, choking white women?"

That is perhaps the saddest thing about my father's frat nickname, even worse than its inherent misogyny and colorism: Despite its veneer of showy, chest-thumping masculinity, in reality it was bereft of any power at all. It was a put-on for him and his friends to joke about in order feel authoritative from within the confines of their small black college, safely away from white men with guns who would kill them were they to say such things in front of them, or, worse still, within earshot of their white daughters.

Tales of dalliances with white women were certainly bereft of power when Emmett Till tried them out to impress his Mississippi friends with his northern cosmopolitanism. Yes, his boasting prompted a violent rise from a small southern community, which is a certain kind of power. But in the end it was two white men who killed him, beat the case thanks to a jury of their white male peers, and then spoke openly about killing him with no repercussions whatsoever. That's power.

Cord Jefferson is the west coast editor of Gawker. Stills from the Kanye West film Runaway.

45 Comments / Post A Comment

Bryan Keller (#3,804)

Holy shit the last paragraph sent chills up my spine. Great writing.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@Bryan Keller Mine too. This is fantastic Cord.

mmmcheese (#229,356)

@Bryan Keller Mine three.

xccxeryreu (#245,140)

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Despite many attempts to rephrase a comment about the forceful use of the word "no," I am still an insensitive prick

stuffisthings (#1,352)

Why can't Kanye just express his power over white society through success in the drug business, like a normal rapper?

(Or by being good at sports or tap dancing.)

Nabonwe (#12,500)

This is really fucking great. My one complaint about it is that it ends too soon, by which I mean that if you wanted to write a book about this, I would read it.

Mr. B (#10,093)

There's also the implication that white ladies are intrinsically better-looking than black ladies, which probably upsets me as much as the notion of racial justice.

And as if any of us needed another reason to dislike Amiri Baraka, amirite?

pippalongstocking (#242,399)

@Mr. B I memorized a bunch of his poems in high school but missed the shit out of this white-lady hating and am kind of in shock now. What else will ruin my fond memory of The New World (do I have to hate it now? it's soooooo beautiful)

GailPink (#9,712)

Wow, what an exceptionally well written piece. Also, how does Kanye West have fans?

Screen Name (#2,416)

This was really good. Thank you.

Dave Bry (#422)

This was great, Cord!

And I love Kanye West.

Kellynsatx (#245,111)

I've always wondered why, if blacks hate whites so much, why do blacks keep trying to look like whites? Mr. West is a good example as are the POTUS and FLOTUS. FLOTUS routinely gets her hair straightened to look more anglo. Very few "celebrity" blacks seem proud at all of their heritage, appearance wise. Except for the occasional nod to black/yellow/red most of the clothes affluent blacks wear are the same as whites wear. Why is this?

BardCollege (#2,307)

@Kellynsatx Why did some Jews pretend to be Nazis during world war two? Same shit.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@Kellynsatx Have YOU ever tried twerking in a dashiki?

Amasa Amos (#9,654)

@Kellynsatx Probably for the same reason white people keep trying to look like blacks? Or because applying a simple-minded racial dichotomy to cultural practices is always bound to fail?

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@Kellynsatx "I've always wondered why, if blacks hate whites so much"

Don't lazy generalizations defeat their own purpose when they turn into torments?

IBentMyWookie (#133)

@BardCollege WHAT?

Mr. B (#10,093)

@BardCollege Uhhh … not the same shit, actually?

@Kellynsatx Because generally, American standards of beauty include "looking white."

anonymass (#13,682)

@Amasa Amos
Concise, complete, and correct. Thank you.

kimbriel (#248,971)

Right… and white women aren't getting butt implants and lip injections

mmmcheese (#229,356)

"When you strip away a person's ability to dignify himself through rational means—educational attainment, fulfilling work, etc.—you leave him flailing to dignify himself through irrational means, like buying a certain brand of shoes or sleeping with a certain color of woman." THIS is what I need to tell people.

yunkstahn (#242,368)

Yep, we women are nothing but objects for men to fight over and fuck and kill. Not, you know, actual human beings. Thanks, Kanye, for reminding me of that–as if I could ever forget.

Jane Donuts (#2,857)

@yunkstahn Well played.

illcommunication (#13,090)

Brilliantly written. More please.

Anarcissie (#3,748)

Fetishizing 'White bitches' seems self-degrading to me. Yes, I know about Emmett Till. That just makes it worse.

This is so great.

Kellynsatx (#245,111)

I did't expect any intelligent replies to my post, and I didn't get any. I note the one that wrote "same reason whites try to look like blacks" and the one comparing whites to nazis and blacks to jews. Oh my head! I can't handle such erudition!

My question was something I've wondered about and just don't understand. I don't understand why blacks would want to give up their culture in an attempt to assimilate into dark skinned whites. What's the ultimate point? Embrace your culture, don't run from it.

The real losers in the Kanye West world are black women. Who wants them? Don't try to tell me black men do; clearly the ultimate prize for many well to do blacks is a white wife, err I meant a white bitch. Black women are hos. What an insult to black women. Weren't you raised by a black woman? The abortion rate among black women and the out of wedlock birth rate among black women are both national embarrassments. Both are the fault of the behavior patterns of black men. Kanye West has a pulpit; too bad he chooses to do so little with it.

franceschances (#96,473)

@Kellynsatx Right, of course the only reason that black women have unwanted pregnancies is black men. It has nothing to do with the fact that black people are disproportionately poor (because of racism) and that poor people have shitty access to reproductive health care (because of jesus christ, everything: classism, racism, misogyny, the hegemony of a particular brand of Christianity…)

Nope, definitely the black men.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

@Kellynsatx Could it be because, as was pointed out to you several times, the premise of your comment was "if blacks hate whites so much"?

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@Kellynsatx Oh, you received some very intelligent replies. The problem is, when you are stupid enough to think that "blacks hate whites so much", you will definitely be too stupid to recognize an intelligent reply to that when you see one. The unfortunate reality is that you will have to live the rest of your life "always wondering" about things and "never getting intelligent replies", because you can't understand shit. Life will remain an unsolvable puzzle to you.

Dr.Dinosaur (#241,476)

@Kellynsatx You are racist trash.

Delighted By User (#237,535)

I don't know that it's saying white women are better looking. (It may be, but that was not my take-away.) However, white women are property, just as the black man was once property. When Kanye raps about coming on a white woman, it's more about ownership of a white man's property than beauty.
As a woman, I love that I'm being relegated to an object that is owned by a man, again.

Anarcissie (#3,748)

@Delighted By User — It's not more about property, it's only about property. And it's corny and retro, which would be one thing if it were done ironically by some insignificant hipster out in Bushwick, but Kanye West is supposed to be an artist, a big deal, a leader among men, and all that. Oh, well, the mall rats will love it anyway. Come on a Hampton bitch. Hehhehhehheh.

anonymass (#13,682)

"like a rocket ship heated with a wood-burning stove" might go down as the definitive phrase on Kanye West.

shericka92 (#245,169)

love this and i love black men too =)

LilyBlue (#166)

Great piece, Cord.
I know I'm late to the party but have to echo the comments of those who point out how much this is about the ownership of women — yes, white women specifically, but women in general. And I find it pretty damn heartbreaking when I read anything about politically liberal men who understand what it's like to be treated as less than equal and don't understand that they're treating women as less than equal.

Chel (#249,886)

Really enjoyed reading this article. Ever since Kanye has been with is babies mother I have ignored anything Kanye and Kardashian related. First: we black women DO NOT straighten our hair to look white. It's just a hairstyle. This article did make me sad because if black men date white women because she's white no connection… just both people knowing this union will make a white man uncomfortable I think I'd rather be single. This doesn't say a lot about the character of the black men. I always believe the allure was much deeper mainly because the white women, black men (in my city) decide to date always seemed from the hood and not that bright or attractive. I know that is a general comment but my city is the second fattest city in the country. I guess in a whole this is how white people now view black people; black men dating only white women as trophies and black women being alone. We (black women)don't even get a mention of how we areeducated, top earners and live comfortably at least my friends and i do…but i am not single nor have kids so i am not that nasty, ghetto squeaky wheel everyone notices. hmm.

tim87 (#250,291)

Late to the party but I created an account just to respond. I generally love the writer's work but I found this article to be quite problematic. A of all I'd describe the term his father's friends gave him not as "honorific" but as "ambivalent." Similarly in the Big Daddy Kane bar example he gives , the part about white women feels like an aside to me. Kane's such a pimp or whatever that even someone as foreign as white women like him. Just like that Baby Got Back Line "even white boys gotta shout." (ie. her behind is so nice even someone who normally wouldn't appreciate that kind of thing does).

But what really pissed me off was bringing Emmitt Till into it.

Till was a CHILD and framing him against grown male public figures like boxer Jack Johnson and rapper Kanye is ridiculous. Johnson and Kayne were/are braggarts. It's inherent in their professions (boxer and rapper). All we know about Till is that he was murdered for whistling at a white woman. Even the stuff about him being "from the north and too big for his britches" is what racist white southerners said after the fact just like whatever info we have about Trayvon Martin is through Zimmerman's eyes. For all we know Till could have had on a watch or a tie or shoes that some white guy was jealous of. It doesn't mean that as Cord writes "Emmett Till tried them out to impress his Mississippi friends with his northern cosmopolitanism." That's a bunch of nonsense. Till was an innocent kid not some black guy who died cuz he was vaunting his machismo.

quique (#250,343)

"Do you think the white men who run these corporations you're critiquing really give a fuck about you dissing, fucking, fisting, choking white women?"

Not sure how a journalist can reference this quote without producing any kind of analytical insight on the devastating implications of racial and structural inequality for the dignity and livelihood of women of all racial backgrounds. It is as if the consumption of women as objects conferring power and status on the beholder is a truism, so obvious as to go without comment.

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