Why I Keep Talking About Janay Palmer

The longest walk: Rice and Palmer hold hands on the way to court.

The longest walk: Rice and Palmer hold hands on the way to court.

My mother taught me a basic moral imperative before I even entered Kindergarten: Unless you’re defending yourself from someone who continues to attack you, don’t hit people. Having said that, it should be clear why I was appalled at Ray Rice’s behavior in the recently released casino footage. He not only hit his fiancée twice, but once she was out cold, he also dragged her and prodded her body with his foot the way one might handle a neighbor’s dead Golden Retriever. None of his actions were based in self-defense, and many were quick to point out his unjustified viciousness. I fully support this.

I was struck, however, by the almost utter absence of condemnation for Janay Palmer, who is now his wife. She incontrovertibly engaged in physical violence with Rice that night, and she acknowledges it. Journalistic sources acknowledge it. It’s a matter of record. It’s there for anyone to see, and based on the basic moral principle I outlined above, I say her behavior is worthy of some outrage, too. My opponents disagree, and their dissent takes three major forms.

First, there’s the argument of moral superiority. Some say that though they were both wrong, Rice was tremendously wrong, thus Palmer’s behavior doesn’t deserve much, if any, scrutiny. The problem with this thinking is that it sets a post hoc minimum threshold for moral indignation based on the relative severity of participants’ actions. In other words, do anything you’d like to do to another person; as long as the stench doesn’t reach a level to be determined later, and the other person’s foulness rises even higher than yours, we’ll look the other way.

This is indefensible. We have the capacity to direct moral outrage at both participants in an altercation while simultaneously acknowledging that one participant may have acted worse than the other. Bigger wrongs don’t need to blind us to smaller ones.

And speaking of size, it’s also wrongheaded to hold men to a higher moral standard than women just because men are generally capable of causing more harm. That’s the essence of the argument from physical relativism, and it basically states that bigger adults have a responsibility to act more ethically than smaller adults. A variation of this idea relies on the same fundamental assumption about the impact of size and gender to accuse me of blaming “the” victim.

I categorically reject the notion of one victim here. Two people victimized each other, regardless of the fact that one’s savagery was more complete. Rice is larger than Palmer, and most men are stronger than most women. Unfortunately, self-control isn’t doled out in proportion to size and strength. At the same time, decreased potential to inflict as much harm as your adversary due to differences in stature, strength, or skill doesn’t negate accountability for your actions toward them. Solange deserved universal public humiliation for her attack on Jay-Z in that other infamous elevator incident, regardless of whether he was ever in any “real” danger; instead, Solange got a magazine cover and Jay-Z got mocked. While total physical equality between the sexes is a fantasy, total moral equality shouldn’t be. Men and women must be judged equally for the pain and suffering that they inflict or attempt to inflict upon each other.

Finally, we come to the most dangerous argument against my rebuke of Palmer, and that’s the argument from moral necessity. The thinking goes something like this: Calls for disapproval of Janay Palmer are morally irresponsible since they shift the focus away from Rice’s actions and distract the public from the larger issue of male-on-female domestic violence. It’s an attractive point of view, and its allure flows from the appeal of its core truth: domestic violence is horrible, usually perpetrated by men toward women, and only a villain would derail efforts to eradicate it.

But therein lies its perniciousness. I’m not obfuscating Rice’s guilt, nor am I painting Palmer in the worst possible light so as to diminish his foulness. I’m shining a light on the darkness of the entire situation, and I can do that without negating the sheer ugliness of what he did. Despite the fact that female-on-male violence almost assuredly happens much less frequently than its opposite, if a woman puts her hands on a man and she’s not in clear and present danger, she’s wrong. No amount of lamentation regarding the state of violence that women in the world endure can make the case against that any stronger. When a victim becomes a victimizer, it doesn’t negate their former status, it just adds more tragedy to their story.

My stance is an utter refutation of domestic violence in all of its forms. We must condemn Rice, vividly illustrating why what he did was so far beyond the pale of acceptable behavior. Simultaneously, we should condemn Palmer in a manner proportional to what she did. Women need to know that physical weakness cannot be used as a shield or as a weapon when it comes to domestic violence incidents in which they’re perpetrators or participants. If we don’t do that, we’re sending mixed signals regarding our views on brutality, and that’s irresponsible.

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No Escape: The Realities of Living with Police Violence

Throw ya hands up.

Throw ya hands up. (You may still die.)

It was a sweltering summer afternoon in 1993 in St. Louis, MO, and I was 16 years old. I was walking to a friend’s home about 10 minutes away. As I made a right turn up a street on a hill, I noticed the sound of a car creeping behind me. I kept my stride and waited for it to pass. It didn’t. I risked a quick glance and realized that the good news was that the vehicle wasn’t filled with thugs. The bad news was that it was a police car, and it was pulling up beside me.

To understand my mind state then, you need to know that upon reaching adolescence, my family had imparted a concept to me that went something like this: If you’re black, no matter what else you may be, you’re always a suspect. Until then, it was an abstract nightmare. But at that moment, the nightmare was eyeing me from the window of a Crown Victoria.

Fortunately, after complying with the passenger’s request that I empty my pockets, he flashed a smile like he’d just eaten a few shit-glazed donuts, wished me a nice day, then motioned to his partner. Off they went, leaving me to stumble through a daze of shock, anger, and shame.

The next summer, while riding with a friend and some acquaintances, police ordered us to exit the car and walk into an alley. One officer demanded that we pull down our shorts and underwear; he checked us for drugs as his partner combed through the vehicle. By this point, I wasn’t even surprised. I’d come to accept that potential police harassment was just a part of life in the ‘hood, like liquor stores and food deserts. The ghetto offered no escape. If I wanted to be free from it, I reasoned that I’d have to leave the ghetto behind forever.

Of course, I now realize that there was absolutely nowhere to run.

During Freshman Week at Harvard, a group of police approached me and a few other friends, insisting to see our IDs. There were dozens of other potential targets for their suspicion standing around…but none of them were black. Classes hadn’t even started and we’d already learned that even Ivy League walls weren’t tall enough to shelter us from the prejudicial attitudes that lead to harassment or violence at the hands of police. Later, the police shooting deaths of Amadou Diallo in New York City, Ronald Madison in New Orleans, Oscar Grant in Oakland, and Jonathan Ferrell in North Carolina became further testimonies to the irrelevance of geography in the equation.

Innocence and guilt are also inconsequential. Some who fell victim to police brutality, like Diallo and Ferrell, are universally acknowledged as having done nothing wrong. In contrast, others have been assigned post-hoc backstories that color them with just enough guilt to be somehow less deserving of human rights.

NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo stood a few feet away from witnesses and choked the life out of Eric Garner. Garner was rumored to have been selling unlicensed cigarettes prior to his homicide. Michael Brown fell at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO, less than 30 minutes away from my own first encounter with the police, and was left to lie like carrion in the street for hours. A full six days later, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson informed us that Brown was suspected of stealing cigars, only to confess hours later that Officer Wilson was unaware of the alleged theft when he confronted Brown for walking in the middle of the street.

Friends, tobacco may indeed be a pernicious drain on society, and we’ve all felt the sting of a jaywalker’s heinous disregard for the law, but I’ve got trouble believing that summary execution was in order for either of those men, even if the accusations against them are true. But the truth isn’t important either. Perception is everything, and if you’re black, the perception is that you’re a threat.

That fact stands even when the victim is a cop. Just ask the father of William Wilkins, an Oakland police officer killed by so-called friendly fire in 2001, or the widow of Omar Edwards, an NYPD officer who met the same fate in 2009. For too many police, black people can no more rid themselves of suspicion than they can rid themselves of their skin.

This could be every night, in every city in America if we're not careful.

If we’re not careful, this could be every night, in every American city.

Unlike fellow St. Louisan Michael Brown, I’ve been able to walk away from my run-ins with police with nary a scratch. For that, I’m thankful. But despite leaving the ghetto I grew up in, attending world-class academic institutions, and calling one of the most cosmopolitan cities anywhere home, I have never been able to escape the shadow of police violence, because even when unnecessary police aggression produces no physical damage, it creates psychic wounds.

These wounds serve to keep one in a perpetual state of low-level fear, and when you’re afraid, you’re malleable. It increases the likelihood that the next time you’re in a similar situation, you’ll be more willing to follow orders, regardless of their justification. Today, that might mean surrendering your ID for no apparent reason, or allowing unwarranted access to your car. Tomorrow, it could mean surrendering freedom of the press and facing indefinite, illegal detention. For decades, many Americans have seen police harassment and brutality as a black issue, but if we continue walking the path toward authoritarianism, black people won’t be the only ones searching for an escape.

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Beyoncé, Booty, and Feminism

Close-up of Beyoncé

1990 Madonna called. She wants her whole steez back.

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Beyoncé is a superb entertainer. One minute, her voice is the piercing blare of a trumpet and the next, it’s the gentle lilt of a cello. Of course, her body is equally as flexible, just as exquisitely crafted, and almost as thrilling to witness. Unassailable talent allows her to occupy an enviable position at the peak of pop culture, and she’s used that lofty site as a promontory from which to speak directly to the hearts—and importantly the egos—of millions of females who have come to see her as the embodiment of the ideal woman: talented, strong, and sexy. Queen Bey is a feminist icon, and she deserves to be one. However, there are those who would have us believe that BEYONCÉ, her latest album, marks her biggest step thus far in a retreat from the forefront of the feminist movement.

I say that those people are either overwrought feminist pedants or overly inhibited conservatives. Or they’re idiots. ‘Cause you know, there’s always that element.

I mean, look, the woman made some songs about being a strong woman. OK, she made quite a few of them. Hooray! Also, she’s managed to have a ridiculously successful solo career for more than a decade, when most acts appear and then disappear so quickly that you wonder if that’s why they call it pop music. Hooray again! Oh, and she’s seemingly happily married to a really rich and famous guy and has a cute little daughter, too. So now all of this somehow makes her a standard bearer for modern feminism? Or at least modern black feminism?

I’m sorry, but no. All it means is that she is a woman who has lived the kind of self-determined life that the foremothers of women’s equality envisioned for their sisters and daughters…and that she’s aware of that fact. I don’t doubt that Beyoncé honestly wants to encourage girls and women to think of themselves as self-sustaining, dynamic beings who are fundamentally equal to any man, but Elizabeth Cady Stanton she ain’t.

Perhaps a parallel example will assist in illustrating my point.

After he helped invent gangster rap, but before he started making feel-good movies, Ice Cube made a lot of passionate, pro-black music. Was I disappointed as I gradually watched Cube melt deeper and deeper into Hollywood, to the point where he’s actually game to do comedy bits with Conan O’Brien, possibly the whitest looking dude ever birthed? Not no, but hell no, ‘cause I never once got his vaguely menacing, yet somehow cherubic visage confused with that of Stokely Carmichael’s.

In the same way, members of the Yoncé Ate Sasha school of thought need to relax and understand that by releasing this album and the accompanying videos she didn’t forsake some kind of feminist mission, because dude, she never had one. Beyoncé doesn’t owe little girls, working mothers, the queens at the MAC store, or anybody else anything except good music and a good show. To the extent that she chooses to inspire a sense of inherent beauty within young women or to write lyrics that help generate female self-confidence of any kind, it is a good thing. Her decision to tilt the content of her art a little more towards sex in the bedroom…or the kitchen…or the limo floor…does nothing to negate her expressions of feminist positivity.

I fail to see why anyone’s in a tizzy over Yoncé’s sexy lyrics and skintastic videos at all in the first place. Curse words. Who cares? Bathtub intercourse while inebriated. Zzzzzz. Fleeting shot of supermodel’s tongue grazing the upper half of Beyoncé’s right mammary. Yawn. Allusion to oral sex and errant ejaculate (see Lewinsky, verb). Getting there, but let’s not phone the Thought Police just yet. Multiple potential references to anilingus…OK, sure that’s freaky. But hell, it wasn’t even explicitly stated. That’s just my interpretation. Other artists get far nastier on a regular basis, with no playful metaphors or euphemisms acting as prophylactics during their aural sex romps, so the only thing I’m left with is the idea that this new album is shocking folks only because Beyoncé’s behind it.

That begs a question for all of you grooooown women out there: What’s worse, a sexist man who won’t let you fully realize your multi-faceted identity or a feminist woman who doesn’t want you to display more than one side of it? Recall Yoncé’s sample of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reminding us of exactly what a feminist is:

“Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”

So, even if Beyoncé isn’t leading the vanguard of 21st century feminist freedom fighters, forsaking her because she’s being just as loud about her sexuality as she’s been about female empowerment is unnecessary and unfair. In the end, it’s perfectly fine for her to sing of self-determination while shaking her fine ass in peek-a-boo shorts. After all, she woke up like this.

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You Ain’t Got the Answers: Part Two

What's a king without a crown?

What’s a king without a crown?

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In my last post, I ended with a reference to Kanye’s um…somewhat emotional interaction with radio host Sway. And when I say emotional, I mean fucking Megatron is reincarnated and he’s looking for Starscream. Seriously, you could’ve heated like 20 working class Chicago homes for the winter with the fire coming outta Yeezy’s nostrils during that interview.

That brings us to writer Christiana Mbakwe’s take on the Kanye Problem. First, let me say that she at least treats her subject with enough respect to acknowledge his positive attributes and the potential value that his recent protests can provide. Still, she argues that this positivity is being obliterated under the weight of his woes, the origin of which lies in some type of mental disorder, whether it be autism, PTSD as a consequence of his mother’s death, or heck, even drug addiction. Yes, you read that last one right. To Ms. Mbakwe, that Hennessy botttle at the Taylor Swift incident and subsequent behavior over the years are signs that he’s “unravelling” and desperately in need of a therapist. This makes me wonder how often the British Ms. Mbakwe gets to party with Afro-Yanks. If she did, she’d know that when celebrating, some brothers hug a bottle of Henny harder than they hug their girl…even if she does look like Amber Rose.

But hey, maybe dude is a little mental. So am I. And so are you. Psychological scars are the cost of living. I have no doubt that the death of Donda West still affects Kanye deeply, and anyone who doesn’t allow him that either grew up on Vulcan or got the wire hanger treatment one two many times. However, when we leap past acknowledging emotional difficulties and their concomitant bad behavior all the way to diagnosing someone as mentally ill—based solely on cherry-picked media moments in a life lived in public—we head into dangerous territory. At that point, it becomes all too easy to marginalize a person with unpopular views. Just label them a ranting madman and POOF! Watch all of their credibility slide away like so much blood on a leaf.

Seriously kids, there’s just insufficient evidence to say that Kanye is crazy. Does he have anger management issues? Yes. He should learn to contain and focus it because, unfortunately, many of us can’t see past the rage to glean the truth and significance of his words. Does he declare his own genius too often? Probably. While I’m totally on board with reminding these muphuckas of who the hell they’re dealing with, if you overdo it you chafe their delicate little egos and trigger widespread outbreaks of Tall Poppy Syndrome. This explains why folks get so up in arms when Kanye compares himself to heroes like Steve Jobs. What the detractors can’t seem to understand is that when Kanye likens himself to those people he’s not literally saying that he’s just as great or has done anything that’s just as important as any one of them per se, but that he dreams in the same expansive way and needs someone to help him realize his vision.

Steve Jobs (and Steve Wozniak AND Ronald Wayne) got Apple’s first computers built with financing from a vendor who took a leap of faith and filled their order for crucial components based solely on the word of a would-be first customer. Even then, Jobs was eventually booted out of the company in disgrace and didn’t reappear at the forefront of business for a decade. His return to reshape the consumer electronics industry only happened because Apple bought NeXT, his struggling company, and brought him back home with it. Likewise, you might not even know the name Michelangelo today if it weren’t for the rich and powerful Medici family who gave him commission after commission from the time he was a young man. Jesus of Nazareth was scorned, homeless and executed as a criminal, but now his worldwide faithful call him the King of Kings. He owes that not to a miracle, but to his follower Paul, possibly the best marketing guru ever, whom he never even met.

Each of these men displayed varying degrees of talent for their chosen vocations at the onset of their moments of truth. It ranged from undeniable in the case of Michelangelo, to unproven in the case of Jobs, to still disputed in the case of Jesus, but they all eventually succeeded in making a legendary impact. Without major support however, their visions would have withered and died and their names would have crumbled in the unrelenting winds of history.

The notion of getting it done yourself is a fantastic motivational tool, but it’s just that: a fantasy. No one gets it done by themselves. The idea that great entrepreneurs are self-made is a myth that’s central to the American consciousness, but to take a large scale commercial vision from concept to reality in an insular, exclusive, and capital intensive industry like fashion requires a patron. Kanye is searching for that patron. Should he find one, he may succeed in breaking down walls and democratizing high fashion. Or, he may just break down. We’ll never know unless somebody helps him do his thing, just like somebody helped Steve Jobs and Michelangelo. Oh, and Jesus, too.

Amen.

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You Ain’t Got the Answers: Part One

"Who gone stop me, huh?"

“Who gone stop me, huh?”

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A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece on Kanye West and his frustration with his inability to break into the fashion world. I thought that would be that. In the last couple of weeks however, I’ve watched the anti-Yeezus stream grow into a river threatening to flood the internet. The deluge has consisted of nasty one-liners, thoughtful psychological profiles, and everything in-between, but it’s all had one thing in common: overwhelming negativity.

The Wall Street Journal’s Christina Binkley seemed to delight in underscoring just how hard of a time Mr. West is having. While her scathingly sarcastic piece took pains to underscore just how unimpressive Kanye’s designs have been thus far, she largely chalked up his failure to penetrate fashion’s inner circle to his inconsistency. “In order to be sold, clothes have to be produced,” she reminded us.

I’m no expert on the fashion industry. I mean, I don’t know Ricardo Tisci from fucking Ricardo Montalbán. Still, to these eyes what Ms. Binkley conveniently seems to be overlooking is the fact that for clothes to be produced, one must have access to a means of production. In addition, once the clothes are successfully produced, one must have access to a means of distribution. The fashion industry is not the technology industry. You can’t just rent office space, buy a couple of computers, put up a site and start looking for yacht club memberships. Producing a fashion brand at the level Kanye desires requires substantial capital and, apparently, some imagination on the part of the investor. No offense to the relative success of Pharrell Williams’ Ice Cream and BBC lines, but if I hear one more comparison between Yeezy and Skateboard P’s fashion pursuits I’m gonna pop an ollie into a boardslide…on somebody’s fucking head. Pharrell’s joints are streetwear brands. I’m sure Kanye could get the money to start one of those faster than you could say “cultural ghettoization,” but our boy is aiming for Ralph Lauren style and status.

So, in order to achieve the consistency Ms. Binkley chides him for lacking, he needs a shit ton of support from one of the handful of people who controls the gears of production and distribution…and he’s not getting it. That’s why, after rather cogently and calmly answering the question of why he can’t just do it himself on New York’s Hot 97 radio station, Kanye went BANANA NUT APE SHIT on radio host Sway’s show when asked the same thing.

I’m publishing the second part of this piece on Friday. Press the little button up there on the right and subscribe to make sure you get the whole story!

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Who’s Thirsty?

No matter what you heard, this is the REAL Killa Cam. Love ya, cuz.

No matter what you heard, this is the REAL Killa Cam. Love ya, cuz.

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“In the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty.” — Bob Marley, Rat Race

That pretty young thing you see above is my cousin Cam. While visiting her dad here in New York a while back, Cam met a man. To say that he piqued her interest would be an understatement, but revealingly, her attraction to him was more about what he didn’t do than what he did.

They met while she was out at one of Harlem’s liveliest nightspots, the kind of place where a dude might even try it with Michelle Obama if her eyes linger long enough. Unlike his would-be competitors who came off as clumsy brigands out to steal whatever hidden treasures she might carelessly let fall into their grubby little hands, Robbie’s swashbuckling approach was direct and efficient. He cut through Cam’s defenses before she could act on the knee-jerk rejection response with which she’d been programmed by years of overabundant male attention, and after just a few minutes of easy conversation he nonchalantly informed her that he was leaving, asked for her number, and walked out.

Within eight months, she’d moved to NYC. Sadly enough though, almost as soon as she got to her new home things started to change. His time was in increasingly short supply, and whenever they did meet up, it was always on his terms and his turf. This meant that Cam was stuck making the lonely trek from Harlem to Brooklyn, and anybody who’s lived in New York City knows that trip is so onerous that she might as well have been dating someone in Philly. In fact, she might have been better off doing that, ‘cause at least you can get a bangin’ ass cheeseteak there. Instead, all she got for her trouble was…what exactly?

That’s the question that I posed to her when she came to me for advice. From where I sat, this guy was clearly uninterested in fulfilling Cam’s emotional needs, and I didn’t have to channel Dr. Phil to get to that conclusion: dude literally said that he didn’t have time for her. I mean, sweet Mother of Dragons, that’s like a woman telling a guy that she’s celibate. Before she gets to the third syllable, we’re already thinking about how to say something nice and wrap that shit right the hell on up. But Cam wasn’t looking for a big red bow just yet, because she was making a classic woman’s error: she was mistaking a man’s disinterest for a manifestation of his value.

Cam and Keith

With only a modicum of refection, one can see the blueprint for Cam and Robbie’s entire relationship within their first interaction. He may have been handsome and whatnot, but what really got her heart pumping was how unconcerned Robbie was when he stepped to her, despite overwhelming evidence that he should’ve been dumbstruck by her grace, charm and beauty. This doesn’t surprise me. In the early stages of a relationship, confidence is one’s lifeblood, and all too often a man’s confidence can drain a woman of hers faster than you can say “Eric Northman.”

Once a woman senses that her confidence has ebbed, it follows that she’ll seek to recharge it. However, instead of taking stock and realizing that there is in fact no reason to feel any less sure of herself today than she did before she met Bon Temps’ finest, too often she will perceive that the easiest way to replenish her confidence is by somehow possessing the very instrument of her insecurity: Mr. Nonchalant.

So, it’s this bass-ackward emotional process that links male disinterest with male value. Her (subconscious) belief is that if she can hold on to a man who’s so self-assured that he barely shows interest in a great woman like her, then she’ll have a reason to believe in herself. Of course, she can never really “possess” him or any other man. That path is just a vicious cycle leading to continued suboptimal treatment from Robbie and his vampire coven, along with further self-doubt.

Look, I understand that being neither overly aggressive nor super wimpy is attractive. There’s something to be said for a man that can communicate his interest in a woman without making her feel that she either needs to take out an order of protection on him or hold his hand and walk him through the process. With that said, I hear women throwing the term “thirsty” around entirely too much.

Understand that just because a guy has enough gumption to ask you to dance twice, call you a third time after you don’t return his first message, or offer to take your kids to Chuck E. Cheese’s while you go shopping, it doesn’t mean that he’s thirsty…OK, maybe the last one is. Dude is kinda trippin’ right there. Still, I’d advise y’all to start showing more appreciation to those who appreciate you and devote less time to those with no time for you. And come to think of it, considering the fact that so many of y’all are complaining that you can’t find a man, I’d say you’re the thirsty ones. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of water out there, so I’ll tell you what I told Cam: Drink up.

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King Kong, Kanye, and Me

King Kong

“They see a black man with a white woman at the top floor, they gone come to kill King Kong.” – Kanye West, Black Skinhead

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I remember the first time I saw King Kong. I’m not sure if it was the quaint, goofy-looking classic from 1934, or the 1976 version with a seriously hot Jessica Lange. What I do know is that I was watching it as a kid on local TV in St. Louis, Missouri.

The looks of unmitigated terror appeared suddenly on the faces of the crowd that had come to see Kong, the spectacular star of the show, then rippled out across the streets of New York City in tandem with our protagonist’s bottomless rage. He ripped and smashed his way across the urban landscape, and in the blink of an eye, Kong had gone from being an unmissable bit of vaguely threatening and therefore palpably exciting exotica for the bored bourgeoisie, to a raving, uncontrollable beast. Windows were smashed, cars morphed into tangled mounds of steaming metal, and (I could only assume since this was a PG movie) people died. I was rooting hard for Kong though, and that’s even more true now.

You see, in the decades that have passed since that evening in my grandmother’s living room, I went on to attain what is, by anyone’s measure, an elite education: Hotchkiss, Harvard, Columbia Business School. I’ve worked for some of the blue-chippiest companies on the planet, beginning with the one that pretty much defined the concept of Wall Street. Started from the bottom, now we’re blah, blah, blah. Except it’s not true.

Despite my inscrutable educational accomplishments, obvious intellectual curiosity, well-documented affability, and noted charm (ask somebody and see if you ain’t heard), since my early career days I’ve felt the imposing presence of The Cage. DuBois called it The Veil, others refer to it as The Glass Ceiling. Pick a nominal metaphor. The point is, it sucks, and I use that word deliberately. As a black person in the U.S., it’s all around you: a cage initially fortified by blatant racism, now maintained by the institutional variety and reinforced by the ignorance of its passive beneficiaries. You can feel it, even if your face isn’t actually smashing into it at that very moment, and the cold realization that you can only move but so far begins to suck the very life out of you. Near the end of my time at one of those companies I was so despondent and angry that I wore all black to work every day…for three months. Some of us just aren’t content living in captivity. I’m not. Kong wasn’t. And neither is Kanye West.

Recently, Kanye appeared on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night talk show, ostensibly to clear the air between him and the host after Jimmy did a parody of Kanye that Yeezus made known he did not like. After hearing of this, I decided to check out Kanye’s latest “rant” for myself. Considering my knowledge of the man, I expected that I’d hear multiple declarations of his own greatness, I anticipated being treated to wild parallels between him and famous historical figures, and I presumed that all of it would proceed from his lips at a dizzying pace, with not a hint of irony. That’s par for the Kanye course, and yes, it was all there. What was also quite apparent however, was that along with the awesome amounts of self-aggrandizement, I was watching a man who was trying desperately to free himself from a cage too small. See for yourself:

Kanye made a name for himself as a beatsmith and rapper with a big sense of style and an even bigger mouth. The public and the media ate it up. Critical accolades poured in, with some even crediting him with bringing back the musical aesthetics of hip-hop’s Golden Age. Everybody loved the Louis Vuitton Don. What Kanye has been trying to tell us for a while now though is that he hasn’t been the Louis Vuitton Don in a long time. In fact, he wants to put his name (or his mother’s to be more accurate) on your back, but has found himself running up against barricade after barricade. In his own words: “To have a meeting with everyone…and everyone kinda just looks at you like you’re crazy…And you just cannot overcome it.”

Sing, dance, and rap well, and you're a genius. Complain that you're being limited...now you're some kind of crazy clown.

Sing, dance, or rap, and you’re entertaining. Do it well, and you’re a genius.
Complain that you’re being systematically constrained…now you’re a clown.

It is in this sobering context that I see his legendary Twitter diatribes, the famed New York Times interview with Jon Caramanica, and yes, this latest appearance on Kimmel, as hallmarks of a man who has decided to stand defiant, beat his chest, and devote the core of his being to demolishing the bars keeping him from the full measure of greatness. The anger has been building for a while. His indictment of George W. Bush during the Hurricane Katrina telethon was an early sign of the rage within. The Taylor Swift incident was another. The mean old gorilla threw shit all over the pretty little girl’s dress. Look, some people may get hurt during this process. Anger is no friend to discipline. But it takes fury to break out of the perfumed hellholes reserved for the likes of people like me and Kanye, and accordingly I have just one word for those that happen to be nearby when we finally bust out.

Run.

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