US President Donald Trump met with two prominent musicians on Thursday — Kanye West and Kid Rock — when signing the Music Modernization Act. West, it seems, broke the internet with his remarks, which were derided by journalists as "incoherent." While West's remarks were at times bizarre, slightly misogynist and, let's say, braggadocious, he used the opportunity to address real issues, displaying a dedication to talking about important topics like prison reform, a responsibility which mainstream journalists have largely reneged on.
While some of the hip-hop star's remarks were indeed difficult to understand and perhaps nonsensical, it is important to remember that he is a performer. Other issues the musician spoke about — often using metaphor — showed that West is a lot more politically astute than standard characterizations of him acknowledge.
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) October 11, 2018
While the visit was related to a copyright bill, West used the opportunity to talk about a range of issues, including prison reform and the connection between joblessness, mental health and mass incarceration.
In essence, West argued that America has relied on carceral means to solve economic and mental health issues, saying that after the widespread closure of mental health facilities in the 1980s and 90s "the prison rate just shot up." He also talked about how the outsourcing of American industry drove people to find work in the black market economy, which in turn landed them in prison."When we make everything in China and not in America, then we are cheating on our country, and we're putting people in positions to have to do illegal things to end up in the cheapest factory ever, the prison system," he said.
Wearing a red "Make America Great Again" hat and sitting across the table from Trump in front of a large group of reporters, West opened up about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. His most recent album cover reads, "I hate being Bi-Polar it's awesome."
On Tuesday, a CNN panel hosted by Don Lemon mocked the rapper for his mental health issues. "Nobody should be taking Kanye seriously. He clearly has issues. He's already been hospitalized. Not to trivialize mental health issues, but I mean, obviously, Kanye has taken a turn in a very strange way," said CNN commentator Tara Setmeyer.
— CNN Tonight (@CNNTonight) October 10, 2018
West is "the token negro of the Trump administration," she quipped.
"Kanye West is what happens when negroes don't read," CNN analyst Bakari Sellers said.
"My issue with Kanye West is quite simple: it's that anti-intellectualism simply is not cool. And Kanye West — as you stated — these issues that they're gonna talk about are issues that are central issues in many African-American communities," Sellers continued. "They're very important issues. But the fact is that we're not sending Kanye West to the White House to talk about these issues because he can't. He doesn't have the depth to. I want to hear what Kanye West wants to do when we're talking about criminal justice reform or prisoner re-entry. The fact is he cannot; he doesn't have that depth."
At the White House, West bemoaned the lack of rehabilitative services for prisoners and said that it's important "that we provide a transition of mental health and American education curriculum."
West said, "There's a lot of things affecting our mental health that makes us do crazy things that puts us back into that trapdoor called the 13th Amendment."
The rapper was dragged over hot coals in late September after tweeting a picture of himself wearing a MAGA hat with the caption, "This represents good and America becoming whole again. We will no longer outsource to other countries. We build factories here in America and create jobs. We will provide jobs for all who are free from prisons as we abolish the 13th amendment." The tweet has since been deleted.
"I did say abolish [the amendment] with the hat on because why would you keep something around that's a trapdoor?" West said on Thursday.Lemon reported after the tweet, "Yesterday, while wearing a red Trump hat, he tweets that he wants to abolish the 13th Amendment, you know, the one that ended slavery."
The notion that West was, in essence, advocating the return of slavery was echoed far and wide throughout the mainstream media even though it was completely untrue. The 13th Amendment did not fully abolish slavery.
The exact wording of Section 1 of the amendment is as follows: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
In other words, slavery is still legal in the United States so long as the slave has been convicted of a crime. In fact, it's widespread. Prisoners are forced into deadly and hazardous lines of work like battling wildfires and cleaning up oil spills, and they make products Americans use every day for huge companies including Nike (which recently struck a deal to brand itself as woke with NFL), defense giant Boeing, Victoria's Secret, Starbucks, Whole Foods (recently acquired by Amazon, which is owned by the richest man in the world), Microsoft, Nintendo, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Target, Walmart, Kmart, Dell, JCPenney, Macy's, Wendy's, McDonald's and many, many more. Needless to say, products of prison slavery are ubiquitous in America.
In most prisons in the US, which has the highest rate of incarceration in the world by far, prisoners are forced to work for sometimes nothing, other times a dollar or two a day.
In the past, when anyone besides West has called for abolishing the 13th Amendment, it has been interpreted and characterized as a call to end slavery — not bring it back. The rapper, who once declared that then-President George W. Bush doesn't care about black people after Bush's botched response to Hurricane Katrina, was all of a sudden portrayed as being pro-slavery. West later clarified that the 13th Amendment should be modified and not totally destroyed.
— Jack Jenkins (@jackmjenkins) October 11, 2018
During his meeting with Trump, West said that at the time the amendment was ratified it was "illegal for blacks to read… so that meant if you actually read the amendment you'd get locked up and turned into a slave again."
According to the civil rights hero and acclaimed academic Angela Davis, "with the exception of Maryland and Kentucky, every Southern state absolutely prohibited the education of slaves."
After what has been repeatedly referenced as West's "rant," he took questions from reporters. He told one, "When people don't have land, they settle for brands… we want a brand more than we want land because we've never known how it feels to actually have land and have ownership of our own blocks."
— CSPAN (@cspan) October 11, 2018
ABC News' Jon Karl asked West, "You had said of President Bush that he doesn't care about black people, and you've heard some people say that about this president: what do you respond?"
"A liberal would try to control a black person through the concept of racism because they know that we are very proud, emotional people," West said. "So when I say that I like Trump, they say, ‘Oh, but he's racist.'"
"You think racism can control me?" West asked rhetorically.
In replies to the C-SPAN video tweet of the interaction, West has been repeatedly mocked. While his response may seem, on its surface, nonsensical, he never actually said whether he believes Trump to be a racist, and his refusal to accept that racism has power over him actually calls to mind a quote from the great African-American author James Baldwin."What I think of you as being is dictated by my own necessities, my own psychology, my own fears and desires. I'm not describing you when I talk about you, I'm describing me," Baldwin said in a 1963 interview. He said America "invented the n***er. I didn't invent him. White people invented him. I've always known — I had to know by the time I was 17 years old what you're describing is not me and what you're afraid of is not me." he continued. "If I am not the n***er, and if it's true that your invention reveals you, then who is the n***er?" he asked.
"Well, he's unnecessary to me, so he must be necessary to you. I'm going to give you your problem back: You're the n***er, baby, it isn't me," Baldwin said.
While West touched on many important issues, two pieces on CNN's website fixate on the absurd. The first article is entitled "Kanye West tells Trump MAGA hat made him feel like ‘Superman,'" and a reaction video featuring CNN's Dana Bash and Nia-Malika Henderson is entitled "Reporter: Kanye visit was odd, sad."