Kanye West just isn’t very good at staying in the shadows.
After the release of his newest album, the birth of his first child and a proposal to Kim Kardashian, West seems to like giving us something to talk about.
But perhaps for the first time, it’s something that’s not a self-aggrandizing act of stoking his own ego.
By brandishing a Confederate flag on his jacket and featuring the flag on some of his concert tour merchandise, West has created an opportunity for meaningful dialogue by intentionally (or unintentionally) posing the question of who is allowed to talk about social change.
The controversy over the use of the Confederate flag is one that Tampa knows all too well, as drivers on Interstates 75 and 4 are reminded of on a daily basis.
The flag represents the side of the U.S. that chose to stand for slavery during the Civil War, the side that marks one of the most shameful chapters of American history.
But those who have reclaimed the flag, descendants of those south of the Mason-Dixon line, typically Caucasian, have claimed the flag stands for states’ rights, Southern pride and regional identity.
West adds an interesting dynamic to the mix. Can a man of color, whose history pits him against what the flag has been known to mean in the context of black history, claim the flag as part of his own history?
West told People magazine that he can.
“I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag,” he said. “It’s my flag. Now what are you going to do?”
Surely, if the argument can be made that the flag represents the history of those such as country singer Trace Adkins, who has defended his right to display the flag with pride, then it would seem regressive to think West cannot claim the same, simply based on racial lines.
But the question is more complex. What place at the table do minority groups that have been historically oppressed have in being able to reclaim their identities? And should the descendants of those on the wrong side of history, far removed from their ancestors’ actions, have any place at this table?
The issue is not so much whether it’s OK that “queer,” once deemed a pejorative used to oppress people based on their sexuality or gender identity, is now an identity of its own said with pride or whether it’s acceptable for the n-word to be used in rap lyrics as a term of empowerment, as much as it has to do with who is allowed to answer these questions.
Topics such as race and sexuality are fraught with sensitive emotions that have generations of oppression and anxiety attached to them, but avoiding them and making them taboo simply fodders the subtle but lasting remnants of discrimination that comes with discomfort.
Instead of falling prey to the latest of West’s attention-grabbing moves, perhaps this opportunity should be used to create important conversation.
Divya Kumar is a senior majoring in mass communications and economics.