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Kanye West, Controversy By Appropriation

Kanye West’s at it again, selling the Confederate flag at his concerts, looking to undercut a divisive old symbol – and sell t-shirts. We’ll look at Kanye West and the Confederate Flag.

In this Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013 file photo, recording artist Kanye West speaks onstage during the 17th Annual Hollywood Film Awards Gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. West is postponing the rest of his “Yeezus” tour after a 60-foot LED screen used during his shows was damaged. The use of the Confederate flag on his tour merchandise has stirred controversy. (AP)

In this Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013 file photo, recording artist Kanye West speaks onstage during the 17th Annual Hollywood Film Awards Gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. West is postponing the rest of his “Yeezus” tour after a 60-foot LED screen used during his shows was damaged. The use of the Confederate flag on his tour merchandise has stirred controversy. (AP)

Hip hop artist, superstar Kanye West is definitely a self-promoter and a provocateur, whether it’s saying George Bush doesn’t like black people, or dissing Taylor Swift, or just the lyrics of his latest Yeezus album:  “I am a god, I am a god.”  But it’s what this famous black man is selling on tour right now that’s got a debate going:  Kanye West is selling and wearing the Confederate flag.  Taking the symbol of rebellion and white supremacy and saying he now owns its.  It’s his.  Re-appropriated.  Defanged.  Really?  Up next On Point:  Appropriating tough symbols.  Kanye and the Confederate flag.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Jon Caramanica, pop music critic for the New York Times. (@JonCaramanica)

Tracy Clayton, writer and humorist, staff writer at BuzzFeed. (@BrokeyMcPoverty)

Marc Anthony Thompson, singer-songwriter. Albums include “Black Yankee Rock,” Swansongs,” “GodMusic,” and “Black Music.” (@ChocGenInc)

John McWhorter, professor of linguistics and Western civilization at Columbia University. Author of “Language Hoax: Why The World Looks The Same In Every Language,” “All About the Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can’t Save Black America,” “Defining Creole” and “Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English.”

From Tom’s Reading List

USA Today: Kanye, Confederates and race – “As a black artist embracing a symbol often used by white racists, Kanye forces the viewer to understand the symbol in a different light. Transforming a symbol of hate to love or vice versa is a part of a complex, underappreciated and sometimes-misunderstood history of re-defining symbolic images through a process of appropriation”

The Root: Kanye West’s Ego Can’t Change History – “You’ve probably read stories of students wearing the flag to school, the flag being waved at the gates of the White House and the “that’s not what it means” debate. Is it Southern pride or the symbol of American oppression’s past? Most Americans have the common sense or at least the common decency not to parade the flag around, even if they agree with its supposedly controversial meaning. Enter Kanye West.”

UPTOWN Magazine: Why Kanye West’s Confederate Flag Is Awesome — “The reason Kanye’s Confederate flag is absolutely awesome is because he’s attempting to appropriate the LARGEST symbol of white power, privilege, and racial dominance known to African Americans.The Confederate flag is not only a symbol of slavery, lynchings, and Black oppression, but it is also a cherished symbol of white southern pride for many people who still have backwards and prejudiced hate for Black people.”

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  • John Cedar

    When I was a kid, I never realized the Dukes of Hazard were hate filled white supremest racists, but I suppose I should have because they didn’t chose the current American flag for the top of their car.
    Just the good ol’ boys
    Wouldn’t change if they could
    Fightin’ the system like a true
    Modern day Robin Hood

    • liminalx

      “…they didn’t chose the current American flag for the top of their car.” I didn’t realize the confederate battle flag was ever an America flag

      • John Cedar

        Tweren’t the confederate states of Europe.

  • HonestDebate1

    Much ado over nothing.

  • J__o__h__n

    This is more about commerce than art or politics. What’s next a Kanye line of white sheets?

    • StilllHere

      1000 thread count or more Egyptian cotton, I’m all over them.

    • fun bobby

      I was hoping her would take on swastikas and hitler moustaches next. Jordan already softened up the hitler moustache. its a shame that such an accessible moustache style has been foreclosed for so long

  • J__o__h__n

    “We’ll look at Kanye West and the Stars and Bars.” — I’m from the north, but I thought that the Stars and Bars was the first national flag and that the one being discussed is the battle flag.

    • Coastghost

      You are correct, and the producers of this segment of “On Point” are in error.

  • Bigtruck

    In what other conflict in history are the losers able to parade around in their symbol of intolerance? It always amazes me that a symbol represents owning other human beings can be seen by anyone as an object of pride.

    I am not always a fan of Kanye but this is brilliant. A black man wearing and selling this symbol as his own kind of puts a period at the end of this sentence. It is basically saying you lost, it’s mine, move on.

    • Coastghost

      Of course, the Confederate battle flag is no simple “symbol represent(ing) owning other human beings . . .” — as Kanye shows, far from it. This flag, odious as it is to many by its dire associations, does not have ONLY one way of appearing to human eyes (just as I’m sure Old Glory itself does not look quite like the same flag the world over, no matter the unvarying design and regardless of how true the color representations of the red stripes and blue field): who appropriates it for what use is part of any number of continuing stories, including this one.

      • Bigtruck

        Of course not, what it represents is a way of life, in which owning other human beings is not a small part. This way of life was defeated on the bloody battlefields of this country. Yet in some places it is still a symbol of pride, even appearing in state flags. The battle flag continues, whether we like it or not. Kanye is trying to make money, yes, but I think he is also trying to get control of the narrative. This is where the art lives

        • Coastghost

          I don’t know that the Confederate battle flag every “represented” the institution of slavery, except by close association and the indulgence of anachronism: most Confederate belligerents were not slave holders, and in the thick of battle I rather doubt very many of them gave a moment’s thought to slavery, to read the reminiscences of a battle veteran like Ambrose Bierce.

          • Bigtruck

            I see, the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery. Got it. Have a nice day.

          • Coastghost

            Some people just LOVE to misread, misapprehend, and misconstrue, depending on the subject in question (id est, you sound like my friend Ray in VT).

          • Bigtruck

            That’s funny, Ray sounds like a good guy. People from VT can usually smell it.
            To your earlier point. If the “Confederate belligerents” gave more thought about why they were fighting and dying more of them may have lived to a ripe old age

          • Coastghost

            (When Vermonters’ nostrils are not filled with cheese, that is, however ripe or unripe.)

  • Coastghost

    I’ll also point out for the benefit of this hour’s listeners: as many of you know, the NAACP made an issue for years over the flying of the Confederate flag atop the State House in Columbia. The flag no longer flies over the dome (and hasn’t for almost fifteen years), though it still graces the Confederate memorial on the State House grounds, which is a fitting place for it to be.
    Less well known is the story of how the flag got to fly over the State House dome (beneath the US flag and the Palmetto State flag in descending order): the state’s Democratic governor at the time, Fritz Hollings (now a retired US Senator and former fast friend of Ted Kennedy’s), directed the Confederate flag to so fly in the early 1960s to commemorate the centennial of the War of Northern Aggression. That the Democratic State House failed to take the flag down after April 1965 was a curious neglect of historical detail. (Republican Gov. David Beasley lost re-election in part, it is said, over his decision to remove the flag from its place atop the State House to the Confederate memorial in the 1990s).

  • StilllHere

    Who cares?

    When’s the show on Hanna Montana: Twerking Feminist gonna air?

  • fun bobby

    kanyes mission to get attention accomplished yet again. are we sure Ray J did not start selling the confederate flag at his concerts first?

  • Wahoo_wa

    The operative words here are “…to sell t-shirts.”

  • fun bobby

    big taylor swift fan? you must not have seen that hurricane fund raiser

  • TELew

    Speaking as a white Southerner whose ancestors include a Confederate soldier, not all Southerners who fly the Confederate flag are necessarily racists, nor is their intention racist.

    I personally do not have the flag because I understand what it represents in our culture today. I absolutely think what African Americans endured from their first arrival in Virginia through the humiliations of slavery and post-emancipation quasi-slavery is heinous. I understand the horrors of lynching and the degradation of segregation, coupled with the frustration resulting from poverty and disfranchisement.

    But I am also not ashamed of my ancestors, even though they were on the wrong side of the issue during the Civil War. And that is a reason that many Southerners still display the Confederate flag–to honor their Confederate ancestors. To fly the flag (or more commonly have it as a license plate) does not automatically mean a person is racist.

    I agree that the Confederate flag should not be flown at governmental buildings, nor should it be part of state flags. But I again state that just because a Southerner displays the flag one should not automatically assume that person is a racist.

  • hellokitty0580

    I think Kanye West *trying* to appropriate the confederate flag is the same thing as black people who use the n-word. I don’t believe in either of those things. As a mixed race black and white young woman, with ancestors who were slaves and a great-grandfather who was the product of slave rape, the n-word will never be acceptable to me. Its shameful and vitriolic for all humanity. I understand that Southern whites want to be proud of their ancestors and their heritage and I think they have a right to that and should be. As an American who believes in unity, it’s my heritage too. But some things are just too loaded with negativity to be utilized in a positive way.

    As for Mr. West, he likes attention and he’s a sensationalist. I think he likes to make statements whether he’s actually contributing anything worthy of our consideration or not. Regardless, he’s getting us to discuss this issue that hasn’t dissipated in our country, so I’ll give him that much. But let’s not forget: Kanye’s also making a cool profit from this by selling the flag at his concerts. So much for contributing to intelligent discussion for the sake of intelligent discussion. I think it’s just one more way Kanye can feed his egotistical beast.

  • ToyYoda

    When will the swastika be restored to Diwali, after its demonic re-appropriation by the Nazis?

  • llilly

    You can add meaning to words and symbols, but you can’t take meaning away. People tried this with the N word. It has a new, inoffensive meaning in African-American culture, but it is still racist and hurtful when used against black people. I can just imagine racists flying the Confederate flag, knowing among themselves that it’s a racist symbol, but publicly defending it by saying “Kanye said it’s not racist anymore!”

  • Coastghost

    And now we get to hear what “meaning” means . . .

  • hellokitty0580

    I think Kanye knows how to manipulate controversial topics to feed his own ego. I dunno if that makes him worthy of our praise.

  • art525

    What hooey. Why would anyone give any thought to anything this not so bright raging egomaniac has to say?

  • Brander

    Did K West gewt the idea for this promotion from Percival Everett’s “Appropriation of Culture?” Excellent short story in the collection _Damned if I Do_.

  • ireadsithinks

    Percival Everett wrote a short story called Appropriation of Cultures. A black man buys a truck from a white man and insists that the confederate flag displayed in the back window convey with the truck. it’s powerful. I wonder if Kanye read it.

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    If the folks working at On Point ever want another excellent guest for this topic, I hope you contact Ta-Nehisi Coates.

  • lando868

    kanye should make toilett paper, underwear, tampons, pot scrubbers, welcome matts, all of them with the confederate flag emblem so it will be trashed, tarnished, pilloried and denegrated.

    I’m all for that/

  • atakemoto

    If nothing else, Kanye is taking some of the wind out of the sail behind the confederate flag. I hope the racists in this country are cringing.

  • Rick Evans

    Clownyay West can $pin this $tunt any way he wants. Hip-hop minstrels long ago embraced the “n-word” and when spewed by a white bigot it’s fangs are as sharp as ever.

  • lando868

    kanye should make toilett
    paper, underwear, tampons, pot scrubbers, welcome mats, all of them
    with the confederate flag emblem so it will be trashed, tarnished,
    pilloried and denegrated.

    I’m all for that.

  • Coastghost

    Anyone with a handle on the metrics? How much of this merchandise is moving? (and how long has this marketing campaign been unfolding?)

  • Mickey Coburn

    The man has accomplished what he set out to do — you’re dedicating an entire hour program about him. That’s what he means to accomplish. I’m not sure he’s worth the time.

    • artemus_prime

      i have to applaud NPR however for having this discussion. we all, i think, agree that kanye’s contribution to this discussion is shallow and self serving, but let’s take any opportunity to put forth intelligent discussion about how divided we are still growing racially

  • JellyJelly66

    Kanye’s flag grab may or may not be a sloppy, flash-in-the-pan genius stunt, but I would rather see a black hip-hop star do this over a white country star any day!

    If he’s the one who has the resources, the ego to do this at this time can’t we get past parochial contests of what kid of black man has the right?

  • ianway

    I can hardly believe anyone would give credence to, let alone not find offensive, a “statement” by a very rich man with tremendous monetary power identifying himself and his position with that of a slave.

    • lando868

      I don’t find it offensice at all, Kanye should burn the confederate flag on stage. That would take balls.

  • J__o__h__n

    How is it different in the South when the whole country south of Canada is supposedly equally racist?

  • JoeGeller

    The Percival Everett story was published in 1996 (as mentioned below), “The Appropriation of cultures” is a favorite on NPR Selected shorts.
    You can find a pdf by Google.

    “I’ve decided that rebel flag is my flag. My blood is southern, right? Well it’s my flag.”

  • http://onanov.com Donald Baxter

    Confederate flags fly in Quebec. I think it means something different in Quebec, but I’m from Alabama and Georgia. Still makes me feel threatened and creepy.

  • lando868

    kanye should make toilett
    paper, underwear, tampons, pot scrubbers, welcome mats, all of them
    with the confederate flag emblem so it will be trashed, tarnished,
    pilloried and denegrated.

    I’m all for that

  • lando868

    Kanye might as well have appropriated a swastika.

  • lando868

    Kanye. I dare you to burn the Confederate flag on stage and stomp on it.

  • Brown

    It’s funny how state capitals and courthouses throughout the south fly the Confederate flag but Kanye West is the one making black people feel uncomfortable

  • hellokitty0580

    I’m 27 and I’ll never be okay with the n-word. It will always be hurtful to me. Sometimes I think that there are some symbols that should remain negative because they remind us of who we were and who we should never be again. So every time i hear the n-word, I feel like we haven’t come far enough or we’re still right where we were.

  • Jo Bleaux

    Maybe it flies in certain circles, but in New Orleans at least, a young white person absolutely cannot get away with using the n-word like dude. The speaker is delusion to extrapolate his experience this way.

  • Smiller

    I agree with Tracy Clayton that there is a big difference between Kanye saying “my flag” vs. “our flag”. His profits from confederate flag-laden merch are presumably going to his own pockets, but please correct me if he’s donating it to some organization that seeks to further break down racial inequality. I would love for that to be the case.

    • fun bobby

      nope he is going to use it to buy gaudy jewelry for a fat bottomed white girl, unless you call that breaking down racial inequality

  • artemus_prime

    kanye is and has been struggling within. unfortunately for us, he enjoys a platform to act out his “growth”. God help him get thru it soon. this discussion would best be served to examine the state of race relations in the USA today and where it’s headed. i believe it is in decline and we all suffer due to that state.

  • lando868

    kanye should make toilett
    paper, underwear, tampons, pot scrubbers, welcome mats, all of them
    with the confederate flag emblem so it will be trashed, tarnished,
    pilloried and denegrated.

    I’m all for that

    • Jo Bleaux

      how many times are you going to post this?

  • bgpeace1968

    This issue is difficult to grasp; what would happen, what would it signify, if a high profile person appropriated the Nazi flag?

  • artemus_prime

    do true lovers/defenders of the confederate flag as “heritage not hate” openly and persistently oppose those who claim it as their symbol of hate?

  • Smiller

    Great open discussion – Thanks to the panel

  • lando868

    Right on Kaynye. You just got a whole hour of FREE PUBLICITY.

    Now could you please print out thousands of rolls of toilett paper with the confederate flag so I can wipe my ass with it? I will buy the first 100.

    • Jo Bleaux

      I guess four times wasn’t enough.

  • Lynda

    Artist John Sims did this back in 2004–albeit sans the capitalistic, consumerist intentions that West exudes….http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A57326-2004Sep2.html

  • johndickason

    Here’s a parallel for you: a Jewish artist appropriates the swastika and uses it as his symbol. Offensive, yes, but that’s just the beginning. Hurtful, enraging, tragic, and ignorant. Hubris and greed are Kanye’s motivators. I agree with the president; he’s a jack-ass. Kanye may be able to say and do as he pleases but he can’t erase from history the horror that was slavery. And young people shouldn’t be fooled into wearing this symbol without the full knowledge of what was done to blacks in our country well before they were born.

    • J__o__h__n

      Mel Brooks did this with Springtime for Hitler. Much more effective than selling T shirts.

      • johndickason

        Yeah but Mel Brooks is known for satire. Kanye is known for jack-assery.

        • fun bobby

          so this fits his brand perfectly

          • johndickason

            Yes, I’m sure this will sell some records for him.

    • fun bobby

      so you don’t have a problem with all the white slavery that took place at the same time?

      • johndickason

        Of course I have a problem with it. Slavery is bad everwhere and everytime, white, black, or any other color. You?

        • fun bobby

          I wish people would put as much energy into stopping current slavery as they do worrying about past slavery. America is still very much involved with slavery, we have simply outsourced it. Hershey has committed to providing slave free chocolate by 2020. that means they have committed to using child slaves for the next seven years and apparently that’s perfectly legal.

          • johndickason

            True. Can’t argue with that. Every time I see a clothing label “made in Bangladesh”, I remember the poor people who were de facto slaves working in unsafe conditions and were killed. They are so quickly forgotten.

          • The poster formerly known as t

            Can’t have civilization without slavery.

          • fun bobby

            empire

          • Guest

            ,

      • notafeminista

        It’s only fashionable to speak of black slavery. Whites, with their “presumed privileged” can hardly be enslaved or discriminated against.

      • The poster formerly known as t

        The difference is that whites could eventually be free after a period of time. African slavery was not temporary it was for life–it was part of a system of social marginalization.

        • fun bobby

          not entirely accurate. in some cases African americans even owned their own slaves, even a few cases of black people owning white slaves

          • The poster formerly known as t

            A few outliers, even if they’re true, doesn’t disprove the fact that the conditions of slavery, for whites and blacks were different.

  • fun bobby

    that’s his next album

  • fun bobby

    of course its your flag why would it not be as long as you love liberty?

  • marcuspw

    This was a provincial discussion of words, history and symbols. Kanye and Chappelle have explored these meanings to both races in terms of American history, past and present.

    What about the Nazi flag and Jews, and Germans? What about Pol Pot’s symbols in Cambodia? If we discussed these less personal meanings I think they would shed light on what our symbols mean to us.

    As for me, Kanye and Dave both affirm a terrible history and lay claim to their equality by using those old exclusive symbols and words of the past,. Words and symbols are how we relate to culture. From the standpoint of history, the confederate flag is the history of both black and white culture as surely as the slave auction is. We shared that history as perpetrator and victim. Now we share the strange fruits of it (another Kanye episode).

    1977: Roots – After LaVar Burton gets flogged for not accepting his slave name Toby, John Amos says through tears to him “Kunta Kinte – That’s who you gonna always be”. This flag episode is Americans claiming their place in history – who they always were, and affirming their own human role in it. They survived, they thrived, but we are all still healing.

    • fun bobby

      except when dave did it it was funny. did you see dave do his roots sketch

  • johndickason

    I agree that point was missed. Young kids will just think the confederate flag is a neat “anti-establishment” logo. Not cool. Offensive to people who oppose racism, and comical (and welcome) to actual racists.

  • fun bobby

    the beastie boys are awesome?

  • Jon

    separation, partition like Indians and Pakistanis did is not a bad idea.

  • Ia

    Regarding the confederate flag, I want to add a quick note – I am a 30 year old woman from Florida who has been living in Samoa for 5 years. I have met many Samoans who have confederate flags in the homes or trucks; when I ask them why I get a similar answer – Samoans and rednecks are the same, they like to drink, be loud, and have fun. So, for these fine folks they see the flag as a symbol of southern good times, not about what the flag represented in the past. I found this fascinating.

    • Bluejay2fly

      I live in Northern New York and you hit the nail on the head. I do not only see that symbol around all the time but I have even seen it as tattoos up here. Ironically, some of their ancestors probably fought against that flag ,but I think to them its a redneck symbol. PS country music is popular up here and even in rural Quebec for that same reason. I suppose you could argue that they are more racist than the rest of the general population but that issue is very complicated.

  • LinRP

    I agree with what you say in THEORY. However, Tracy Clayton made the show’s most biting point. It’s all well and good for Kanye to “take back the flag.” Let some rural, young black man living deep in Alabama walk into a redneck bar wearing one of Kanye’s T-shirts. That symbol most definitely has power over the life of that young man — the power to put his life in jeopardy, no matter what Kanye decrees from the comfort and luxury of his rarefied life replete with iron gates around his home and 24/7 security detail.

  • Lawrence

    Is this guy really deserving of our attention? As Barack Obama said, and I quote; “the guys a jack ass”

  • TJPhoto40

    I’m all for appropriation and re-contextualizing symbols or words when it serves a constructive purpose. K West clearly isn’t the first to try this, but he does try to swagger his way to credit and that serves mainly his inflated ego as a frustrated artist-pretender. I’m glad the discussion at least broke free of association strictly with him and his grandiose attempt at gaining more notoriety for himself. It helps to discuss more broadly these loaded symbols and words, to decode and defuse them a bit in the process.

  • Other Chris

    Well, this was disappointing.

  • Bluejay2fly

    Correct!!!! What they are calling the Confederate flag is actually their battle flag and was not their national flag. It’s a common misconception like calling Jesus being born of a virgin the Immaculate Conception vs the virgin birth, or calling the “creature” Frankenstein which is the doctor’s name, or saying carmel instead of caramel.

  • Bluejay2fly

    You must live in the urban north because I see it all over rural NY and Vermont. I think it has become for many both an anti racial symbol and a redneck symbol. I shall also tell you many people from Upstate NY dislike NYC and often talk about how much better off we would be without it. That further leads me to believe it is about redneckism and country ways vs the urban lifestyle. In that sense it then becomes political as well.

  • Bluejay2fly

    Well said.

  • fun bobby

    he really has nothing on the time Jordan rocked that Hitler stash

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