Janelle Harris wonders if Kanye West will ever find beauty in Black women.
My Dearest Kanye,
Eight years, six albums and several public fiascoes ago, I was introduced to you via “Through the Wire” and I was smitten -- with your flow, your word choice, your honesty, your expressiveness. You had the standard my-car-is-better-than-your-car-oh-and-by-the-way-so-is-my-chick rapper bravado, but you rhymed intelligently about real stuff with punchlines that were refreshingly down to earth and funny.
As you turned verses into albums, I really connected with not just your music but with you as a person, like kindred spirits. We’re both spoiled, creative only children. Both outspoken, smart alecky Geminis. You lost your mother a few months after I lost my grandmother -- who raised me just like she was my mama -- and I empathized with your grief because Lord knows I was suffering with my own. I’ve even had my jaw wired shut after surgery. Though, unlike you, I didn’t feel inspired to rap a song and I stuck to milkshakes because I couldn’t drink a nasty Boost for breakfast or an icky Ensure for dessert. That was false advertisement right there, my friend.
Since The College Dropout, my favorite rapper list has gone like this, in no particular order: Nas, Jay-Z, Rah Digga, and you, Kanye. (Yeah, I said Rah Digga. That’s another discussion for another day.) An elite group of artists slash thinkers. So it’s been hard to watch you spiral into a stereotype that bulldogs so many Black men when they ascertain a high level of success: they dump sisters for the once-forbidden, still-taboo allure of the world of white girls and, if they aren’t quite bold enough to do that, they brandish the good ol’ fashioned colorism card that makes trophies out of light-skinned women. The more racially ambiguous, the better. You see them all the time on the cover of King. I think you called them “mutts.” For shame, Kanye.
The bigger your name -- and, can we be honest, your ego -- got, the more you started interjecting little quips about race and complexion into your songs. At the same time, you were standing up for issues and being just as wonderfully contradictory as you’ve always been. Only you could throw a runway show in Paris and fight the power with the Wall Street protestors in the same month. For someone who aspires to be such a trendsetter and keeper of avant guarde originality, though, I’m gonna need you not to be sucked into the played out patterns that too many big pimpin’ Black men have perpetuated.
I understand that love can come shrouded in any color. Sure as I’m sitting here writing this, some sour commenter blinded by the overarching topic of interracial relationships is going to insist that it’s your right to date whomever you darn well please. And that it is, my dear. You certainly wouldn’t be the last brother to cross that color line and never come back. If you listen real close, you can almost hear the sound of some Black man dialing the number of his flaxen-haired mistress right now, making plans to leave his wife and kids, all Bernadine-from-Waiting-to-Exhale style. But the hem of your inner self-conflict is showing, and I think you can be saved.
The other day, my friends and I debated whether you would ever link up with another Black woman. Seems like the alabaster Amber Rose gave you the green light to give sisters conditional dating passes so long as they’re exotic or runway-model beautiful. I’m wondering if a regular Black girl or a chocolatey “Kelly Rowland” could ever be that masterpiece of perfection you like to praise, even as the rest of the world fails to praise us—beyond the ability to make our booties clap, of course.
Look at a picture of your mama and tell me that you don’t find beauty in Black women anymore, not just as pieces of flesh but in our understated grace that ultimately made you into the man you are today. Finding a muse isn’t necessarily about happening upon some fine, fresh thing. It’s just as easy to be inspired by where you came from. Society made tall, thin Romanians or pouty blonde Norwegians the definition of gorgeous. Nobody needs to go to Milan to find that. I’ll always be a fan, Kanye. But I will be disappointed if you don’t put all that mouth to use to say something that the world needs to hear expressly said about Black women: we’re desirable and sexy and art-inspiring, too.