Thoughts by another, relevant to something public & violent witnessed today and other days:

The day the CD [Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy] dropped, I was invited to Columbia Law School to give a talk on black literary imagination for Kimberle Crenshaw’s class, “Colorblindness and the Law.” I had the bootleg of the CD for two weeks, but my friend Hua and I still darted to Best Buy in between classes to get two originals.

On my way to the train station in Poughkeepsie, I play the first minute of the actual CD in my car.

Then I replay it.

Shit is just too good.

I play the last minute of the album in the parking lot of the station. And I replay it.


I love that Kanye West, the self- and society-anointed international asshole, not only frames his album with the questions, “Can we get much higher?” and “Who will survive in America?” but also borders his fantasy with the faux British voice of Nicki Minaj and the grainy revolutionary voice of Gil Scott Heron. Within this frame, with all the guest verses and distorted vocals, it’s obvious Kanye West believes that plenty of voices, other than his own, also deserve to be explored in his beautiful dark twisted fantasy.


Poor black folks from New Orleans deserved more so Kanye said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

Beyonce deserved more so Kanye said, “Taylor, I’ma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the greatest videos of all time.”

Queer brothers deserved more so Kanye said, “I been discriminating against gays … and I wanna come on TV and tell my rappers, just tell my friends, Yo, stop it, fam …”

Black kids in Chicago deserved more so Kanye said, “Man, killing’s some wack shit.”

Listeners of American popular music deserved more than formulaic noise so Kanye West offered us eight years of GOOD music. In those eight years, Kanye managed to collapse, carve and distort disparate sounds rooted in the black musical traditions into newly shaped inescapable musical experiences. His work did more than challenge conventional composition. Whether it’s College Dropout, Late Registration, 808s and Heartbreak or Watch the Throne, Kanye’s work literally dared us to revise our expectations of sound.

Precisely because Kanye is able to give us so much more than we actually deserve, I need to tell Les that Kanye West, that box-jawed American virtuoso who told the white man the truth, is eons better at his job than Les is at lying and I am at writing, but when it comes to exploring women (you know, “females,” “cats,” “bitches,” “hoes,” “pussies,” “Kelly Rowlands,” “hood rats,” “good girls,” “sluts,” “light skinned girls,” and now “Perfect Bitches”), Kanye West ain’t really using his voice or his art right.

This actually makes him just like almost every other virtuoso and mediocre American man I’ve read, watched or heard.

Kanye West is better than those jokers, though.

He’s good enough, brave enough, conceptually genius enough, compassionate enough and now rich enough to use his voice to explore with prickly honesty, and dramatic irony, what black women deserve and the ways he encourages, and is encouraged to, obsessively dismember, soulfully mutilate and straight diss the fuck out of women in order to move units and feel like a manlier man.

At what point does listening to artists obsessively encourage manipulative relationships, sociopathic deception and irresponsible sex with women doubling as accessorized pussy become not just destructive, but really, really boring? If Kanye West won’t, or maybe even can’t, explore the meat of that question, isn’t he too great to exploit it?

That’s some of what I wanted to tell Les after he said that thing about treating females like cats. Instead of saying any of it, I just hovered over Les in his Runaway spot, feeling extra good about myself for wanting to say any of it at all.

A month or so later, I sat in front of a computer screen in New York and wrote a piece critiquing Les for reducing my Grandma to a cat and Kanye for the destructive gender politics in his art. I ended the piece with what I thought was a harpoon to Les’s gizzard: “I should have asked Les if he deserved to ever have his hand held by a woman.”

The essay generally, and that sentence specifically, helped me run away from truth, reckoning and meaningful change. I don’t want to run any more.

I am better at fucking up the lives of women who have unconditionally loved me than Les is at lying and Kanye West is at making brilliant American music. And even worse than the bruising parts of Kanye’s art, the paranoid femiphobia of HaLester Myers, or the pimpish persona of Stevie J, the abusive gender politics of Paul Ryan and Todd Akin, the thousands of confused brothers out there who think “misogyny” is the newest Italian dish at Olive Garden, I have intimately fucked up women’s lives while congratulating myself for not being Kanye West, Les Myers, Stevie J, Paul Ryan, Todd Akin or the brothers who like that misogyny with a few breadsticks.

Even before the essay, I wanted the fact that I’ve read, and taken notes, on everything ever published by Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Imani Perry, dream hampton and Rebecca Walker to prove to everyone — especially women I’m interested in — that I’m way too thoughtful to be a dickhead. I wanted folks to know I’ve made my male students reckon with being born potential rapists, that I have defended black girls in need of abortions from rabid pro-lifers at abortion clinics in Mississippi. I wanted women to know I was a man who would always ask, “Are you okay? Are you sure you want to do this?”

I couldn’t wait to tell some men –- but only when in the presence of women — how sexism, like racism and that annoying American inclination to cling to innocence, was as present in our blood as oxygen. When asked to prove it, I’d dutifully spit some sorry-sounding mash up of Michael Eric Dyson, Cornel West and Mark Anthony Neal. But just like them, I never said that I know I’m sexist, misogynist and typical because I routinely fuck up the lives of women in ways that they can rarely fuck up my life. I never said that I’ve used black feminism as a convenient shield, a wonderful sleep aid, and a rusted shank to emotionally injure human beings who would do everything to avoid emotionally injuring me.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that. And of course there are all kinds of qualifications and conditions I want to explore, but beneath all of that conditional bullshit lies a lot truth, a bit of reckoning and the possibility of change.

I am a wannabe black male feminist who is really bad at loving women who are really good at loving me.

- excerpt from Kanye West Is Better at His Job Than I Am at Mine (But I’m Way Better at Being a Fake-Ass Feminist) by Kiese Laymon