And he had always been dying—dying to be white.


And he had always been dying—dying to be white.

that he was disappearing into something white,

so that we would forget that he had once been Africa beautiful and Africa brown

if he could not be beautiful in his own eyes, then what hope did we have—mortals, children—of ever escaping what they had taught us,

of ever escaping

1.what they said about our mouths,

2.about our hair and

3.our skin,

He hailed Trump, as a “brother,” a fellow bearer of “dragon energy,”

like Trump, West is shockingly ignorant.

West’s ignorance is not merely deep, but also dangerous.

American unity has always been the unity of conquistadors and colonizers—

Here is a country that specializes in defining its own deviancy down so that the criminal, the immoral, and the absurd become the baseline,

the guardians of truth rally to the liar’s flag.

The tragedy is so old, but even within it there are actors—some who’ve chosen resistance, and some, like West, who, however blithely, have chosen collaboration.

in an accessible age, when every fuck is a tweet and every defecation a status update.

Slick Rick’s admonition
—“Their time’s limited

I did not see myself simply in the presence of a great album, but
bearing witness to the fulfillment of prophecy.

 to come of age in the last days of mystery

when I heard Kanye, I felt myself back in communion with something that I felt had been lost…

a sound that went back to the separated and unequal, that went back to the slave.
That was almost 20 years ago.

in the era of The Blueprint, he became a god,
by pulling from that generation raised in hip-hop’s golden age, and yet never being shackled by it.

Yeezy never got old.
Maybe that was the problem

evidence of an emerging theme—a paucity of wisdom, and more,
a paucity of loved ones powerful enough to perform the most essential function of love itself,
protecting the beloved from destruction.

But I learned to use this ordinariness to my advantage.

There was something soft and unthreatening about me that made people want to talk.
And I had a capacity for disappearing into events and thus, in that way, reporting out a scene.

At home, I built myself around ordinary things—family, friends, and community.
I might never be a celebrated writer. But I was a good father, a good partner, a decent friend.

Fame fucked with all of that.

I would take my wife out to lunch to discuss some weighty matter in our lives, and
come home, only to learn that the couple next to us had covertly taken a photo and tweeted it out.
The family dream of buying a home, finally achieved, became newsworthy.
My kid’s Instagram account was scoured for relevant quotes.
And when I moved to excise myself, to restrict access, this would only extend the story.

I felt myself to be the same as I had always been, but everything around me was warping

Writers, whom I loved, who had been mentors, claimed tokenism and betrayal.
Writers, whom I knew personally, whom I felt to be comrades in struggle, took to Facebook and Twitter to announce my latest heresy.

I was unprepared.

It had never occurred to me that one would, too, have to work to endure success.
The incentives toward a grand ego were ever present.

But it was now clear there was another way
a life of lectures
visiting-writer gigs
prize committees.
There were dark expectations.

“You must be getting all the pussy now.”

What I felt, in all of this, was a profound sense of social isolation.

I would walk into a room, knowing that some facsimile of me, some mix
of interviews,
book clubs,
and private assessment, had preceded me.
The loss of friends, of comrades, of community, was gut-wrenching.

And this is where the paranoia began,
because the vast majority of people were kind and normal.
But I never knew when that would fail to be the case.

I was the loneliest I’d ever felt in my life—and part of me loved it,
I loved my small fame because,
though I had brokered a peace with all my Baltimore ordinariness, with how I faded into a crowd, with how unremarkable I really was—and though I decided to till, as Emerson says, my own plot of ground, whole other acres now appeared before me.

who are you if, even as you do good, you feel the desire to do evil?

The terrible thing about that small fame was how it undressed me,
stripped me of self-illusion,
and showed how easily I could be swept away

I could love that small fame in the same terrible way that I want to live forever,

 to paraphrase Walcott, that drowned sailors loved the sea.

I loved how it belonged to me,
a private act of creation

I think of West confessing to an opioid addiction, which had its origins in his decision to get liposuction out of fear of being seen as fat.
And I wonder what private pain would drive a man to turn to the same procedure that ultimately led to the death of his mother.

There’s nothing original in this tale and there’s ample evidence, beyond West, that humans were not built to withstand the weight of celebrity.

It was that drugged-out West who appeared in that gaudy lobby, dead-eyed and blonde-haired, and by his very presence endorsed the agenda of Donald Trump.

this was still a time, as in my childhood, when you mostly had to see things as they happened, and if you had not seen them that way, there still was a gnawing disbelief as to whether they had happened at all.

a man had been born to a people who controlled absolutely nothing, and yet had achieved absolute control over the thing that always mattered most—his body.

all that remained was the soul of him, the gift given onto him, carried in the drum.

It was said, “He will serve us better if we bring him from Africa naked and thing-less.”They tore away his clothes so that Cuffy might bring nothing away,but Cuffy seized his drum and hid it in his skin under the skull bones.So he laughed with cunning and said,“I, who am borne away, to become an orphan, carry my parents with me.

For rhythm is she not my mother, and Drama is her man?” So he groaned aloud in the ships and hid his drum and laughed.

 When Jackson sang and danced, when West samples or rhymes, they are tapping into a power formed under all the killing, all the beatings, all the rape and plunder that made America.

  The gift can never wholly belong to a singular artist, free of expectation and scrutiny, because the gift is no more solely theirs than the suffering that produced it.

“And I basically know now, we get racially profiled / Cuffed up and hosed down, pimped up and ho’d down,” the we is instructive.
What Kanye West seeks is what Michael Jackson sought—liberation from the dictates of that we.

“He don’t know the things that we know because he’s removed himself from society to a point where it don’t reach him,”

 If his upcoming album is great, the dalliance with Trump will be prologue.
If it’s bad, then it will be foreshadowing.

It is the young people among the despised classes of America who will pay a price for this—

the children parted from their parents at the border,he women warring to control the reproductive organs of their own bodies,the transgender soldier fighting for his job,the students who dare not return home for fear of a “travel ban,”
which West is free to have never heard of.

It is often easier to choose the path of self-destruction when you don’t consider who you are taking along for the ride, to die drunk in the street if you experience the deprivation as your own, and not the deprivation of family, friends, and community.

for Kanye West, I wonder what he might be, if he could find himself back into connection, back to that place where he sought not a disconnected freedom of “I,” but a black freedom that called him back—back to the bone and drum, back to Chicago, back to Home.


Author: charlesburchfield

I am an artist working primarily with collage.

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