Oct 26, 2013 - Kanye West’s Yeezus Album Art is Racist, By Danielle Miller

The Kanye West album has become exponentially notorious, and now the conversation is centered around the controversial album art depicting a dead Native American wearing regalia and a headdress.  To different viewers this image can carry various connotations. Some Natives look at this image and see the denied access to graves of their ancestors, as well as the thieving and abuse of those remains.  Some could say even the text “God Wants You” is a reminder of manifest destiny and other historical trauma that Native Americans endured. The image is also reminiscent of one of our nation’s most popular cultural icons, Uncle Sam. But rather than representing the messages of war propaganda, this image represents the personification of cultural imperialism and the war on Native Identity.

The rape culture of American society has been successful at indoctrinating the mainstream to normalize the practice of cultural imperialism and exploitation of underprivileged cultures. Because this occurs frequently many dismiss micro aggressions such as this, as being “just a cool & beautiful picture.” Many have even gotten tattoos of skull with head dresses while completely ignorant of the semantics and metaphors of what these images represent. When Natives try to tell them why these images are problematic they will just repeat “IT’S BEAUTIFUL!” “I’M HONORING YOU!” with refusal to become informed. Cultural appropriation of Native culture occurs frequently in pop culture as acts of shock value or just out of plain, insensitive, ignorance. Those in privilege don’t have to deal with their own identity being questioned or defined by the mainstream frequently. So it’s easy to see why they feel so justified in disrespecting other cultures. It seems these disgusting acts have become a rite of passage for those in privilege. Whether intentional or unintentional it’s obvious there are subconscious micro aggressions and acts of conquest taking place.

The phrases “kill the Indian save the man,” and “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” were justifications for genocide. Clearly when an image depicts a dead Indian, it alludes to these mantras. Privileged groups are the ones most frequently perpetuating these mantras through imagery such as the skull and headdress, and with such a mantra this image becomes even more problematic than typical displays of cultural appropriation. While the popular mainstream is not literally expressing these quotes they are still expressing these sentiments through metaphors and micro aggressions of cultural appropriation. Their actions result in literal consequences in Native Americans lives, such as systemic oppression, institutional racism, erasing of culture and other blatant displays of racism and disrespect. It’s incredulous that the popular opinion actually criticizes the individuals who speak out against such racist actions against Native Americans. Unfortunately I see history repeat itself when I’m considered “a bad Indian” for not passively accepting racism, oppression and marginalization.

In the mainstream blacks have the ability to discuss racism without their identity being an issue. I know I have never heard someone say, “Get over it. You aren’t black enough to matter anyways,” when blacks speak out against racism. So why do Natives have to deal with such remarks?

One major point of discussion on this album cover is the fact that Kanye, the perpetuator of this problematic image is black. This doesn’t vindicate him from the fact that the image on his album is problematic.  You don’t have to be white to perpetuate images that oppress or stereotype a group or culture.  I would think black people would be more likely to empathize with natives given the similarities of struggles, but unfortunately they too have instances in which stereotyping of natives is perpetuated. Snoop dog and other black rappers have stereotyped just as white hipsters have. The point is any race is capable of stereotyping or oppressing underprivileged groups. Even Native Americans can be guilty of oppressing their selves if they were to don racist, stereotypical costumes or images.

Everyone needs to stop pushing genocide and oppression of Native peoples. There are other ways to construct your identity and convey a message without it being at the detriment of Native Americans. It’s really not that difficult to realize something is racist, oppressive and harmful to a group of people and avoid perpetuating it. I guess unless you are that unoriginal, or that privileged, that you can’t bear the thought of being forced to change.

The quote “The new racism is the denial of racism” becomes more relevant in these types of situations.  Regardless of whether you claim to be ignorant or to have good intentions, it doesn’t change the fact that certain images are acts are racist. We live in the information age. You have unlimited access to information online and the ability to go to a library and educate yourself, ignorance is no excuse. When it comes down to it, you don’t even have to be educated to know why these acts are wrong, if you understand how to respect and not dehumanize fellow human beings, it’s that simple.

Tweet Kanye West and let him know how you feel about it. His twitter handle is @kanyewest.

Last Real Indians