Nov 7, 2013 - Kanye West Continues to Profit From Genocidal Historical Trauma, By Danielle Miller

The conversation about Kanye West’ album artwork and merchandise continues. The general public has focused around his use of Confederate flag imagery. There have even been pictures posted of Kanye sporting the confederate flag himself. While there is validity to this conversation, the images of dead Native Americans needs to stop being overlooked and must be addressed.

Kanye West wearing the confederate flag

We are here. Acts of oppression should not be ignored simply because Native Americans are a smaller percentage of the population. It was disheartening to see different media outlets such as Saturday Night live, MSNBC, the Huffington Post and many more address the controversy of Kanye’s merchandise and conveniently ignore the imagery of dead Native Americans or the implications those images could have on Native Americans. Cultural Imperialism and the war on Native identity persists and strong Native Americans and allies will continue to address these injustices committed no matter how much the mainstream tries to silence us. The only quote we have heard from Kanye about this issue addresses the use of the confederate flag.

MSNBC and other sources have quoted Kanye: “The Confederate flag represented slavery in a way,” he said. “That’s my abstract take on what I know about it, right? So I made the song ‘New Slaves’ so I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It’s my flag now, now what you going to do?”

Kanye chose to address his use of the confederate flag and completely ignore his disrespect of Native peoples. He continues to disrespect by ignoring Native and profiting from exploitation. He probably knows his merchandise is unethical so he will continue to ignore the issue as if it doesn’t exist. This doesn’t make him any less guilty of perpetuating racism. While he “reclaims” the confederate flag, he cannot do the same with Native American identity. What we “will do” is continue to address Kanye and let him know that he does not own our identities or our struggles. He will not profit from our oppression and historical trauma without being held accountable for his actions. We are taking sovereignty over our image, we will continue to address celebrities and anyone who has intentions to exploit, oppress or demean us.

As a Kanye fan I was able to look over things Kanye did in the past, but this is something I cannot ignore. To be silent, is to treated inferior. What you allow, is what will continue. As long as we remain silent we will be ignored by modern discourse and continue to be exploited; whether through minor instances of oppression or other large acts of conquest. It’s easy to take from people that are not respected or perceived as non-existent.  Kanye’s merchandise continues to push ideas of genocide of Native Americans, contributing to the pyramid of systemic oppression. The fact that Kanye has such an influence in popular discourse shows how vital it is that he not sell or promote such imagery. It is obvious that even he is aware of his influence on pop culture, because he has the audacity to call himself a god. He even has a track called “I am god”. I have to wonder, if someone was so aware of the influence they have on the public why would they choose to use such racist imagery? Especially for someone who claims to be an advocate against racism. Just the other night I listened to some of Kanye’s old tracks, where he showed humanity when he told personal stories of his struggles and family reunions. I don’t see how he could square the dehumanization of Native Americans when considering his other perspectives and life experiences.

Art by Kanye’s merchandise designer, Wes Lang

It seems that this is all a ploy- for shock value. If Kanye truly had good intentions he would at least address the issue and make things right. Some claim he wants to represent the injustices committed against Natives. How is he doing that? By profiting off their genocide and completely ignoring them?  The artwork Kanye is using in his controversial merchandise is created by Wes Lang. If you look into Wes Lang’s other works they are latent with black face, naked women (Native and non-Native), as well as other Native American stereotypes. When considering the artist work, Kanye’s merchandise becomes even more problematic.

Underwear designed by Wes Lang, featuring seductively posed Native woman by crotch

Kanye is clearly misinformed when it comes to Native Americans. He could have made a mistake when trying to make a political statement. Regardless of his intentions, it is still negligent for him to exploit other underprivileged groups. It is Native American Heritage month, so there are plenty of opportunities for Kanye and anyone else to learn about Native Americans to avoid further disrespecting them. Kanye, you can continue to ignore us and profit from our struggles and be labeled as acting racist; or you can do the right thing and set an example and truly advocate for underprivileged groups against racism. There are plenty of Native Americans that are willing to educate and share their perspectives. Get to know us and I guarantee your interpretations of us will change.  From songs like Diamonds from Sierra Leone, to profiting off historical trauma…I have to ask Kanye, Is the money worth your soul?

Last Real Indians