In a fawning 1934 profile of him, The Washington Post described Bishop Solomon Micheaux as “the most famous black man in America”. His song “happy am I” a plain gospel stomp with a choir of black women singing the hook “I’m always happy, it’s in my nature”- propelled his ministry to massive financial profits. His radio show was broadcast among 25 million homes across the country. His sermons, were flashy expressions of diligence, happiness and harmony. Also in them was a vicious antagonism toward the civil rights movement. Also in them were orders that if black women over the age of 17 weren’t pregnant and married, they should be excommunicated from their homes.
Deployed by the FBI to taunt and stalk Dr King, Micheaux proved a nightmarish opposition to the civil rights movement; and he did so because he was so performatively nice. To be more culturally specific, he made being a happy innocent darkie a multimillion dollar empire. Going against Micheaux was going against financial security and massive white validation. More than that, it was going against the mythologies of racial tranquility and calm. For the longest time, I thought the triumph of the civil rights movement was to make America see past these mythologies, and attempt to look at the horror of its actual history. In doing that, I thought we had banished such figures as Micheaux to the historical trash heap.
Well here we are. And here Kanye west is: a once gifted beat maker Cyrano’s to superstardom( Rhymefest wrote almost all his woke shit) who has now become the most intercinely abusive black pop cultural figure since the happy preacher himself. You don’t think he has? You think he’s too “crazy” to be up what he’s doing? This is a man who’s lit professor mother wrote a book about what she taught him. This is a creative whose writing mentor was arguably the greatest black poet in the history of the 20th century (Gwendolyn Brooks). And his response was to denigrate dark skinned women more vehemently more than any black male in his generation. And then create a cd about stalking and threatening his dark skinned black former fiancé. And then resurrect white women stalker fetishes (with his obsession with Taylor Swift) long thought dead with a birth of a nation and the worst of Richard Wright. And then take Nina Simone’s For Women and use it to describe a sexual assault.
So, miss me with the idea that Kanye just turned dark. ‘Ye been dark for a long time. Only this time, the knife is more transparent. Attention must be paid to the gravity of the event, however. The great cultural moments of the civil rights area-the fire next time rocketing up the bestseller lists, Muhmamad Ali redefining black pride and beauty, Aretha demanding R.E.S.P.E.C.T, among others- were moments where a people saw the best of themselves. In their examples and courage, they touched on truths that people needed to hear for centuries and provided a new air that could make people believe that a brighter day wasn’t an impossibility.
Kanye’s embrace of Trump and discounting of slavery doesn’t hurt because of what he said. It hurts because it is the opposite of what Baldwin, Ali, And Franklin did for us. West isn’t just championing a most malignant racist predator. He is doing so with the backing of millions of white people who share his views/president’s depraved indifference black human life. And his doing so at a time when the voting rights act is gutted, resegreation is at levels a half century ago, and extrajudicial killings of black people are at a frightening frequency. He has become the drum major for a band of Americans intent on torturing his people, and the personal symbol of the terrifying new cargoes of weight black people have to carry.
And if polls hold, West’s impact will mean there is a chance that his people will have to carry that weight for an unfathomable amount of time. In more practical words: it might cost dems the midterms. Trump embraced country club hoteps/ black college presidents and predator strongmen athletes for a reason. He knew that the Jim Crow worked with the help of monsters like Solomon Micheaux. He knew the craven amnesia straight black men had toward his racism, how black men forgot the civil rights cases THE NIXON ADMNISTRATION had against him because he signed Hershel Walker to his football team and staged Mike Tyson fights. And in embracing the Ankh right and Kanye, he is speaking to the demons that have bedeviled straight black men and brutalized back people in America. Be the man. Do anything you want as strongman, whenever you want to do it. Get yourself privilege and power. Get yourself a place at my table. This the reason Ray Lewis and Jim Brown embraced him, the reason Kanye loves him so much, and-if the uptick in black men who support trump holds-the reason black people will suffer for the rest of our days.
Hearing of trump’s newfound black support, I thought of the later William Faulkner. To be more specific, I thought of the smack and cirrhosis ridden husk of a man who had long stopped being the greatest novelist in the history of the English Language. Bullied by his family, nearly disabled by his addictions, and dragged into international celebrity, he had made a series of disturbing statements about race that torched his reputation as a progressive (statements that he recanted at the end of his life).
Outside of the pressures of the south, however, his voice was hauntingly clear, as it was in his first response to Emmett till’s murder. In a 400-word cable, he said
“Perhaps the purpose of this sorry and tragic error committed in my native Mississippi by two white adults on an afflicted Negro child is to prove to us whether or not we deserve to survive. Because if we in America have reached that point in our desperate culture when we must murder children, no matter for what reason or what color, we don’t deserve to survive, and probably won’t.”
Replace white men with black men and the death of Emmett till and the support of trump and you have what I feel right now. Only that we may help take down black America (and America as a whole) with us. I have no eloquent, assuring words to end this essay. It is the most painful thing I ever had to write as a creative. I felt I had to write it because I wanted to honor my ancestors and let my descendants to know that I stood for something. I want to let them know that I’d rather die on my feet, than live on my knees.