Classism is Not the New Racism: An Open Letter from a Yeezyite

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Dear Kanye,

Everyone has that one album that defines a key period in our lives. For me, your classic 2004 debut The College Dropout was that album. As a millennial who experienced his teenage years at the dawn of the 21st century, I was too young to remember A Tribe Called Quest or De la Soul in their prime. I grew up in an era where everyone was looking “Fresh in their white Tee” and “Stomping in their Air Force Ones”. I, like everyone else, raced to the mall to get my authentic Tall Tee (3x to be exact) and considered my life all but over whenever I creased a fresh pair of Air Force Ones. However, at the same time, there were other aspects of my adolescent identity that longed for validation. I was a nerd who listened to Tupac religiously and read all seven volumes of the Harry Potter saga with the utmost fidelity (a girl actually cut her date short with me when she discovered Harry Potter books sprawled in the backseat of my Crown Victoria!). I was a tattooed, varsity basketball player who always kept a copy of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov in my gym bag. Essentially, I was the kid who, though welcomed at all lunch tables, found a home at none.

Through The College Dropout, you were the first person in my lived experience who spoke to the kaleidoscope of an ontologically Hip-Hop human being. While I did not understand it fully at the time, I now recognized that, through the medium of your art, you gave permission to a young Dostoevsky reading/Tupac listening Black male to embrace the intersectionality of his being without fear. This is why, as an avowed Yeezy apologist, I was taken aback when hearing you describe racism as being subsumed under the ‘greater’ problem of classism. Such a statement stratifies oppression and eliminates the possibility of intersectionality, the same intersectionality that drew a generation of underrepresented millennials to your work. Just as your music spoke to the intersectionality of being, your art also highlighted the intersectionality of discrimination and oppression. Though I, a licensed Yeezy apologist, am convinced that you desire to uplift humanity through your efforts and will continue to push humanity forward through your collective efforts, I feel compelled, nonetheless, to warn you of the dangers latent whenever someone seeks to of stratify oppression. Classism is not nor will it ever be the boogeyman who snatched racism’s chain.

The fallacy found within the “classism is the new racism” argument is the belief that classism, in any way, shape, or form constitutes a ‘new’ phenomenon. Simply put, classism is as ‘new’ as sin, dirt, and rolly pollies. Moreover, history would suggest that classism and racism are two-headed beasts, collaborating in concert to destroy pathways to human flourishing. To exalt one at the expense of the other is docilely naïve at best and gravely irresponsible at worst. To even infer that those who proclaim that #blacklivesmatter are not fully enlightened to the plight of all humanity is to be found consciously negligent in the face of grief and suffering. Black people who languish in the gap for those who, because of coercive tactics and tyrannical regimes, were taken away do not need a lecture on what it means to be a part of “one human family”; we are fully capable of being mad as hell at virulent, racial injustice and praying for global unity at the same time. Anger at racism and the appeal for global unity have never been (and never will be) mutually exclusive acts and to exalt one at the expense of the other serves only to weaken both.

Perhaps, it would help to recall the words of the great Audre Lord who, when describing the intersectionality of her blackness and sexuality wrote:

“Within the lesbian community I am Black, and within the Black community I am a lesbian. Any attack against Black people is a lesbian and gay issue, because I and thousands of other Black women are part of the lesbian community. Any attack against lesbians and gays is a Black issue, because thousands of lesbians and gay men are Black. There is no hierarchy of oppression.”

As Lorde so masterfully put it, there simply is no such thing as a hierarchy of oppression. Racism and classism both drink from the same well and eat from the same trough. By stratifying one above the other, you discredit all who have been scourged by the other. As a person who has been empowered, enlivened, and inspired by your work, I can only hope that you take my words into consideration and speak in such a way that portrays racism for what it truly is – a malignant cancer that in no way shows signs of being benign. Kanye, you were the first one who provided a lunch table that made a lot of us feel at home.

Don’t make us pick up our trays now.

In Solidarity,

J. Hill Jr.

Bona fide Yeezy Apologist

p.s. ALL DAY is RIDICULOUS!

 

James Howard Hill, Jr. is currently a graduate student at Southern Methodist University where he is completing his Master's degree in Theological Studies. A subversive theologian who considers himself ontologically Hip-Hop, James is an activist-scholar called to labor beside those commissioned to bridge the gap between the Academy and the community. He is lover of Dostoevsky novels and a connoisseur of 90's black sitcoms.