Kanye, Killmonger and The Embarrassment of Slavery

When Black Panther debuted in theaters, the world became acquainted with N’Jakada, notoriously named Killmonger, the anti-hero dedicated to revenge on Wakanda and Black Panther for the circumstances created by his fallen father.  Played by Michael B Jordan, his approach to domination by way of violence and tyranny and disdain for white and European people lead to fans identifying with his plight.

Killmonger’s ideologies, campaigning for weaponized vibranium, arming the world against colonizers derives from a deep seeded pain shared by many of diasporic descent.  Many aligned his quest for the throne with the practices of historically relevant leaders in various Black movements.  KIllmonger was grouped with the brains of Malcolm X, who also sought to liberate and empower Black people, calling for the use of violence need be.

Left in America yearning of a connection to home he had only heard of though vibrant tales from his father birthed a spirit of hatred, in Killmonger. He hated Wakanda and he hated America thus leading to the conclusion he hated himself.  This self hatred composed of equal parts confusion, brokenheartedness, lack of identity and oppression creates a shield for Killmonger whose seemingly revolutionary behavior only lead to his demise.

The internalized self hate translated to a false sense of pride. Before Killmonger’s death after being defeated by Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman, KIllmonger relayed the following message:

Bury me in the ocean, with my ancestors that jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage
— Killmonger x Black Panther 2018

At first listen, the dying declaration carries the weight of generations of racism, oppression, torture and discrimination however the popular mantra only proves how much Killmonger hated his bloodline. The slave trade and the enslavement of African peoples in the Americas stands as one of the most brutal treatment of a group of people who still deal with the trauma today.  The concept of death being better than bondage implies that the people who did not jump ship were ignorant to the perils of slavery and willingly sailed along to be enslaved for 400 years.

This brings us to Kanye West.

The Chicago rapper recently returned to Twitter and quickly turned the platform into his personal controversy starter. Tweeting love for Donald Trump, who built his presidential campaign at the expense of violence towards women, Black people and other minorities, sharing screenshots of conversations between him and celeb friends and proudly sporting a MAGA hat, Kanye has done a complete 180.

Of course a Twitter storm is only the precursor for new music and indication of necessary press, so in true album promoting fashion, West has participated in several interviews including a conversation at TMZ where Kanye West alleges that 400 years of slavery was a choice. Immediately put in check by Van Lathan, media professional at TMZ, Kanye’s sentiments were echoed by some claiming to see the point.


When you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years? That sounds like a choice. You was there for 400 years, and it is all of y’all?
— Kanye West x TMZ 2018

Both Kanye West and Killmonger, although a fictional character, have the freedom to subscribe and speak on what they believe, no matter how historically inaccurate. The basis of both ideologies, speaks to the “We were kings” crowd, more popularly called hoteps who look at slavery through a blurry lense over a third eye.

Like Killmonger, Kanye West’s allegation that slavery was a choice, discredits the revolts lead by men and women in bondage and the strength it took for an enslaved person to survive. A quote falsely attributed to Harriet Tubman is the covalent bond between the both men’s misguided reactions.

I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed more if only they knew they were slaves.

Demeaning the existence of enslaved people whose bravery empowered them to survive and birth forthcoming generations,  the false Tubman quote, Killmonger and Kanye West project the idea that those who did not revolt, run away or “quit” deserved their conditions.  Arguing that slavery was a choice or that death was better than bondage is shameful to the ancestors who’s blood, sweat and tears allowed our existence today.

Kanye’s embarrassment of slavery also echoed during his interview with Charlemagne when sharing that he did not want Harriet Tubman’s face on the $20 bill because we do not need to keep being reminded of slavery. 

These statements, decorated with false equivalencies of revelation are empty thoughts that can be used to arm those ready to discredit the experiences of Black people. Diminishing slavery to just a choice erases the reality of the systems, some of which are still in place today, that allowed slavery to exist and allows those with the power to hold them in place to justify their ill treatment of Black people in past, present and future situations.

As a Black person in America today, we should proudly carry the legacy of our ancestors in their entirety, not just those who escaped to freedom or chose death over bondage, instead of shamefully attempting to erase those tarnished legacies.  Black history in America did not begin nor end with slavery yet the 400 years on the field should not be an unspeakable chapter. 

In the same manner I respect and revere the ancestor whose courage lead them to revolt or chose to jump ship, I honor the legacies of those who remained tenacious through slavery. 

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