Kanye West said that 400 years of slavery was “a choice” on Tuesday. Twitter and even a black TMZ employee quickly took Kanye to task for his words. Defending himself Kanye said, “Of course I know that slaves did not get shackled and put on a boat by free will. My point is for us to have stayed in that position even though the numbers were on our side means that we were mentally enslaved.” While slaves had numbers they certainly lacked firearms and many other strategic advantages but still, in 2018 Kanye makes a point about mental enslavement that we should consider.
Starbucks recently announced that it would close stores nationwide on May 29th for “racial-bias education” after two black men were arrested for the crime of waiting for a friend in a Philadelphia store. Some see this as a victory but in fact it is not. The one day closing simply helps black people feel better about continuing to enrich a corporation that is not invested in the liberation of black folks. That many are satisfied with this outcome rather than the building up of our own coffee shops and establishing connections with Africans that actually produce the coffee, is evidence of mental enslavement. Some activists have called on black people to boycott Waffle House because the popular breakfast chain doubled down on its support of its employees and law enforcement after a black woman was dragged to the ground, had her breast exposed and was ultimately arrested at a Georgia Waffle House on April 22. That we can’t seem to direct the same energy into supporting our restaurants as we expend on temporarily boycotting those owned by whites, reveals something about the enslavement that often binds our minds.
Why are we satisfied with offending white businesses doing just enough to earn our business back, thus leaving us in a position to continue empowering those who clearly do not care about us? If racism is as damaging as we say it is, why don’t we simply stop investing in white institutions when we have the option to build up black ones? During slavery there were revolts constantly but we simply were at an insurmountable disadvantage. Today, however, we have freedom of choice and the ability to choose ourselves but far too many of us are trapped by a slavery of the mind. Far too many of us are more comfortable giving our dollar to corporations that mistreat us if they offer a mere apology or racial-bias training than we are with actually spending in a way that would build up our businesses, removing the threat of racial prejudice in our dealings. We don’t think it strange that black talent is leveraged for white wealth and empowerment, while black people merely receive the benefit of charity. This is the mental enslavement that must work to eradicate.
Apologies and racial-bias training are commendable but they do not create jobs for black people in places like Gary, IN or Detroit. Treating black customers nicer is certainly appreciated but it does not translate to black people becoming more wealthy or powerful in America. Our ancestors were stripped of their agency. We have choices but often do not exercise them. It’s time to choose ourselves and unshackle our minds.