Rapper Kanye West has attempted to backtrack from his live-video remark Tuesday that African-American slavery was “a choice” made by the enslaved.
West, 40, said on the online program “TMZ Live,” “When you hear about slavery for 400 years — for 400 years? That sound like a choice. Like, you was there for 400 years and it’s all y’all.” The comment brought widespread renunciation, including from filmmakers Spike Lee and Ava DuVernay, civil-rights activist DeRay Mckesson, scholar and essayist Roxane Gay, actor-producer Wendell Pierce, musician will.i.am and others.
“To make myself clear. Of course I know that slaves did not get shackled and put on a boat by free will,” West said in one of a series of tweets afterward. “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.” This prompted responses that included, “There were many, many revolts but they were physically prevented by militarized force.”
In support of his point, West tweeted a purported quote from Harriet Tubman — “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves” — that has been debunked by historians and is falsely attributed to the famed abolitionist and underground-railroad activist.
West went on to tweet, “They cut out our tongues so we couldn’t communicate to each other. I will not allow my tongue to be cut,” prompting actor David Alan Grier to reply that an estimated 3 million to 5 million slaves died during the Middle Passage from Africa to America, and that they “were sold as part of an industrialized Slavery trade engineered and maintained by white Europeans.”
After a tweet comparing himself to Tubman and to Nat Turner, a slave who led a major revolt that resulted in severe reprisals and his own death, West wrote, “The universe has a plan. I knew that TMZ would be awesome,” adding, “We are programmed to always talk and fight race issues. We need to update our conversation. The reason why I brought up the 400 years point is because we can’t be mentally imprisoned for another 400 years. We need free thought now. Even the statement was an example of free thought. It was just an idea. Once again I am being attacked for presenting new ideas.”
In the TMZ webcast, one of the website’s staffers, Van Lathan, told West, “I actually don’t think you’re thinking anything. I think what you’re doing right now is actually the absence of thought. . . . We have to deal with the marginalization that has come from the 400 years of slavery that you said for our people was a choice. Frankly, I’m disappointed, I’m appalled and, brother, I am unbelievably hurt by the fact that you have morphed into something, to me, that’s not real.”
West currently has no other social media. He took down his Instagram page shortly after relaunching it on Feb. 14, and his previous verified Facebook account, TheOfficialKanyeWest, continues to be defunct.