After the 2015 Grammy Awards show following closely the 2015 Super Bowl, I am pressed to ask, Is Kanye West the music industry’s Marshawn Lynch?
Let’s start with the short answer: Yes, because although Kayne is accused of talking too much and Lynch, too little, they both are powerful voices against the racism most people in the U.S. refuse to acknowledge.
Just as I have examined about how the media and public have responded differently to Lynch’s and Rob Gronkowski’s behaviors, Kanye’s challenge to Beck’s Grammy and Beyonce not receiving the award presents yet another uncomfortable black and white picture.
Although many want to frame the Kanye/Beck controversy as an either/or debate, several seemingly contradictory truths exist:
- Beck is a deserving artist, and his recent album warrants recognition for its high-level of artistic quality. [Note: I am a huge Beck fan.]
- Beyonce is a deserving artist, and absent institutional and societal racism and sexism, determining between Beck and Beyonce as more deserving may be possible.
- The Grammy Awards, like the Oscars, and like the NFL, remain as likely to be corrupted by racism and sexism as most mainstream institutions in the U.S.
- Beck’s Grammy may reflect institutional racism as much as it does his deserving artistry.
- Beyonce not winning may show that institutional racism remains more powerful than recognition of artistic merit.
Ultimately, Kanye and Lynch prompt similar reactions because, although their methods differ, they are perceived as powerful black men who don’t know their proper place—tinged with public finger wagging for their biting the hand that feeds them.
Lynch must speak when the NFL demands; Kayne must remain silent when the music industry demands.
Both situations are reverberations of the coded and back-handed ways in which people praise (high GPA) and slur (“thug”) Richard Sherman.
Again, as the public and media wink-wink-nudge-nudge relationship with Gronkowski (whose public behavior rarely rises above that of a 12-year-old, albeit a 12-year-old who happens to be old enough to drink) demonstrates, Kanye, Lynch, and Sherman are mostly guilty of being black.
Many, then, wish to keep the public and accusatory gaze on Kanye’s and Lynch’s behavior so that no one has to address directly their inherent and credible message about the weight of race, gender, and class—even among racial minorities with tremendous financial and professional success.
Preferring Beck over Beyonce or Beyonce over Beck is not an act of racism necessarily, but marginalizing Kanye or misrepresenting his protest as an attack of Beck is certainly making a case that despite what you think of Kanye, he sees something others wish he didn’t, and he is willing to speak up when others wish he wouldn’t.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: The Exploitation of Beyonce for Political Agendas