Not long after I sympathized with Kanye West for expressing his unpopular opinions about President Trump, West kept saying more odd and unpopular things (like slavery being a “choice”). And so another round of blistering attacks from liberals and progressives ensued, including a direct challenge to his “blackness” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the author and correspondent for The Atlantic. Coates concludes his article on Kanye’s lack-of-blackness with
West’s thoughts are not original—the apocryphal Harriet Tubman quote and the notion that slavery was a “choice” echoes the ancient trope that slavery wasn’t that bad; the myth that blacks do not protest crime in their community is pure Giulianism; and West’s desire to “go to Charlottesville and talk to people on both sides” is an extension of Trump’s response to the catastrophe. These are not stray thoughts. They are the propaganda that justifies voter suppression, and feeds police brutality, and minimizes the murder of Heather Heyer. And Kanye West is now a mouthpiece for it….
It is often easier to choose the path of self-destruction when you don’t consider who you are taking along for the ride, to die drunk in the street if you experience the deprivation as your own, and not the deprivation of family, friends, and community. And maybe this, too, is naive, but I wonder how different his life might have been if Michael Jackson knew how much his truly black face was tied to all of our black faces, if he knew that when he destroyed himself, he was destroying part of us, too. I wonder if his life would have been different, would have been longer. And so for Kanye West, I wonder what he might be, if he could find himself back into connection, back to that place where he sought not a disconnected freedom of “I,” but a black freedom that called him back—back to the bone and drum, back to Chicago, back to Home.
There’s a term in Integral thought for this sort of take-down. An orthodox integralist would say this is Green hostility to Orange. When I look, what I see is Systemic-Mind’s allergy to Diligent-Mind. These points of analysis say nothing about who is right — Coates or West — or who is being treated fairly or unfairly. What it says is that the drama being played out by these two pop culture figures is both more than it looks on the surface and less than it looks on the surface.
There is a clash of values and worldviews at work, that much is obvious. But what also strikes integralists is that neither West nor Coates are self-aware about the dynamic processes that have generated the values that they are expressing so that they can see what lurks behind their strong, passionate feelings. And getting self-aware is good! Not only could it spur each of them to personal growth, it could also highlight areas of obscured common ground that could bring the two of them closer together.
West is voicing classic liberal values (Orange) — freedom from, freedom of self-expression and individuality, and a strong attraction to emphasizing personal responsibility over suffocating group identities. Coates is voicing classic pluralistic values (Green) — freedom for, a social self that is fully merged with group identities, perceived as imbalanced by historical and systemic power relationships that need to be righted and an exclusive emphasis on social causation for oppression rather than personal responsibility.
Neither of these two perspectives (alone) is integral. Neither is aware of the spiraling pattern of cultural evolution in which an entire palette of colors (Red to Amber to Orange to Green to Teal, etc.) are exploding into a collective art gallery called American culture, itself one panel on the vast tapestry of Spirit. Instead of identifying with the rainbow, or with Light itself shining through all the diversity, they identify only with one particular color/worldview and then use it as a weapon to beat up other color/worldviews.
Systemic-Mind isn’t “superior” to Diligent-Mind; they are both stations of life with their own dignity and indispensable ways of looking at and being in the world. They are both at work in the world for important reasons, guardians of spiritual resources that are not found separately, but only together. One protects individuality while the other protects collectivity; one guards the realm against the world, and the other defends the world’s interests against the realm; one defends expressive individuality against blackness, one defends blackness against a bland assimilationism.
So no, Kanye West, I don’t think blacks chose slavery. And no, Ta-Nehisi Coates, I don’t think Kanye has chosen white values over black values. Wake up and see that there’s another story behind the picture you’re painting of black v. white, choice v. slavery. It’s plurality-in-unity, both/and, all together as one and all valued in their diversity. It’s called integral and it’s a real option if we just say Yes to a Bigger Picture that includes all of our little pictures.
Come back Home to your Supreme Identity as you, the Universal Self of Atman wedded to your unique and valuable perspectives, both of you, that are so important in the world today. There’s room for both your wonderful individual self-expressiveness and your gorgeous groundedness in social systems here.