The backdrop to Kanye West’s “Saturday Night Live” performance was a lie. Projected behind the rapper, as he let loose with two rage-filled and politically fueled tracks, were the words “Not For Sale.”
Yeezy wouldn’t have graced the set if he wasn’t hawking a soon-to-be released LP. But his incendiary performance was peppered with damning truths: Angry and pointed condemnations of institutional racism and the prison industrial complex, which disproportionately jails young men of color to fill state budget holes and enrich private corporations.
In the final verse of “New Slaves,” a track released Friday with the coordinated projection of a video on 66 buildings worldwide, and the second performance in his “SNL” set, West raps:
Meanwhile the DEA
Teamed up with the CCA
They tryn’a lock niggas up
They tryn’a make new slaves
See that’s that private owned prison
Get your piece today
Condensed and reduced to flow in rhyming verse, West’s lyrics smack of the conspiratorial. But he is correct: The War on Drugs, abetted by and fueling the private prison industry, currently serves to incarcerate hundreds of thousands of black men in the United States, who provide dirt-cheap labor. Various industries — from call centers to weapons manufacturers to retail companies — rely on prison labor. Private prisons pay inmate workers as little as 25 cents an hour; prisoners who refuse to work are regularly held in isolation. These are the de facto “new slaves” of the prison industrial complex. The CCA (the Corrections Corp of America) is one of two major private prison corporations (along with the GEO Group) that share in a market worth $70 billion.
And West’s implication that the CCA and the DEA are “tryn’a” lock up black people, leaving racist intentionality aside, is supported by troubling statistics. While the entire U.S. population is only 13.6 percent black, 40 percent of its vast prison population (over 2.5 million) is black. In 2010, black males were incarcerated at the rate of 4,347 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents of the same race and gender, compared to 678 inmates per 100,000 for white males. The disparities are striking, especially when the majority of those held in U.S. prisons are guilty of minor drug offenses. This brings us to Kanye’s reference to the DEA.
As attorney and author John W. Whitehead pointed out in a HuffPo comment piece last year, states specifically opted to make sentencing laws for minor drug offenses harsh in order to fill private prisons — prisons which promised to fill gaping holes in state budgets:
[W]ith an eye toward increasing its bottom line, CCA has floated a proposal to prison officials in 48 states offering to buy and manage public prisons at a substantial cost savings to the states. In exchange, and here’s the kicker, the prisons would have to contain at least 1,000 beds and states would have agree to maintain a 90 percent occupancy rate in the privately run prisons for at least 20 years. The problem with this scenario, as Roger Werholtz, former Kansas secretary of corrections, recognizes is that while states may be tempted by the quick infusion of cash, they “would be obligated to maintain these (occupancy) rates and subtle pressure would be applied to make sentencing laws more severe with a clear intent to drive up the population.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what has happened. Among the laws aimed at increasing the prison population and growing the profit margins of special interest corporations like CCA are three-strike laws (mandating sentences of 25 years to life for multiple felony convictions) and “truth-in-sentencing” legislation (mandating that those sentenced to prison serve most or all of their time).
As has been well-documented, young black men are disproportionately targeted by police for marijuana arrests. In New York City, for example, nearly 90 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession are blacks and Latinos. The logic is simple: If states rely on minor drug arrests to fill privately run prisons, and young black men are targeted in minor drug arrests, then states rely on young black men to fill private prisons.
Or, as Yeezy put it: “See that’s that private owned prison/Get your piece today.”
People think the civil rights movement ended in 1968. That was just a baby step compared to what still needs to be done. How can people be so blind to how similar our lives still are to that of our grandparents??
IT’S TIME TO WAKE THE FUCK UP
Oh boy, don’t even get me started on the portrayal of romance in mainstream media.
It’s probably my No. 1 pet peeve. I loathe it with the burning passion of a billion supernovae. Mostly because it’s fucking EVERYWHERE.
Seriously, turn on the tv. Go to a bookshop. Listen to the radio.
Everything is about love, love, love, and not any kind of love, romantic love. Romance is the ultimate everything, the ultimate goal - according to society, life without romance is empty and unfulfilling.
That’s a problem in and off itself, but it’s not even the focus on romantic love that makes me foam from the mouth, it’s the extremely narrow definition of what this “love” actually is: It’s when two usually white, conventionally attractive, able-bodied, young people want to bang each other at first sight and somehow end up in a codependent, emotionally unhealthy, unsubstantial, monogamous cishet relationship.
Not that there is anything wrong with monogamous cishet relationships, it’s just that not every person in the world is in one, wants to have one or could ever be happy in one, but those are the only positively portrayed relationships that infiltrate literally everything while stories about people of colour, disabled people, LGBT+ people and/or polyamorous people in love are either labelled “special interest” or used as a punchline/throwaway background event/cheap gimmick.
Even if you ignore all of that, romantic love is ridiculously romantised in our society.
Love in fiction can do ANYTHING. It can end wars, break curses, overcome borders, end oppression, cure illnesses both mental and physical and save people from themselves.
Love in real life is nothing like that.
So you fall in love. Sometimes you enter a relationship. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes that relationship is happy, for many, many years or even forever. Sometimes it’s unhappy, unhealthy or even abusive. Sometimes you fall in love with the wrong person, someone who is bad for you or someone you are bad for and no amount of love can change that.
Love doesn’t automatically bring out the best in you. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it brings out the worst in you instead.
Love is diverse. Love is very human, very flawed, very trivial. Some people don’t fall in love, but most people do it all the time. There is no magic involved. You don’t need to be in a romantic relationship to be happy, to be fulfilled, to be whole.
Yet that’s what stories tell you all the time. And it leads to people everywhere being disappointed with life because they have never had a fairytale romance. Teenagers wonder whether they will die alone simply because they haven’t been in a relationship yet at age 16 or even younger.
And so you fall in love and you enter a relationship and it’s a happy one. And because all of your life you have been told that you haven’t been whole until now. That this person that makes you happy better be the one. That you can’t live without them.
But things don’t go the way they should t go and suddenly you’re unhappy. You split. And you blame your partner, demonise them like angry love songs told you to, blame yourself, try to change, think you’re going to die like sad love songs told you to.
And maybe a little bit of that is actually you, but most of it is just how you’ve learnt to love and react to love.
Still, there’s love stories everywhere. Every action flick, every crime procedural, every fantasy novel has a romance subplot that is completely superfluous to the rest of the story, but has to be there, because that’s just how things are.
They tell you the same story over and over again: Two people making googly eyes at each other upon their first meeting, exchanging meaningful glances, kissing tearfully in the pale moonlight, declaring that they can’t live without each other despite the fact that they barely know each other at all. Because that’s what romance is, at the end of the day: Empty phrases and superficial gestures mimicking a meaningful connection.
We all swallow it because we don’t know any better. But I’m sick of it. Sick of being excluded, otherised and erased, sick of being constricted and fed lies. Sick of being told that I’d be just half a person on my own.
[Rebloggable by request.]
Thoth is the Great Scribe, Magician and Messenger of the Gods, who we adore in all of our Holy Rites at the Sanctuary. He is the Tongue of Ra. He is also Tahuti, Hermes and Mercury upon High. He is rightly invoked for Wisdom in all matters concerning the Great Work, and particularly on the Day of Mercury.