Pessimistic Themes in West’s Necrophobic Aesthetic by Dr. Tommy J. Curry

curryvoicesPessimistic Themes in West’s Necrophobic Aesthetic

: Moving Beyond Subjects ofPerfection to Understand the New Slave as a Paradigm of Anti-Black Violence.(Forthcoming The Pluralist)

by  Dr. Tommy J. Curry

This intersectional allusion to the bourgeois Black woman, her indemnification against all critique, has long been the unquestionable norm operating within the political assertions of Black feminism and the allegedly conceptual pluralization had in claiming intersectionality as a method. Carole Boyce Davies describes this tendency as condification; “a project perhaps, a behavioral process which marks the rise of a certain neo-colonial elite in the U.S. imperial context, operating for the benefit of the dominant state and its rulers” (14). Davies argues that “Condification marks the limit …but can also be seen as the ultimate manifestation of a domestic black and/or feminist bourgeois discourse” (14), and presents a concrete crisis for Black feminist calls for social, economic, and political equality, since there is no accountability to the buttressing up of empire and inequality in their march towards capitalist freedom. Davies is not alone in this analysis of Black feminism; Elaine Brown has gone as far as to say: “feminism,” assuming this word, which I don’t assume (let’s just call it that for now, women’s liberation, the liberation of all human beings), is part of my agenda. If you take their analysis, as strict analysis, you can end up having a woman like Condoleezza Rice. So they are incorrect in their ideological commitment. Condoleezza Rice would be the ultimate Black feminist icon. So they’re wrong” (3). Power within the system is justified as gender progress, and rationalized as the necessary trajectory of political progress. There are no criteria for liberation, only the accumulation of representatives that are Black and female who command the recognition of systems previously blind to their existence. The now common practice of lifting the immaterial subject, the ideal abstraction of the (Black) feminist self, represented by the mere utterance of race, class, and gender, destroys our ability to truly understand the suffering of Black people. The Black man, the Black woman, and the Black child who survive in the bare conditions of wretchedness nurtured by anti-Blackness—the poverty, death, and violence of racial oppression—are never seen. They are spoken about as factors, but never considered to be the primary subjects motivating study. Intersectionality, its synonymy with the ideal bourgeois Black woman, is an errant axiom that denies Black study for the elevation of one (powerful, Black, female) identity taken to be the finality of all Black morality.”


The release of Kanye West‘s Yeezus  was indelibly marked by the provocation of his song entitled the ―  New Slave ,‖ which introduced a  pessimistic terminology deployed against the paradoxical condition that Black freedom from enslavement only recaptured Black people psychically in the neo-liberal entanglements of poverty, servitude, and corporatism. His analysis,not unlike currently en vogue theories of Afro-pessimism, or Critical Race Theory‘s  (racial)realist lens maintains that despite all the rhetoric and symbols of progress to the contrary, Black people are simply not free in America. West‘s  performance of ―New Slave,‖on Saturday NightLive was only amplified by the  Not For Sale  insignia projected behind him.
 As a symbol ofindependence, disengagement; a resistance against commodification, West announced hisconfrontational posture towards the industry; a posture which ignited the Hip-Hop communityand academia alike over this artistic radicalism. However, such a provocation, despite itsrhetorical flare and allure, was immediately cast as disingenuous and inauthentic. Kanye West isa Black man torn at moments by his brilliance and at times by his banality. His work is not beinganalyzed in Hip-Hop Studies and philosophical aesthetics because it is not worthwhile;
 — his analysis of anti-Black death, corporatism, and neo-liberal aspiration is enough to warrant morethan one serious study of his art. West is not studied because he lacks sufficient correctness orexhibits minimalist thoughts about the world around him, rather West is not studied because his body, his Black male body, lacks the symbolic currency to motivate reverence for his thinking.The New Slave implicates all arenas of knowledge and political production hailing from theacademy, and while his life and public proclamations are at tension with some of his work, itnonetheless necessities serious study, rather than sophistry and condemnation. This article is anattempt to draw out some of the themes concerning anti-
Black racism in West‘s ―New Slave and the double meaning this work has given that it was co-
authored with Che ―Rhymefest Smith.
It is my view that West‘s work establishes the continuity of enslavement beyond the artificial political and social changes that are attributed to racial progress and social equality.



ABOUT Dr. Tommy J. Curry

Professor of Philosophy, Texas A&M University

Tommy J. Curry’s work spans across the various fields of philosophy, jurisprudence, Africana Studies, and Gender Studies. Though trained in American and Continental philosophical traditions, Curry’s primary research interests are in Critical Race Theory and Africana Philosophy. In Critical Race Theory, Curry looks at the work of Derrick Bell and his theory of racial realism as an antidote to the proliferating discourses of racial idealism that continue to uncritically embrace liberalism through the appropriation of European thinkers as the basis of racial reconciliation in the United States. In Africana philosophy, Curry’s work turns an eye towards the conceptual genealogy (intellectual history) of African American thought from 1800 to the present, with particular attention towards the scholars of the American Negro Academy and the Negro Society for Historical Research.

In Biomedical ethics, Curry is primarily interested government regulation, the ethical limits of government intervention in the practice of medicine, and democratic potentialities that arise from collaborative doctor-patient diagnoses and regenerative medicine like stem cells. Currently his research focuses on the linking the conceptualization of ethics found in the Belmont Report to Civil Rights and social justice paradigms.

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Beyhive Booty

In Pimp Theory, a “bottom bitch” is the one in the whores’ hierarchy who rides hardest for her man. She’s the rock of every hustler economy and her primary occupation is keeping other ho’s in check and gettin’ that money. She isn’t trying to elevate the status of her sister ho’s. She isn’t looking to transform pimp culture. The bottom bitch is a token who is allowed symbolic power, which she uses to discipline, advocate for, represent and advance the domain of the stable.  In pop culture, she represents the trope of the chosen black female, loyal to her man and complicit in her own commodification.

In hip hop vernacular she has emerged as the “Boss Bitch” or “Bawse”, titles you’ll hear used liberally across urban/pop discourses – from the streets to rappers to the hip hop, basketball and ATL housewives.  What she represents is an appearance of power within a structure of male dominance, but in reality this “power” is merely vicarious and not a positional power in and of itself.

Admittedly, bottom bitch is an unfortunate metaphor to use for framing conversations about Beyonce, but when you’re married to “Big Pimp’n” and his cameo on your new self-titled album, coined a “feminist masterpiece,” is all about how he gon’

Catch a charge, I might, beat the box up like Mike…

I’m like Ike Turner

Baby know I don’t play, now eat the cake Annie Mae

Said, eat the cake, Annie Mae

you leave us no choice. When elements of the feminist community rise up to applaud your simplistic, pro-capitalist, structurally violent sampling of feminism, the metaphor becomes even more relevant. Moreover, we’re concerned that the capitalist ethics of mainstream hip hop has seduced feminist allies into flirting with bottom bitch feminism in their silencing of those who would critique Bey and the systemic violence she represents.

To this we ask: Is a feminism sponsored by the corporate music industrial complex as big as we can dream? Is the end game a feminism in which the glass ceiling for black women’s representation only reaches as high as our booties? Can’t we just love Bey as an amazing corporate artist without selling out the hard won accomplishments of our black feminist and womanist foremothers?  Can we not love her for the gorgeous and fierce mega pop star she is without appropriating her for some liberal, power feminist agenda?

These questions asked, we do understand the terror and mistrust some black women may feel when confronted with representations that reflect us to ourselves as brilliantly beautiful.  We also get the impulse that these same women may have to criticize and destroy such images. But this is not that. Our critique of Bey as a feminist doesn’t come from a place of fear. Indeed it may even be more a critique of the black feminist blogosphere. Our real fear is of a bourgeoning cadre of institutional gatekeepers of “appropriate” black feminist politics going in hard with their facile analyses, shaming and silencing black women with alternative reads of B.

Real Colored Girls are not here to promote or co-sign the idea that to critique Bey’s “Flawless Feminism” is to hate black women.  We reject the idea that love for the folks equals blind loyalty. Our deep and abiding love and respect for the ancestors will never permit an image of feminism wrapped in the gold chains of hip hop machismo.  We ain’t throwin’ no (blood) diamonds in the air for ‘da roc, no matter how many feminists you sample over a dope beat. We’re smarter than that. We’re worth more than that.

Insisting on a rank and file consent and approval to these ‘terms of engagement’ is a form of bullying and in the spirit of Audre Lorde we remind you that silencing dissent will not protect you.  We feel strongly that it is our duty and imperative to engage multiple perspectives in the marketplace of ideas, supporting open discourse, lest we find ourselves guilty of policing one another into a dishonest respectability.

Our work is not done. Beyhive Bottom Bitch Feminism does not replace nor is it even in the realm of the critical work of black women writers and artists across the discursive spectrum, as some folks have proclaimed across social media. As womanists and black feminists, we have a responsibility to bring it with our cultural work which we will infuse, at all times, with an ethic of care and responsibility. The coontocracy of assimilationist corporate negroes is in full effect, riding for patriarchal capitalist agendas and having us believe that somehow Bey’s success is a step toward some dystopic vision of progress for Black women. There may be empowerment for some folks but by and large it is a false hope steeped in capitalism and individualism, supporting the escapist desires of rampant pornographic consumerism.

This essay does not come from a place of ‘who gon’ check me, boo?’. We would like to invite dialogue, conversation and a multitude of perspectives. We’re thinking that our next conversation will be about how Beyonce has opened the door for further discussion around black female sexuality. We’ve been feelin’ this quote by bell hooks from her essay “Selling Hot Pussy”:

When black women relate to our bodies, our sexuality, in ways that place erotic recognition, desire, pleasure, and fulfillment at the center of our efforts to create radical black female subjectivity, we can make new and different representations of ourselves as sexual subjects. To do so we must be willing to transgress traditional boundaries. We must no longer shy away from the critical project of openly interrogating and exploring representation of black female sexuality as they appear everywhere, especially in popular culture.

What are your thoughts?