Kanye West’s BET Honor Acceptance Speech as the Narrative of the Black Male Celebrity

As this year’s BET Honors visionary recipient, Kanye West’s acceptance speech was expectedly a representation of his state of celebrity. However, the reality of West’s reflection proved more perturbing than inspirational. Referenced as moving, West’s speech is a performance in the cyclical mental enslavement of the black male celebrity. West’s speech emerges as a BET dis-honor, reflecting both the societal and network celebration of exchanging a revolutionary or progressive mindset for popular opinion.

The storybook romance attempted by Kim and Kanye fails to resonate with anyone who looks closely at the couple. From the derrière grabs, to kisses crafted for the red carpet, it is obvious that the West’s Union is more strategic than sentimental. Their union is a performance in the continued glorification of the white woman, at the expense and eventual destruction and emasculation of the black male.

Kim is Kanye’s trophy. While she is overtly flawed in her frequent and temperate romances, and made her vertical rise following a horizontal endeavor- she becomes the trophy of a man hated for his racial truth. Her placement on his arm redirects his energies of racial conflict to the misconceptions of interracial relationship. 

What I find most unsettling about Kanye’s speech is that a speech by a black male at an awards show honoring black contribution was entirely centered on a white woman. Kanye’s entire speech was about Kim Kardashian and her relationship to race, painting her as “touched” by the stings of racism to a room full of black faces. Although not directly stated, Kanye’s speech, is an obvious gesture to explain Kim’s presence, implying that she is as hurt by racism by the black faces that look upon him.

In this effort, Kanye ironically references former football player OJ Simpson, another black male who achieved fame and fortune, and married a white woman. I also found it interesting that Kanye’s speech referenced Kim’s attachment to “poor” black men. This was interesting as it seemed that Kanye was as oblivious to his wife’s past as he is of his own culture. Kim used the arms of wealthy black men to gain notoriety. With Michael Jackson’s nephew as her first boyfriend, Kim’s introduction to romance reflected a difference in skin color, but not tax bracket.

Nevertheless, I digress.

The issue at hand is not with Kim’s celebration or the selective reference to her past. The issue is that the BET honors is not an appropriate venue for her praise. White women have endless sources of award show appreciation, from the Emmys to the SAGs all the way to the Oscars, white female presence is consistently celebrated. With this said, all white women are not created equal in society. So not every white woman has the ability to be celebrated at the elite award shows. The same award shows that applaud black performances for exuding offensive simplicity, shun whites who are more embarrassing than entertaining. So in her displacement from the white elite, Kim finds her place through Kanye.

Kim’s placement on Kanye’s arm makes her hip hip royalty, instantly elevating her from the bottom of white society to the top of nuanced black society. This “honor” earns her front row seats to events black female artists have worked tirelessly to sit in. The 2013 BET Awards featured Kim Kardashian seated next to grammy award winning couple Beyonce and JayZ. Even at the BET honors, Kim undeservingly sits alongside Phylicia Rashad, ahead of much of black Hollywood, demonstrating how white privilege surpasses black contribution.

Thus, Kanye’s presence at the BET honors was solely dedicated to uplifting the bottom of the white race, so how exactly does a black network deem him  a black visionary?

Kanye has went from calling out the Bush administration to praising Reggie Bush’s ex at every opportunity. While I am generally supportive of men who praise their significant others, Kanye’s praise has come at the expense of standing for very little else.

The old Kanye deserved this award. The Kanye with baggy clothes and a spoken word meets modern revolutionary demeanor deserved this BET honor. The old Kanye who modestly dated Alexis Phipher and lived his life in the image of his doctorate bearing mother deserved this honor, as he embodied the reconfigured black male celebrity. Awarding the new Kanye, supports the cliche black male celebrity, who seeks his trophy in exchange for his culture. 

Kanye ended his now infamous speech with a famed quote by the one and only Harriet Tubman:

“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

The use of this quote was an excellent choice, as it conceptualizes Kanye’s performance in its entirety. Those who scrutinize blackness often place their efforts on the young black man with sagging pants, the single black mother with multiple kids, only to turn on the television and see that the most enslaved are often the most popular and the most wealthy. Their enslavement is veiled in all the royalties that most can only dream about, yet echoes in the hollowness of their dissolved cultural awareness.

Kanye West is evidence that fame and fortune often buy blacks further into mental enslavement. The only difference is that their shackles glisten, and may even have diamonds in it. But… they are still shackles.

So it is through this BET dis-honor, that viewers see celebrities as society’s biggest slaves.