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Black Excellence/

by Kevin Coval

by Lisa Yun Lee

Black Excellence/ UNAPOLOGETICALLY BLACK video still


blog intro

Shortly before 2016 arrived, an at-capacity crowd filled the MCA Café for MCA Talk: Self-Portrait in a Kanye Mirror. Situated in terms of how Kanye West had personally affected them, or as the cohost School Night put it, through “the lens of their own personal Yeezus,” speakers shared stories of how Kanye West had touched their lives and reflected on his career, making a sometimes ostentatious artist much more human. Kevin Coval and Lisa Yun Lee presented a spoken word performance and while we can't replicate their presentation, we can present the text from their performance in its entirety here.

Let’s begin with black excellence.

Black excellence is not like racist forms of white excellence, which manifests itself as exceptionalism—as in US foreign policy, as in demagogues like Donald Trump.

Black excellence is engaged in the process of what Stuart Hall has described as “the decolonization of the minds and peoples of the black diaspora.” This project of decolonization emancipates black folk from the sense of inferiority and the “less-than-human” status brutally ascribed to them in the ship’s hold during the Transatlantic Passage.

Black excellence is the black arts—blues, jazz, and hip-hop—because black excellence creates collective joy in collective struggle.

  • Amiri Baraka says:
  • We are unfair
  • And unfair
  • We are black magicians
  • Black arts we make
  • In the black labs of the heart
  • The fair are fair
  • And deathly white
  • The day will not save them

And we own the night

For some, black excellence equals black respectability: it is the Obama’s in the White House, Clarence Thomas in a robe on the highest court ruling against affirmative action, Condaleeza Rice playing Chopin at her Steinway after leading the country into war. Black excellence in these instances is well behaved, well mannered, and forgives any racist slights or attacks.

Black excellence is not supposed to be “unclassy.” It is not supposed to marry a white woman, it is not Kimye in the pages of Vogue, and it is not supposed to be filled with swagga, to jump onto stages and pump its fist, to state boldly, in the words of Kanye West, ''That's what it is, black excellence, baby.''

Kanye West

© Robert Ball

unapologetically black poem

  • Ye unapologetically Black
  • southside Till
  • comma Emett—Black
  • claim kids
  • on your income tax, Black
  • doin’ pretty good
  • rockin’ pink polos
  • Ye make white people want them
  • as far as geniuses go
  • Ye claim Black genius Black
  • gettin over on whiteness Black
  • gettin over whiteness
  • Black
  • Ye excellent
  • claim Black excellence       Black
  • innovation
  • sped up Black soul
  • like a chipmunk
  • Minnie Ripperton
  • rippin’ them
  • back
  • Black
  • family business makes me cry
  • staring out the window
  • on the red line, seeing red lines
  • on Stoney Island
  • a Black Island
  • Ye a poet of Black poems       for Stones
  • and Disciples
  • a Black accountant
  • accounting for the 6
  • and the 5
  • a college dropout
  • with a honorary doctorate
  • rockin it
  • motherfuckers stay
  • stuck on late
  • pass
  • Ye stay handin out late passes
  • weed rolled up
  • this high art
  • y’all fraudulent
  • gatekeepers
  • puttin’ Fs on CPS tests
  • F for fascists
  • Fs on the art you like
  • gassed up /
  • Fs for the Fucks Ye give
  • you queezy in front of Yeezy
  • slept on the art
  • you can put Fs on the art
  • but it only makin’ you gaseous
  • F your Art
  • bury bond it a mausoleum
  • protect your crumbling coliseum
  • Ye build a Black museum
  • to counter the limited dreamless country

of the self-obsessed narcissistic European

Black Excellence/ UNAPOLOGETICALLY BLACK video still


Black Excellence/ UNAPOLOGETICALLY BLACK video still


black excellence cont’d

Some might read Kanye's narcissism, as a fatal flaw, a form of hubris, which means in the ancient Greek context, extreme pride or self-confidence.

Hubris typically describes excessive behavior, a loss of contact with reality, and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments, or capabilities that offends the gods of ancient Greece. But what might this mean if we were all champions and we were all gods?

  • Kanye tells us we all are.

But, we are also, like Ye, human, all too human.

In Saidiya Hartman's groundbreaking analysis Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America, she describes an important way black people have been denied full humanity by white America's insistence on both the hyper-visibility and the hyper-invisibility of people of color. Hyper-visibility, always being watched but never being seen. (Think of the prison industrial complex and the 745,000 black men and 200,000 black women incarcerated right now.) And

hyper-invisibility: never being seen while always being on display. (Think every black security guard at this museum or the Art Institute of Chicago, or the entire force of service workers at UIC and U of C.)

Hartman also suggests the possibilities for resistance, redress, and transformation embodied in black performance and everyday practice in the world of the visual by flipping the script and creating a spectacle and demanding to be seen on one’s own terms and refusing to be ignored. It’s Kanye in his pink polo, at the VMA’s, at Fashion Week, and refusing to apologize to Taylor Swift, George Bush, or anyone for that matter.

  • Greg Tate asks: Why do white people love black music and hate black people?

What if we loved Kanye Omari West as much as we loved Ye?

Kanye’s instagram with Kim


unapologetically black cont’d

  • we don’t love ye
  • we police ye
  • we mad he love Marilyn

i mean Kardashian

Ye ostentatious

  • Ye go fast
  • douche bag
  • no class
  • classless

jack ass

  • ye complex, F a magazine
  • ye only on the cover
  • ye the usher-er
  • into the era of skinny jean possiblities
  • ye the spectrum expander
  • extender of the native tongues
  • ye can’t hold his tongue
  • George Bush and every president
  • hate Black people
  • ye hyper honest
  • about the desire
  • for gold and shirts with a team
  • ye the dream
  • greater than America
  • ye the super human
  • King of the homonym
  • version of Baby
  • a virgin, a baby
  • ye the realist working class portraitist
  • maker
  • of the homey Mali
  • of the mother of Alexus, after the car
  • after 5 beats a day for 3 summers
  • Cree Summers
  • ye the child of Gwendolyn
  • the son of Donda
  • disciple of Black educators
  • ye the 1st generation
  • of Chicago Black migrants settled
  • post-south
  • Nate Marshall said when he heard HECKY NAW
  • on record
  • he thought anything possible
  • ye the world builder
  • Ye the truth teller
  • the could give a fuck
  • lesser, depending on how you dress her
  • Ye the trend setter
  • the bar riser
  • the taste level
  • ain’t at my waist level
  • shop so much
  • Ye speak Italian
  • Gucci, Michelangelo
  • Ye kill them flows
  • dead
  • code red
  • Ye Top 5 emcees
  • you gotta rewind him
  • Cry baby / your library
  • Yeezus requires exegeses
  • Ye lyrics take time with
  • Ye buries lies behind him
  • justice not color blinded
  • color biased
  • even tho Clarence Tom inside it
  • Ye told the country ‘bout crack
  • and AIDS and who supplied it
  • Ye deconstruct the constitution
  • down to the fine print
  • Kanye-Ye-Yeezy-Your Highness

but whiteness, it’s legacy & maintenance / we hide it

Kanye Instagram with mother


black excellence con’t

What if America loved black people as much as we love black culture?

This would require us to love Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, and Laquan McDonald, but also: Aura Rosser, Michelle Cusseaux, Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland, Mya Hall, Janisha Fonville, and Natasha McKenna – Black women killed by police in 2014 and 2015. The African American Policy Forum's new report #SayHerName documents the stories of Black women who have been killed by police and who have experienced gender-specific forms of police violence. It highlights black women's experiences within the narratives of racial profiling and police violence, including broken windows policing, the war on drugs and stop and frisk. But it also demands that we look at other forms and contexts of police violence, including sexual assault, abuse of pregnant women and profiling and abusive treatment of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and gender nonconforming black women.

What might it mean to love black women and to love hip-hop?

In a now infamous interview that appears in her book Outlaw Culture, bell hooks challenged and broke the codes of white feminism and black masculinity with respect to political and cultural engagement, and interviewed and got thick into it with West Coast rapper iceCube for the sake of truth, understanding, and most importantly, transformation. As an intellectual and a black woman, hooks asked him with critical generosity:

“Why do you say the things that you say about women in your music and in your life?”

  • We might ask Kanye too, Why are there so many bitches, perfect or otherwise in his lyrics?
  • or
  • Why is he slut-shaming Amber Rose on the radio?
  • and
  • Perhaps we might read into his troubled life and lyrics and offer an apologia because of his lost-ness after the loss of his adoring mother Dr. Donda West who unfailingly called him on his shit and always believed he could become the man he could be.
  • or
  • We might also ask ourselves in a world that historically undervalues women in general and black women in particular how can we expect Kanye to be any less misogynistic and patriarchal than the everyday world that we live in?
  • or

We might also embrace the sex in hip-hop and insist freedom can exist, but only when individuals are no longer oppressed by a socially constructed sexuality based on sexual puritanism, repression, guilt, and shame.

But really, understanding the context doesn’t make it acceptable, it is inexcusable. Ye needs to be called on his patriarchal misogynistic shit, and hip-hop itself as an institution 40 years old—a grown ass artistic movement, needs to be called out all day, all day on all that.

But not just hip-hop—all institutions need to be called on their racism and misogyny.

Over the last decade every report about cultural participation and the diversity of our cultural institutions in Chicago has been an indictment, a cultural calling out of the lack of race, gender and ethnic representation—in the art on the walls and artifacts in the collections, the lack of diversity in board representation, and the whiteness of the staff and the lack of women and people of color in positions of leadership.

Our cultural institutions are tragic and inexcusably racist and sexist, and should be

'apologizing for their lateness.’

unapologetically black cont’d

the bars/mitzvah hit ya

            mozel tov

  •       on your lateness
  • these institutions should be grateful
  • we even showed up for this fake shit

but when get an invitation we gracious

  •       nonchalant we take it & shape shift

y’all wouldn’t fuck with hip-hop ten years ago

  •       five years ago

but now you on the dick

  •       you filate it

Ye build Sun Ra Black Future space ships

  •       and now you can’t say shit

we take Black culture

  •       but Black bodies stay hated
  • Ye propel Black celebration

in the face of dehumanization

  • 400 days to release a murder tape’s heinous
  • outrageous
  • hip-hop been saying Black Lives Matter for 40

and 400 and 4000 thousands years

  • & Ye one of the latest & freshest & greatest to say it

we say Ye All day All Day & know the Police & white supremacy murdered Laquan

McDonald, Rekia Boyd & Freddie Gray

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