KENDRICK IS RIGHT BECAUSE KANYE IS RIGHT
Kanye is right.
This past spring I attended an intimate brunch with a hand picked group of Black women. Usually overlooked by the hosts, despite being a Black woman in media, I was surprised by the invitation. Still, I went as myself and enjoyed myself, grateful for the morning of celebration. Two days later I received a follow-up email from one of the hosts – she began with complimenting how ‘lovely, smart and articulate’ I was. She was surprised.
I read over her email again. Nice to officially meet you. You’re very lovely, smart and articulate. I was surprised. Here’s my contact information.
Yup, ‘surprised’ was still there.
Everyday I’m shown examples of just how little social understanding we have of our words. While this well-meaning woman thought enough of our table conversation to make sure we kept in contact, she was unaware of the insult she’d used to do so.
“I was surprised,” is the politely masked way of saying, “I didn’t expect you,” which begs the inevitable question well, why not?
Classism is defined as ‘a biased or discriminatory attitude based on distinctions made between social or economic classes.’
Two days after its anticipated release, several major-publications headlined ‘surprise’ over The Best Man Holiday’s $30 million opening. But, whom did it surprise? Best Man Holiday was heavily promoted for weeks; with it’s cast making all the rounds from television, radio and even blogs. There were numerous screenings held in every major city. The tracking on this film was high. Yet Forbes claimed its success ‘stuns’.
Steven Marsh’s ‘surprise’ at TDE’s discipline is the same obnoxious backhanded snobbery that has plagued Hip Hop, lower socio-economic groups and people of color for generations. Classism is the new (accepted) racism.
It’s an acknowledgement of low expectations based on a pre-judgment. It is not a compliment. It’s biased ignorance based on their thoughts on a particular person, group or culture. It is the idea that encloses around us, caging us into a narrow room marked ‘what we’re only good for.’ Classism is a new zoo, with a wide cultural variety of monkeys.
Either way, it’s still wrong.
Classism is tricky because we celebrate it…until it’s used against us. We revere GQ, often using the book as a benchmark of success. You’ve had to really impact pop culture to make it into its pages. In a sense, we’ve given it its own class, celebrated with news stories, parties and social media conversation for those who’ve made it onto the cover. What happened with Kendrick was simple: the machine we’ve revered acknowledged the gap between them and us.
The success of Best Man Holiday ‘surprised’ so many because (according to USA Today) it was a race-themed film. It wasn’t an ensemble or a romantic comedy, but a ‘Black movie’ thus lowering the expectations.
So how do you fight classism? Especially when you need it? Without a separation of class, GQ is no more important than a free blog written by your unqualified neighbor.
The important tool here is an understanding that your we includes me too. You can’t be surprised if I wasn’t surprised, and just because you don’t look like me, or listen to what I listen to you, you still speak to and for me. You can’t be surprised because I knew it all along. If you’re writing a story about the Rapper of the Year, he’s your Rapper of the Year too. And you should know enough to not be surprised by his discipline. You should simply want to promote and celebrate it.
The Best Man Holiday didn’t over perform. It was under estimated. And that’s the story that needs to be told.
We have to tell this truth. We have to point classism out as we do racism. As the game changes, so must our understanding of it. Without an evolution in our knowledge of the rules, we can and will be played.
Don’t tell me you’re ‘surprised’. Tell me you misjudged me.
Kanye combated this by taking over Jimmy Kimmel’s hour to explain why he won’t play nice. Black twitter – which like it or not is a thing – will come for you creating an embarrassing PR nightmare. And the Rapper of the Year will skip your party. Still surprised? Don’t be.
Kanye already told you, “It’s not safe for you in this zoo.” Nor should it be.
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By Paulo Coelho