Thursday, May 3, 2012

This is Nothing Like the Holocaust

I was walking away from the (awesome) Flux Pavillion and Doctor P set at Coachella when my friend asked me, much to my chagrin, "who did they take that song from?" referencing "I Can't Stop," which had been "taken" from "Who Gon Stop Me" by Jay-Z and Kanye, off of the Watch of Throne album.  Of course, "I Can't Stop" actually predated the rap version but due to its lack of lyrics it was virtually invisible to the public eye.  I explained this to my friend while attempting to stifle any condescension of his electrical-music ignorance, because really who can blame him and I was very happy that my friends had taken the time to come enjoy (and I mean truly enjoy) an EDM set with me.

I actually like the Kanye/Jay-Z version quite a bit and couldn't help myself expecting to hear "This is something like the Holocaust" after every "I Can't Stop" drop.  I relayed this to my friend who astutely commented, "it doesn't seem anything like the Holocaust."  My reaction was something along the lines of "huh", but not with a question mark at the end, more of a "wow, I never even stopped to think about it before," the inflection coming at the beginning of the word and my voice hitting an usually high octave.  I laughed, but a confused and intrigued laugh, and commented that it almost certainly was nothing like the Holocaust, regardless of the rest of the lyrics.  As far as I could recall, there was nothing in the song about widespread systematic genocide and a review of the lyrics a week later would substantiate this belief:

This is something like the Holocaust, millions of our people lost
Bow our heads and pray to the Lord 'til I die I'm-a fucking ball
Now who gon stop me? Who gon stop me huh?

But wait!  There were links on the lyrics, a much-needed explanation appearing when I clicked:

"Ye’s saying that the condition of black people in America is something akin to the Holocaust. He’s being historical: he means the diaspora of people of African descent and how slavery and colonization have killed many people of African descent across the centuries. Further, the levels of crime, death, and murder that negatively impact African Americans has caused the loss of millions of African Americans' lives Although Holocaust analogies are always dicey, American slavery is probably a fair point of comparison, though not the contemporary black experience."

This defintion was provided by the enigmous "Scottie" (don't you tell me enigmous isn't a word, it's damn well going to be today) and helped alleviate my fears that it was indeed Kanye who was inflicting this modern-day Holocaust (words CAN kill).

Now I am all for hyperbole, I use it as often as physically possible (BOOM), but this seems a bit extreme, and borders on ignorance.  The plight of African-Americans in modern society is very much real, but absolutely nothing like the Holocaust.  I would be hard-pressed to find anything to compare to the Holocaust, even among other genocides throughout history.  Off the top of my head I can't think of anything justifiably comparable (a good spot for a history major to make me look ignorant).

I find this particularly interesting because of a debate I just had with another friend of mine, that spurred from watching this video:

I thought this video was absolutely hilarious (apologies to Louis C.K. for my use of hilarious) and while I recognized that the subject could be a bit touchy, didn't find it remotely offensive.  A friend of mine, Paul, a history major, that I shared it with disagreed and a debate ensued.  At this point in time one of the top listed comments was about doing a similar sketch but about the Holocaust, a thought which to me was immediately abhorrent.  To this, he agreed and we got into a discussion as to why there was such a vast discrepancy in the reaction to two things that killed millions of people, one of which arguably had a greater long-term impact on a race (the slave trade).

We came up with several reasons.  For starters, the abolition of slavery occurred, at least in the United States, in the 1850's, so historical distance helped to ease the pain.  Slavery was also accepted among cultures all around the world for thousands and thousands of years, whereas genocides occurred in pockets and "accepted" would never be a term remotely associated with them. Additionally, education concerning slavery focuses more on the implementation of slaves as farm tools and (at least mine) spent disproportionately little time discussing the kidnapping, brutal shipping (minor exception here), and auctioning of slaves.  Paul informed me that during the Transatlantic crossing the sailors would throw slaves overboard in order to maintain a wake of sharks behind the ship, in order to prevent slaves from jumping off on their own accord.  This was shocking to me, not so much in the sense that it happened (amongst a system of absurd cruelty, it shouldn't be hard to expect something like this) but moreso in the sense that how the fuck had I never learned this myself.

I still don't think the two are remotely similar, but just as it is naive to compare the modern conditions of African-Americans to the Holocaust, it is ignorant to consider slavery something of the distant, and somewhat forgiven past.  I'm not saying we should go around apologizing for what our ancestors did nor that we should preach anything aside from modern equality (I am actually a bit of a naysayer of affirmative action, while I understand its role in our society), but we should be aware of the past and the ramifications it has had on African-Americans succeeding in modern society.

And while we're on the subject, can I stop feeling awkward when someone asks me to describe someone and I just want to say "the black guy over there wearing etc?"  He is black just as I am white and it makes it a hell of a lot easier to distinguish who in the world I'm referring to, especially where I have lived.  "Yeah that guy over there wearing the red shirt and the black khakis."  "Oh, you mean the one that looks like Tiger Woods on Sundays?" *Gasp*

And Kayne, if you want to stop being hated by so many people, can you please stop trying to be so ignorant.  Watch the Throne was a good recovery, but let's see if you can produce another good solo album.  College Dropout was awesome, Late Registration was nearly as good, Graduation was my personal favorite.  808 and Heartbreak was offensive to offensive and My Dark Twisted Fantasy was mediocre at best.  You can get away with shit like that if you're not running on stage during Taylor Swift's acceptance speech to tout your boy's girlfriend or spouting ignorance about the Holocaust.  More "Can't Tell Me Nothing," which is now looking like a surprisingly insightful self-description.

I do have to respect Kanye for this as well (for anyone that hasn't seen these, I suggest watching the entire hilarious series):

And lastly I leave you with the original, "I Can't Stop."