Kanye West Just Rebranded The Confederate Flag For Himself

In making the Confederate flag the icon behind his new tour, Kanye West is changing the meaning of a racist icon.

Some may argue that it’s simply a nod to history or a source of Southern pride, but to most of us, the Confederate flag is a skin-prickling racist icon. Worn casually on a belt buckle or handkerchief, it becomes a passive-aggressive endorsement of slavery—something along the lines of "those were the days!" or "I sure wish things had turned out differently!"

Now, Kanye West is adopting the Confederate flag for his Yeezus tour. The flag, accompanied by dramatic skeletons, is featured prominently on T-shirts and tote bags along with the phrase "I Ain't Comin Down." And while the stunt is tentatively floated as "controversial" in most news articles, the explanation Kanye gave to Los Angeles radio station 97.1 AMP was perfectly clear (and perfectly Kanye):

React how you want. Any energy is good energy. You know the Confederate flag represented slavery in a way—that's my abstract take on what I know about it. So I made the song "New Slaves." So I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It's my flag. Now what are you going to do?

Image: Instagram / Virgil Abbh

It’s an ingenious maneuver, really. Cultural icons only have their significance because of culture. And say what you will about Kanye, but the man has incredible pull over culture. Most celebrities approach "controversial" stunts simply for the case of getting press, but by stamping the Confederate flag across his own tour and music, Kanye could achieve a coup and actually remap a connotation of oppression to a connotation of liberation. At minimum, he’s adding another powerful definition to the Confederate flag. But in the best-case scenario—one in which he really invests in the idea—the Confederate flag essentially becomes Kanye’s logo, meaning that any person wearing that flag no longer endorses slavery; they endorse Kanye West.

Read more here.

[Image via Alt Night Spots]

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  • Lawman466

    A racist icon?!?!? Seriously?!?!? Ignorance abounds!!! The Klan hijacked the Confederate Battle Flag in the 1950's. Slavery existed nationwide before and during Lincoln's "Tariff War". There were more slaves in the south because the climate was warmer and the terrain flatter, which provided better conditions agriculturally. The Confederate Battle Flag was never intended to be a symbol of hate. Do your own research folks and stop swallowing all of the propaganda!

  • Clark

    I know this is a touchy subject but most of the people out there need to know that the flag does not stand for racism even though some inbreed dumb asses use it that way/it actually represents southern pride. Another little fact is the Civil War was not fought over slavery it was fought over free trade and taxes and tariffs and Lincoln was not the first to law abolishing slavery that was Jefferson Davis.Racism is not just in the south nor is there more of it here just go to northern cities like Baltimore,Philly,Boston,and others it's a lot worse.Also Kanye needs to go back to school and learn some history.Also the person who wrote this artical needs to go back to school as well.

  • Kayne Jeselink

    You guys really should do your own research concerning issues. This flag has nothing to do with slavery. It isn't even the flag that represented the confederacy. This flag is the Virginia military battle flag. The 13 stars represent the 13 original colonies. The blue x that you see is marking out the colonies representing thatVirginia didn't want to be involved with the union anymore. Do some actual digging and you will find that the civil war had more to do with taxes and states rights than slavery. Abe Lincoln is quoted as saying all the states had to do is rejoin the union and they could keep their slaves.

  • Joe Lovell

    Mr. Edgerton beat tMr. West to it a few decades ago. http://www.dixieoutfittersnc.c... Not to mention tens of thousands of blacks who proudly served in grey about 150 years ago. Mostly in mixed regiments. And not just as cooks, musicians, etc. But shoulder to shoulder with their white countrymen.

    Mr. West is trying to cash in on history to generate publicity for his new tour.

    By the way, no slave ship ever sailed under the Southern Cross battle flag. Every slave ship from the United States sailed under the Stars and Strips. Financed by northern money, in ships built in northern yards, provisioned by northern chandlers, crewed by northern sailors, and loaded with trade goods produced by northern industry.

  • kidsantiago

    By appropriating this flag I think what he's saying is 'I'm making racist southerners/slavers my bitch.' Interesting that he's taken on images of slavery from Steve McQueen and now the historical revisionism of Quentin Tarantino.

  • marcyt

    I wonder how the slaves who suffered and died at the hands of men who fought under that flag would take this.

  • Matt_Automaton

    As an artist, I can appreciate Kanye's attempts to deliver a message through symbolism.

    The study of traditional semiotics has shown that symbols form through interpretive habit or norm of reference. So although Kanye would love to redirect the cultural interpretation of the Confederate Flag, it is already codified as a racist symbol. Unfortunately it would take more than an "I claim this as mine" statement to un-codify something so symbolic.

    I think history has shown this type of behavior before and sadly attempts like these end up becoming satire rather than meaningful social change.

  • Disk of cubes

    I don't see why everyone is so steamed about this. People are racist. Policies are racist. Objects? (aside from perhaps, a white only soda machine or something) Objects can only represent the ideas of racism to those who interpret them as such. When I see a black man with a flag which, regardless of debatable historical details, represents, to many in the modern day, ideals of white supremacy, I see progress. Symbols have the power we give them, starting with the individual.

  • Michael Farmer

    What about a Black only soda machine? Asian Only? You name it. White's are not the only purveyor of racism. Strike down all Racism. Don't perpetuate hate.

  • Disk of cubes

    But of course, I just got lazy there, and perhaps, one could argue,subconsciously influenced* by the air of white guilt about. It seems like racism often acts like the graph of (e^(-x))sin(100x) (google will graph it for you). I haven't the time to work out a more detailed model- the important thing is back and forth yet decreasing.

    If given the opportunity, however, granted my own financial excess, I would purchase a racist soda machine in an instant. Im thinking from an engineering standpoint that perhaps a white only soda machine would be easiest to build. Would it use a light sensor? dna analysis? What about mixed race? Seems like a racist soda machine is really just disproffitable.

    *another thing to be careful with in this whole sticky mess. We must comb our minds, keep 'em neat.

  • super390

    There is still a movement to take away the rights of all African-
    Americans to vote. It came out of the militia movement of the '90s, which in turn created the organizers for the Tea Party movement. It called for the repeal of the 13th Amendment, and derided blacks as "13th Amendment citizens", meaning they weren't real citizens at all because only state legislatures could give you the right to vote. When they became the Tea Party and actually started taking over state legislatures, they became very quiet about the 13th Amendment. Remember that the last time whites took away blacks' right to vote, they did it with state laws that never even mentioned race: the Grandfather Clause, poll taxes, etc. What do you think the Confederate flag means to people like that who are actually writing our laws?

  • Kevin L Forbes

    The Jim Crow laws, in addition to other racist laws and movements, were enacted by Southern Democrats...Jacksonian Democrats. Other than Democrats in opposition to the 13th Amendment, I can find nothing regarding a more recent attempt to repeal it. Learned a bit about India's 13th Amendment and the attempt to repeal theirs.

  • Charles Wittel

    Leave it to Kanye to take some good ol' fashion history and turn it into a historical icon he can wear on his sleeve. It Just makes it harder for real southern racists to be proud of something.

  • SNE

    I'm not into it.

    I think Kanye is an interesting figure and an artist, but as someone who went to the opening concert in predominantly caucasian Seattle, I witnessed a lot of white kids donning the Confederate flag merchandise. It was uncomfortable, especially since a lot of it lacked the Kanye context. If I remember correctly, the 'I Ain't Coming Down' shirt didn't have, say, tour dates on the back, for instance.

    I've bought Yeezus, but I'm going to pass on the tour merch.

  • ceeza

    The kids who buy this racist merchandise are going to have to deal with the consequences while scumbag Kanye laughs his way to the bank..

  • FrequentLurker

    Actually, you know what bothers me about this the most, is that there is a certain sense that because this happened so far back in the past, the symbol has no meaning to us anymore. There are no longer any living Civil War Veterans. There are none alive that experienced slavery. How easy is it to take a controversial symbol and "reclaim" it, when you're taking it from people who are no longer here?

    I think he's trying to get attention, and maybe trying to reappropriate an image that has been associated with White Power and Slavery. The problem seems to be not so much in his use of it, it's that it seems so disrespectful and flippant. We would never do this with the Nazi flag because there are still living holocaust survivors. We care about recent history, but one generation removed we've all but forgotten that a million men died over this conflict.

    It's not to say that reappropriating a hateful symbol can't be empowering. But what does reusing the symbol really mean? To taunt those that are racist? To spark discussion? To make a comment on slavery? I get a sense it's none of these things, and that's what is so disappointing.

  • Clark

    You are just one of many that need to go back to school and learn the real history of the confederacy and what the civil war was actually fought over.The Confederate flag does not stand for hate or slavery,sometimes ignorance isn't bliss.