For the most part, I think Kanye West’s music is great. He’s an awesome producer, and he brought a fresh attitude to the game. I appreciate that. Kanye reflects a perspective that was missing in hip-hop since its inception, that of the insecure, evolving man. He’s had some amazing message songs in his short career. He seemed so happy to be alive, in songs like “Through the Wire,” and he proudly professed his faith in “Jesus Walks.” Many of his songs are about being an insecure youth, becoming mature, loving his family, and striving to be a role model. I was kind of proud of his stammering, poorly-conceived political statement after Hurricane Katrina, even though I didn’t ever find out what action he took beyond pointing fingers at obvious targets. These days, I can hardly stand to listen to his music.

Somewhere along the way it became obvious that Kanyeeze was starting to seriously believe his own hype. He’s revealed himself as a poor sport and a narcissist, but keeps deflecting accountability for his immature actions.

Say what you will about Jay-Z – I doubt he would storm the stage and steal someone else’s spotlight if he didn’t win a lousy MTV Europe video music award, regardless of how intoxicated he was.

Although he apologized, sort of for the incident, he still came off looking like a jerk.

Recently, Kanye West’s specialty has been lessons on The Importance of Knowing When To Shut Up. Case in point, what my blog amiga Hottie Hottie referred to as “the Jackass quote of the day.”

In the December 2006 issue of Essence, Mr. West cleverly quips: “If it wasn’t for race mixing, there’d be no video girls. Me and most of my friends like mutts a lot. Yeah, in the hood they call ‘em mutts.”

Wow, Kanye. You’re working overtime on setting us back.
There are so many elements to that statement that are problematic. First of all, the word “mutt” itself – not only are you referring to mixed-race people as dogs, but as interbred (and therefore undesirable) dogs.

I had to check out the Urban Dictionary for that one. See, back in my days at the University of Miami, the football players used that term for girls who would do anything. And I mean anything. But yes, it’s a derogtatory term for racially mixed people. I’m surprised Kanye didn’t just go for the bigot’s favorite term, “mud people.” I mean, if you’re going to play with racist terminology, you might as well use the term KKK members love to fling about on daytime talk shows.

Then there’s the implication that only light skinned women make “video girls.” You would think a rapper who represents the educated, thinking person would try to change things instead of perpetuate that kind of prejudice. Sadly, that isn’t the case.

I imagine Kanye’s mother is ashamed of his stupidity by now, seeing as she is a college professor and a lovely dark-skinned woman. Kanye’s current lady fits the description of the lighter skinned, possibly racially mixed woman. So would he then call her a mutt? Probably right after he called her a bitch. What’s with the canine terminology, hip-hoppers?

Kanye’s sadly ignorant comment is raising eyebrows with members of the Congress of Racial Equality who express concern that American attitudes towards race are regressing. Funny! Michael Richards expressed the same concern in his embarrassing apology last night on David Letterman.

The recent race hubbub got me thinking about labels, and how we identify ourselves. Kramer invoked an antiquated term, Afro-Americans. For the most part, my friends here refer to themselves as African-American. Some people argue with that term, but it seems to be generally accepted.

If I have to fill out a form at a doctor’s office, I don’t tick off African-American, because I’m not an American citizen. I check “other” if need be, and if “black” is an option, I check that instead. There is never a box for Afro-Caribbean, or “Of Mixed-Race”, although just about all of us whose ancestors were brought from Africa have been mixed racially somewhere down the line.

The “One Drop” theory still rules regardless of shade, and that’s part of why I was so surprised to find that someone the skin color of Shirley Bassey could possibly not identify as black. Honestly, the thought never crossed my mind that some black people didn’t think of themselves as anything but what they are. Or that some black people seek long and hard to be something they are not. I read Nella Larsen’s Passing in college, but I really believed those days had ended with the Harlem Renaissance.

In Trinidad, we’ve got our own multiracial glossary that takes shade and ethnicity into consideration. Walk down any street in downtown Port of Spain, and you’ll hear people referred to as red, brown-skin, darkie. Then there’s “dougla,” a mix of Indian and Black, and “brown Chinee” or “haquai.”

My own racial blend combines black, white, and Amerindian, and some of my friends are so mixed that it’s difficult to tell exactly what they are. If you ask them, they just say “I’m a Trini.” For me, labeling has never been an issue. The color of my skin makes it obvious who I am – a black woman. I might be mixed, but I refuse to be labelled a “mutt.” (My dad’s joke here would be, “you’re not a mutt, you’re a monGrell” because of my maiden name. Ha ha, Dad). I have adopted the term Afrobella, to reveal how I feel about my identity: afro for black, bella for beautiful.

But I am curious about you, dear readers. How do you identify yourself? What terms do you find most offensive? And which cliff should Kanye West and Michael Richards jump off of?

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