by Tabala Jali Thomas
Full disclaimer this post is from the archives from about 3 months ago look how far we’ve come. To be continued. I’m not sure why I never posted it before, maybe because I knew the train wreck wasn’t over.
The term “House Negro” is somewhat antiquated. But back in 1963 in Detroit, Michigan MALCOLM X in one of his most famous speeches made the comparison between the HOUSE NEGRO and the FIELD NEGRO. As Malcolm put it in his speech…
“To understand this, you have to go back to what the young brother here referred to as the house Negro and the field Negro back during slavery. There were two kinds of slaves, the house Negro and the field Negro. The house Negroes – they lived in the house with the master, they dressed pretty good, they ate good because they ate his food – what he left. They lived in the attic or the basement, but still they lived near master ; and they loved the master more than the master loved himself. They would give their life to save the master’s house – quicker than the master would. If the master said, “We got a good house here, the house Negro would say, “Yeah we got a good house here.” Whenever the master said “we” he said “we.” That how you can tell a house Negro.”
There were a few politicians and performers at the time that Malcolm considered house Negroes and Sammy Davis Jr. was one of those people. As successful as Sammy Davis Jr. was in his time, Malcolm X still thought of him as a House Negro, and because there were so few Black successful entertainers back then, that made Sammy Davis Jr. a, “Token”. Well, at least in Malcolm’s Mind. A Token was someone who was an anomaly, however in this case one of the biggest entertainers of his time, not just the biggest Black entertainer, but the biggest entertainer of his time. An anomaly, the implication goes that the white establishment had around to prop themselves up, so they wouldn’t seem completely racist. Sammy was used by both sides of the isle, but did that make him a token, or a house negro? If you listen to Malcolm Gladwell podcast and an episode called, THE HUG HEARD ROUND THE WORLD, it’s more complicated than that. Now I’ve listened to that particular episode several times, especially preparing for this piece and I hope Mr. Gladwell doesn’t accuse me of plagiarism but I’m coming dam near close. You may even think so, but please forgive me it’s an homage not a steal. I highly suggest you listen to it.
The vast majority of Black people didn’t like Richard Nixon when the picture below was taken. My mom used to tell me she would hiss at the television whenever he, Tricky Dicky came on. There’s a parallel coming.
If you look at the picture above, one could almost infer by the look on the face of the only other Black person in said shot, that when this Black Man saw Sammy Davis Jr hugging Nixon, he was thinking, ‘why in the fuck is Sammy hugging Nixon like that.’ I know that look, I’ve seen it on many a face but especially Black faces. Samuel L. Jackson has it, my uncle had it when he caught me pissing in the sink, and after I saw that face I heard my uncle say, “Nephew, what the fuck are you doing.” That look was WTF, before WTF became WTF.
So in October of 2018 when Kanye West visited Trump’s White House, and I saw it on MSNBC I ‘m sure I had that look on my face. However I wasn’t sure who I had the look for more Jim Brown or Kanye West, or even Trump for that matter. Then Kanye started talking and I knew exactly who I had that look for.
A quote from Kanye, aka Ye’ was, “They tried to scare me to not wear this hat, my own friends but this hat it gives me power in a way. You know my mom and my dad separated so I didn’t have a lot of male energy in my home and also I’m married to a family you know…(Trump laughs)…not a lot of male energy going on, it’s beautiful though but there times where there something about you know I love Hillary….., but the campaign I’m with her didn’t make me feel as a guy that didn’t get to see my dad all the time, a guy that can play catch with his son there’s something about when I put this hat on that makes me feel like Superman, you made me feel like [sic] Superman. That’s my favorite superhero…” By comparison to what’s going on with Ye’ today that visit to the White House back in 2018 almost seems quaint. I will go there later.
Now for Super Man to be your favorite Super Hero I’m sure says a lot about a person in psychological terms. Of which I will not go into here. However Kanye is a curator of music and especially rap music, so I’m pretty sure he’s heard of the Sugar Hill Gang and their song Rapper’s Delight, and in this song one of the rapper’s in the Sugar Hill Gang disses Super Man so bad that Super Man has yet to respond. Meaning that in rap culture there is evidence that if you were a rapper you were better than Super Man. However I digress a little.
As I was watching the oval office spectacle of which was mostly Kanye, I kept thinking why do you need a hat Kanye, and of all hats why does that hat make you feel like Super Man, Super Man is a fictional character, you are fucking Kanye, Ye, Yeezy. That’s what was so striking to me about Kanye’, the self-proclaimed genius needed a prop to make himself feel like a Superman, again dude you are fucking Kanye, and you keep telling us that you’re Kanye. That you again are a genius. So whatever prop you get from a man like Trump or Ralph Lauren, won’t take away from that. Unless you give it away. Kanye West gave it away to Trump that day he gave away his Yeezy, Why one may ask, well it’s complicated.
Sammy Davis Jr. as far as we know never needed a prop to showcase his manhood, so why is Kanye doing this. Before we go there let’s go back to some of the similarities between Nixon and Trump.
Personally there are very few similarities between Richard M. Nixon and Donald J. Trump but politically there are many. For example Nixon in the early seventies was one of the earliest proponents of the Southern Strategy. It was a strategy implemented to convince racist leaning white people in the south, who felt “threatened” by the pace of progress that people like Martin Luther King Jr. and others fought and died for, to support a party that still wanted to keep the schools segregated, and end the programs for poor people that overwhelmingly helped Black and Brown people. Essentially everything that Martin Luther King Jr. was for Nixon was against. Trump took the Southern Strategy and put his name on it with bright gold letters for all to see. However he began this Trump version of the Souther Strategy long before he was President. Trump was practicing the Southern Strategy, with his father, with the Central Park Five and with Barack Obama. And yes Kanye may have befriended Trump because Obama “dissed” him in the defense of Taylor Swift and Trump may have run for president for the same reason, after Obama dissed him at his last correspondence dinner. However maybe it was for the same reason that Sammy befriended Nixon, that Kanye befriended Trump. However I don’t think so when you’re an anomaly, or a singularity you tend to do what you can to survive. As I’m about to paraphrase from Malcolm Gladwell’s episode of Revisionist History, THE HUG HEARD ROUND THE WORLD
So why did Sammy befriend Nixon, a president who is on tape calling Black People Niggers and Jigaboos, and why did Nixon accept that infamous hug. (I’m quoting him here verbatim)
“Again remember Sammy was one of the biggest stars in the world. Not one of the biggest Black stars but one of the BIGGEST STARS. So when Sammy heard that then Vice-President Nixon came to the Copa Cabana to see Sammy perform, Sammy made sure that Nixon and his wife sat in the front row, and picked up the tab. Nixon never forgot it, so when Nixon became President he invited Sammy to the White House and he didn’t care that Sammy had a white wife, or that Sammy had gone to Jerusalem and converted to Judaism. Sammy campaigned for John Fitzgerald Kennedy, but JFK never invited Sammy to the white house, but Nixon did. So imagine this entertainer being shown love by the President of the United States. This entertainer who grew up poor in Harlem, who danced and shuffled in white hotels, to feed himself and his father but had to sleep in Black hotels due to segregation. Nixon was showing Sammy love and Sammy was showing Nixon love and both were pretending they lived in some neo-racial fantasy where they truly loved each other. It wasn’t that in my opinion it was transactional. I don’t believe that Nixon and Sammy loved each other they were using each other”. So if you cut to today was Kanye using Trump, was Trump using Kanye, either way it goes I can’t see Trump going to a Ye’ concert at any point in his life and wanting to sit in the front row.
Again, from Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast. “Sammy was using Nixon because Nixon authenticated him. Not to Black America but to White America. Why did Sammy do that, Sammy was a survivalist. And as a survivalist Sammy made the keen observation that all of the people taking care of Sammy’s money were “white’ business men. Sure and some of them were even Jewish and Sammy said hey my Jewish friends love me so I’ll become Jewish and Sammy made jokes about it.”
But we must remember as Malcolm states, that at this time Sammy was the only Black entertainer in the world that could command the audiences he was commanding and most of the people in his audience looked like Nixon, drank like Nixon, and thought of Black people like Nixon. Most of the people in Sammy’s audiences were white. But Black people still loved him. (We’ll address that in another edition)
Which brings us back to Kanye’, now Ye stands on the shoulders of many other musicians and rappers that came before him including Sammy. So why would Ye’ need Trump to survive. Does Kanye want to be white, would that help him get his fashion brand off, is that why he dyes his hair or wears contact lenses. Why would Kanye who called George Bush a racist embrace a misogynistic, xenophobic person like Trump. Do all the people at Kanye’s concerts look like Trump? No they don’t. So why embrace Trump literally and figuratively. I believe it’s more complex than that, Trump does give him a certain sort of validation. And just as we believe that Trump can seem void of substance, meaning, and context so can Kanye. There is something that reverberates between the two of them. They both love oneupmanship.
Remembering that Kanye comes from Hip-Hop culture maybe Ye’ is trying to one-up every rapper he’s ever had beef with. Or anyone he’s ever had beef with. Some thought that Kanye during his Oval office visit was auditioning for the Presidency. If Trump can become president why not Kanye which is either genius of fucking stupid. Were they using each other like Nixon and Sammy or does history like to echo. Remembering that Kanye comes from Hip-Hop culture maybe Ye’ is trying to one-up every rapper he’s ever had beef with. Or anyone he’s ever had beef with. Kanye in the Oval office was auditioning for the Presidency. If Trump can become president why not Kanye which is either genius of fucking stupid. Did they use each other like Nixon and Sammy or does history like to echo. History loves to echo and we willfully or woefully will listen for it.
Sammy Davis Jr. never ran for office nor did he pretend to but Kanye did, and now that Kanye has divorced his wife Kim Kardashian, his music no longer seems to insulate him from his “actions” and we are not sure if the end of his career will take the turns that Sammy’s, did? I sincerely hope not as I’m writing this. But there will come a time, and Kanye knows this that the music may last forever but fashion may last longer, and history even longer if he becomes President. And to me there in lies where we are with Ye’. Trust me he will never be President.
So at the time many didn’t want to see Sammy Davis Jr. embrace Nixon, hug him like he did, and more recently many didn’t want to see Kayne hug Trump, the way he did. But, Sammy did hug Nixon and many in the Black community were through with Sammy. More so then, than ever, coming after the recent deaths of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, and Bobby Kennedy. However remember Sammy and Nixon had history. It was evident than when Kanye was in the oval office he didn’t spend much time with Trump before if any. No one gushes over a homie like that. So when I saw Kanye hug Trump, I was definitely done with Kanye, this put the nail in the coffin for me, well the last nail. However some of my friends still held on, calling him a genius still, unfazed by anything that was happening on the periphery. However what was periphery became, “In your face.” So much so that I kept asking really you can consume his art while watching his actions. That conversation is for another post, that I’m working on, but again I digress. Then came the, “white lives matter”, moment. In case you don’t know Kanye wore a “White Lives Matter,” t-shirt for Paris Fashion week in 2022, and my friend that had defended Kanye through the Trump hug, now said he was done.
So no hugging the president of the United States of America may not make you a house negro, but it may make you a White House Negro. But I guess that also depends on the administration. (to be continued)