"I'm Goin' to My Media Assassin / Harry Allen / Gotta Ask Him..."


Very important piece by Harry Allen about Kanye and Taylor, Twitter and the N-word. I tend to think it's easy to get overheated about these kinds of pop culture flare-ups, and my initial reaction to Kanye's bumrushing of Taylor was a hohum mix of "What a bad look" and "Kanye just grows more fascinating by the day." I did not, therefore, dash off a quick tweet about how Kanye's action merely confirmed his innate racial inferiority.

Harry meditates on the racial implications of the Kanye moment, and he has some incredible things to say about "post-racism" (it refuses to die...) in the age of Twitter...he actually collects tweets that feature "Kanye" and "Ni---er" within their 140 characters. Most of them seem to originate from users who, based on their profiles, don't seem "racist" in any obvious way, whatever that would mean.*

A question has emerged as the readymade response to any accusations of racism, and it's the one that many have long feared: if there is indeed racism in America, then how did Obama win the election? No amount of data or historical analysis, no lesson in argumentative reasoning, not even a time machine, probably, would satisfy those who use this question as a defense against the claim that anti-Obama disrespect feels profoundly different. It certainly looks different. Reading Harry's post and watching something on CNN earlier about Jimmy Carter's comments on the possibly racist subtexts of current anti-Obama, it seems that our understanding of the Obama moment has shifted from one in which racism is merely "over and done" to one in which black privilege reigns supreme.

The tweets Allen collects are pretty fascinating. I remember writing a piece about hip-hop in the digital age in the early 2000s--kids who would "battle" over chat programs, or message boards where strangers would argue about purity of form or historical minutiae. At the time, I thought that the Internet complicated hip-hop by raising the stakes on authenticity--the Internet opened up new possibilites of performance and masquerade, it allowed the trying-on of different, distant identities. But maybe this assumed a set of impulses--a desire to know the Other; a passion for love and theft; a firmer sense of space and difference--that no longer apply. Instead of kids pretending they're The Other, it feels like you're more likely to see the kind of trigger-happy, contextless, self-excavating performances that Harry discovers, ones that can be quite chilling at their worst.

*-Related but tangential: what kinds of "archives" will researchers in the future consult? Is our faith in the cached and the trackbackable a bit haughty?

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Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College and writes about music, sports, and culture. More

Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College and writes about music, sports, and culture. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Bookforum, Slate, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe Ideas section and The Wire (for whom he writes a bi-monthly column). He is on the editorial board for the New Literary History of America.
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