What Is Kanye West Doing with a Confederate Flag in Barneys?

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It's been a tumultuous few weeks for the Confederate flag, which has alternately been held aloft at White House protests and emblazoned on merchandise being sold during Kanye West's Yeezus tour. That tour has since gone on temporary pause, but West's fascination with the 150-year-old emblem of racist Confederate statehood has not: he was spotted by Us Weekly wearing it on the sleeve of his army-green jacket over the weekend, then donning the same uniform to a Barneys location on Monday.

As a shopping destination, Barney's would have seemed altogether innocuous one month ago, but could not be more racially charged now. It's where two black customers separately shared stories of racial profiling several weeks ago. Those incidents almost directly echoed lines from Yeezus's anti-racism manifesto "New Slaves" ("It's broke nigga racism / That's that, 'Don't touch anything in the store' / And it's rich nigga racism / That's that, 'Come in, please buy more'"), so it's little surprise the rapper shared thoughts on the Barneys debacle at a show in Las Vegas. But brandishing the flag as a fashion statement probably won't get the point across as lucidly as West's lyrics already have.

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"I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It's my flag," West boasted to 97.1 AMP Radio, explaining his reappropriation of the artifact. "I just think people look cool in it," he added, calling it "super-hood and super-white-boy-approved at the same time." Which, bafflingly, emphasizes the flag as a fashion accessory rather than a political statement. It's unclear what's so "super-hood" about it, but it's clearly "super-white-boy-approved"—so much so that it's the young, "white-boy" segment of West's fanbase that may well start following his lead without grasping the history behind it.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.