Kanye West's History Lesson On Race


Kanye West has posted pages from a vintage book — published in 1900 — on his website. The story is called Ten Little Nigger Girls.

The book (which is in two parts, the first being Ten Little Nigger Boys), illustrated by G.H Thompson and published by Ernest Nister, is a simple counting, rhyming story; when I was a kid (75 years later), I had a similar volume, but with “Indians.”

According to Kanye’s site:

G. H. Thomspon produced this illustration for the nursery rhyme, Ten Little Nigger Boys, published by Ernest Nister in London and E. P. Dutton & Co. in New York, ca.1900. The nursery rhyme is a counting rhyme, beginning with ten little boys and ending with one. This drawing illustrates the verses:
‘One little nigger boy living all alone; He got married, and then there were none.’
This genre, which also included Ten Little Nigger Girls, was popular at the end of the 19th century. The term ‘nigger’ was used in Europe and America to describe a person of black (sub-Saharan) African ancestry from the 17th century. It began to gain pejorative associations from the 1800s but was used in book titles of the 19th century without racist intent. The term is repeated here in its original historical context.

The post is fascinating on a couple of different levels. First: This is what children used to read. And while the book is old, It’s not from an entirely different era — if your grandfather, let’s say, is 90, then this book was only 20 years old when he was born. Possibly still in bookstores, or in the family. As a kid, I had books like Little Black Sambo and Epaminondas and His Auntie. It took a while for me to learn that these books were educating me in several ways: A story is sometimes a racist story; jokes often draw on hurtful stereotypes; these silly characters are funny now but not when you realize that this is how some people in the world might view you because you’re black. Growing up, my SNCC-involved parents had a lot of African-American memorabilia for which the full weight of meaning was not apparent to me until much later. This book is not just about black history — it’s part of our global history, and a recent history, at that.

The second point? This was posted by Kanye West. His blog, which used to feature mostly videos, sneakers and architecture, is now a place where one can pictures of Jeff Koons sculptures, Helmut Newton photographs, edgy fashion images (i.e.: nude women) and Hermes scarf prints. While Kanye’s father was a former Black Panther/photojournalist and mother was an English professor, the hip-hop artist infamously dropped out of college to focus on music. It seems that Kanye — who, right now, is still living down the Taylor Swift incident — has found a way to further his education. And to teach fans — even if they’re just in search of naked chicks — a short lesson.

Ten Little Nigger Boys, Ten Little Nigger Girls [KanyeWest.com]

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