Was the Reaction to Kanye’s Harvard Architecture Speech Racist?

The group that invited West to speak at the school responds to online reaction

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Kanye West
Shaun Mader / McMullan / Sipa USA / AP Photo

Kanye West on Sept. 10, 2013, at a fashion show in New York City

When Rapper Kanye West dropped by Harvard’s Graduate School of Design on Nov. 17 to briefly lecture to students about his personal theories about art and architecture, reactions ranged from excited — his fiancée Kim Kardashian gushed about the appearance on Twitter — to bemused. As many were eager to point out, West is famous as a “College Dropout” and, while clearly enthusiastic about design and architecture, is not actually an architect.

As Rolling Stone explains, the event was put together by the school’s African-American Student Union, after the group was intrigued by reading some of West’s statements about “the challenges faced by people of color in design and other creative fields.” (In addition to his speech to the larger student body, West also sat down with the group during his visit to Cambridge.) In the rush of surprise after video of West’s appearance went viral, that initial purpose was often overlooked — and now the leadership of that student group has said that that initial reaction constituted racism.

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In a new interview with the design mag Dezeen, African-American Student Union co-president Héctor Tarrido-Picart said that amusement over West’s appearance at the school fit in with a “long history of making fun of black people that actually make it.”

According to Tarrido-Picart, members of the student group believe that public reaction to the event was mostly centered around making fun of “an ambitious black man” by people who are reluctant to allow an African-American to succeed in the world of high culture (architecture) as opposed to pop culture (rap). Other architects and bloggers have also come to West’s defense.

Though West is not a registered architect, Tarrido-Picart points out that the musician actually does know a lot about the topic — and that black architects are few and far between: the American Institute of Architects tracks them at just one percent of the profession.

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10 comments
realarchitect
realarchitect

No the reaction was not racist. Color has nothing to do with the arrogance of a man that gets up in front of a group of earnest individuals and tells them how great he is relative to their chosen profession. His delusions and self proclamations as a designer are insulting to the profession of architecture, just like his foray into fashion design has been derided within the fashion industry as fluff…

Much like Brad Pitt’s self proclamation of architectural aspirations revealed a person with ambition but not much talent when he forced his ideas through to fruition.

If you want to be a patron fine, put your money where your mouth is…if you want to join the ranks of the profession then study for the years that it takes to become an architect and produce!

byroncooke
byroncooke

These comments are cool. But go around on Youtube, or any other site with a comment section and read some of the things they say about Kanye and then come back and tell me that "nobody cares that he's black".

PetePadilla
PetePadilla

Why does a lack of a certain race or demographic in a specific field always imply some sort of racism? I don't think there are enough Hispanic kids in the NBA...however the difference is, I think about other possible causes like perhaps they would rather play a different sport...maybe culturally basketball isn't that important? I don't know...but what I don't do is automatically pull the race card out and start screaming. I'm not saying racism is dead...but its the hyper sensitive "poor me" individuals that keep it in the headlines. All I'm saying is I have never heard anyone tell an African American that they can't be an architect...and I would love to hear from anyone who has.

BrandonMast
BrandonMast

This is ridiculous. Nobody cares that he's black, they're laughing because he's a self absorbed, highly delusional, ego maniac who honestly believes he can do whatever he wants. Not because he has earned the right, or even knows what he's talking about, but because he feels entitled. He's the most overrated "artist" in all of existence and again, that's why we're laughing at him. 

CoolBeanzIA
CoolBeanzIA

Kanye can't go to the mall without someone making fun of him. It isn't about his race for most people, it is about his lack of tact and class. Must we make a list? That being said, he was invited to speak , he didn't force himself on them. I don't see the big deal.

JayneDawnWynn
JayneDawnWynn

So maybe if he hadn't dropped out of college and had become an architect he would actually be helping the percentage rise?! I don't get it...There may be many African Americans who are informed about being an architect, but without the degree, they aren't part of the percentage. This isn't about "racism" or "making fun of blacks", this is about a dude talking about being something he is not. He CHOSE to be a rapper over an architect. 

SukeMadiq
SukeMadiq

Having this dumb man at Harvard speaking in broken English only made his lack of education even more obvious.

GabbyWomack
GabbyWomack

People make fun of him because he's self centered and has a big ego. He may have an interest in architecture, but no one is going to take him seriously if he keeps calling himself the king of pop and comparing himself to Jesus. It's not about his race; it's about his lack of professionalism.

Suck_My_Ego
Suck_My_Ego

@PetePadilla

Pete

Most of today's racism happens behind closed doors. Not all racists are nazi skin heads or KKK members. Racism today is based on historical privileges(profit from exploitation/old money), believing stereotypes and letting them affect your social interactions i.e who you associate with, who you hire, and etc, and a secret race based cast system that your latino NBA analogy promotes. 

Dear Americans of European Heritage AKA Well To Do People AKA White People ,

Just because a white person has never owned a slave or joined a white supremacy group does not mean you are not racist or racism is irrelevant.  Racism is a tool to push fiscal policy and maintain the current power structure in this society.  Kanye is not speaking out for nothing. The majority of Americans of African Heritage AKA Urban People AKA Black People are not speaking for nothing. Take the time to research the history of our nation and its economic development. Its clear!  

I have a question:

Are you Spanish as in Spanish Heritage/1-2 Generations directly from Spain or are you Hispanic as in Caribbean, Central or South America? 

If you are hispanic what is the race situation in the country or U.S. terriroty in which you claim. 

nwankwog
nwankwog

Pete I am black and I totally agree with your analysis. Yes, black people do face challenges due to race and stereotypes. I also like Kanye because he uses his celebrity to highlight issues faced by people of color however we need to be careful seeing everything as being race related. Your Latino and NBA analogy is apt for this, America is one country where I know a lot of opportunity exists for people of all races regardless of color can make it. I know lots of African professionals who are thriving professionally in the USA because they are prepared to put in the work it takes to succeed. It's really all about aspiration.