On the final day of Reggae and Black History Month, controversial rapper, Kanye West, was honored with an award named in honor of Jamaica’s first national hero and the leader of the pan-Africanism movement, which sought to unify and connect people of African descent worldwide.
Kanye was awarded the Marcus Garvey Award for Global Contributions to Humanity by the 39th Annual Chicago Music Awards. However, Steven Golding, president of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), an organization founded by Garvey and dedicated to racial pride and economic self-sufficiency, says that somehow, the rapper receiving this award “doesn’t portray the pan-Africanist that Marcus Garvey was”.
Golding also pointed out that the fact that Kanye was not married to a Black woman should immediately disqualify him from the Award because of the stance that Garvey took on interracial relationships.
“I shall teach the black man to see beauty in his own kind and stop bleaching his skin and otherwise looking like what he’s not. Back in the days of slavery, Race mixture, Race miscegenation all occurred BECAUSE THE AFRICAN WOMAN HAD NO PROTECTION FROM THE SLAVEMASTER. Therefore there is no need today for black people themselves to freely continue a PRACTICE that SMACKS so much of slavery,” Marcus Garvey said in his famous 1929 speech.
It is almost a surety that Marcus Garvey stance against interracial relationships might have changed if he was around today. After all, without interracial relationships; there would be no Barack Obama, Halle Berry, Bob Marley and someone who Garvey would surely embrace in Colin Kaepernick.
The 43-year-old rapper, known for his provocative statements and who ran for the office of US president last November, under the Birthday Party, told TMZ in a May 2018 interview that slavery was a choice. “When you hear about slavery for 400 years … For 400 years? That sounds like a choice. You were there for 400 years, and it’s all of y’all. It’s like we’re mentally imprisoned,” Kanye said.
Jamaican entrepreneur, publisher and TV personality, Ephraim Martin, who is the founder and chairman of the Chicago Music Awards, told The 18 Karat Reggae that while he was a bit taken aback by the fact that Kanye West is this year’s recipient, there was really nothing that he personally could do about it.
“Kanye getting this award is kind of a surprise to me. But he has been making contributions to different countries and these contributions are all geared toward the advancement of Black people,” Martin explained.
Kanye West made a number of donations in 2020. In the United States, he made a US$2-million donation to support the families of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. The donation included funding for the legal fees for the Arbery and Taylor families, along with black-owned businesses in crisis in his native Chicago and other cities. The rapper also established an education plan, which would fully cover the college tuition for Gianna Floyd, the 6-year-old daughter of George Floyd. According to the Chicago Sun Times, he made a donation to We Women Empowered, which delivers three meals a day to senior citizens during the coronavirus pandemic. He also supported Buju Banton’s Buju Banton Foundation by donating laptops and desktop computers to staff and residents at Sunbeam Children’s Home and Manchester Boys’ Home. In October, he tweeted that he was in talks with the Haitian Government to build a “new city of the future”. He said the initiative would bring jobs and development, and help support local farmers and fishermen.
Golding noted that handing such an award to Kanye West doesn’t quite fit Garvey’s curriculum.
“Measuring in terms of Garvey’s philosophy, I don’t think this quite fits his curriculum. Marcus Garvey was a man of principle, and by invoking his name, you are invoking everything that he stood for. He is considered the modern father of pan-Africanism and the measuring stick of African liberation and African unity,” a passionate Golding stated.
Emphasising that “Marcus Garvey is Jamaica’s first national hero and the earliest black icon of the 20th century,” he explained that Garveyites don’t have a copyright on his name. “Garvey’s name has been used on so many things. I even saw a pizza shop run by Italians in New York named after him, but it was on Marcus Garvey Boulevard. The truth is that a lot of civic groups in the US, other pan-African groups around the world, the OAS and even us, the UNIA have Marcus Garvey awards. And, unfortunately, a lot of times, recipients are chosen for their celebrity status and the attention that they can bring to the event,” Golding pointed out.
He had a word of caution for the organisers of this particular award. “I can tell them that they will be getting a lot of questions about this, just as I am getting now.”
To get a better understanding of who Marcus Garvey was and what he stood for, you can read his most important speech here: