Students And Kanye For President. How To Not Lose Your Cool.

I wasn’t going to say anything. I really wasn’t.

Then a thought flashed through my brain. If we were in school right now, the kids would definitely come to class and ask:

“Miss, what you do you think about Kanye running for president?”

or

“Did you hear Kanye is running for president?”

or

“Can we talk about Kanye running for president?”

Usually, I’d tell them that no, we can’t talk about it. We don’t have time.

But I’ve decided that student engagement in topics they want to talk about can be as valid as my lesson plan for the day. We can teach several skills and issues based on what the kids want to talk about. And hey, if it gets them interested in the news and my class, who am I to stop them?

So yes, if my students wanted to talk about Kanye for President, I’d let them.

Some thoughts about Kanye West

I’m going to give you some tips on how to talk with your students about Kanye for President. But first, I want to share some thoughts of many black folks out there. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily share these thoughts with my students. But I would consider having them look up several points of view.

For a lot of Black folks, including myself, Kanye is a disappointment. I love Kanye. I’ve listened to his music since his first album, College Dropout, dropped my freshman year of college. His early work is incredible. Many of his fans love his music because he talks about the Black experience in America.

In one of my favorite songs, “Spaceship“, he says:

They take me to the back and pat me

Askin’ me about some khakis

But let some black people walk in

I bet they show off their token blackie

Oh, now they love Kanye, let’s put him all in the front of the store

in “Power” he says:

“The system broken/ The schools closed/ The prisons open,”

How about when he sampled Nina Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit” on his “Blood on the Leaves” track? The sample is flawless. The mix of historical and contemporary references are powerful.

There are so many more examples.

How he’s changed

He’s gone from “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” to supporting Donald Trump. That’s likely the biggest gut punch for many of his fans. 

Also, he’s suggested that American slavery was a choice.

(Now, he says he doesn’t support Trump. Seems convenient).

Many Black people feel abandoned by Kanye West. For many Black folks, Kanye is yet another example of a Black person makin’ it and forgetting where he came from. They believe West is exhibiting a “house slave” or “Uncle Tom” mentality. (These are stereotypes that describe particular behaviors. I will discuss what they mean in-depth in future posts). He will hurt his own people, to have a seat at the table. A table he’s doesn’t belong at. Another example is OJ Simpson.

These are issues your students might bring up.

They will either agree or disagree with them, and it’s important to have this discussion. Productively and safely.

Another thing you need to remember is that not all Black people think the same way. There ARE Black Republicans. I’m actually surprised that Republicans don’t try harder to court the Black vote. Many Blacks are conservative Christians and would vote Republican. But, the Republican Party would have to change its image for that to happen. 

Is Kanye West allowed to change his mind?

Is he allowed to become a Republican and change his views on everything he’s said in the past?

Absolutely.

But, it doesn’t mean people aren’t allowed to be mad about it.

Check out this article from The Independent for an excellent summary of what a lot of people are saying.

Of course, there are going to be people who are excited for Kanye West to run for president. Some of them might be your students. So here are some tips for talking about Kanye running for president with your students without losing your sh*t

Tip #1: Let the kids do all the talking.

Do you feel like you’ll say something you’ll end up regretting? Then don’t say anything. Let the kids lead the discussion. I do this a lot when we are talking about issues that might trigger an inappropriate reaction from me. It’s ok to let them talk. All you have to do is guide the discussion. Make sure they are on task, using language appropriate for your class, and are respectful. You can even give the kids question starters and sentence stems.

Tip #2: Use it as an opportunity to teach about the presidential election process

Just because Kanye says he’s running for president, doesn’t mean he is. There are a lot of rules and procedures that must be followed to run for president. For example, it’s too late for him to get on the ballot in many states. He also has to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot in several states. Finally, he has to register with the Federal Election Commission and run a campaign. This is a process that many candidates spend years doing. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it will be hard.

Tip #3: Use it as an opportunity to teach about bias

Personal Bias

Like I said earlier. Not all Black people think alike. Unfortunately, in our culture, we often lump minority populations into homogeneous groups. We discount that they have different religions, life experiences, and belief systems. Let’s start by having the kids research a little about different political viewpoints Black people have.

Media Bias

This is also a good time to look at who supports Kanye (black and white) and who doesn’t. Ask the students why they think people either support him or don’t. What might their beliefs be? What might their agenda be?Do they gain anything by supporting him? What do they gain by not supporting him?

You can also look at how the media is reporting on this story. Be sure to have the students look at both liberal and conservative news sources. You could even throw in some neutral sources as well. I love to use allsides.com. It shows headlines from conservative, neutral, and liberal sources. You could make a cool activity out of it.

Tip #4: Discuss Kanye’s Platform

This is a great way to discuss what a platform is and what the political parties stand for. You can take some time to discuss the platforms of the major political parties. Also what it means to be a Democrat or Republican in 2020? You’ll likely have kids come into class claiming that they would vote for West. But after looking at what he claims his platform will be, they might change their mind. Ultimately, if your students are liberal, they will likely be like, “nah, I ain’t votin’ for him.” Your more conservative students might agree with him on some issues.

Tip #5: Q&A

Finally, if all else fails, you can have the students conduct their own Q&A session. Have the students come up with a few questions each. Then, have them write their questions on the board. You can assign the students to do a little research and answer a couple questions each. They can then discuss the answers together. This way, it’s off of you. While the kids can talk about it, you’ll watch and make sure the conversation is appropriate for your class.

All in all, it’s not our place as teachers to tell them what to think about candidates. It’s our job to educate them. We need to show them all sides, so they can decide for themselves what to believe.

And in reality, this is probably a publicity stunt, but why not use it as a teachable moment?

What are your thoughts? How would you take the time to talk with your students about Kanye running for president? How do you teach controversial issues in your classes?

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