Kanye West

Kanye West Doesn't Want to Bring Back Slavery. He's Trying to Abolish It for Good.

The 13th Amendment outlaws slavery, but not for prison inmates.


Kanye West, the Trump- and Kaepernick-loving rapper, seems to take pleasure in bridging partisan divides in the most controversial ways possible. Yesterday he put on a red MAGA hat and Tweeted this:

Cue the outrage. This time around, West's critics include Captain America star Chris Evans, Arrested Development actor David Cross, and Matter of Fact anchor Soledad O'Brien. The general sentiment seems to be: Why abolish the amendment that abolished slavery? "Is there making sense of Kanye West's Maddening Slavery Tweet?" blares Esquire's headline. Others, such as singer Lana Del Rey, just couldn't get past the rapper's support for Trump.

But it shouldn't have been hard to discern West's meaning, even if he expressed it in a confusing way. As he later clarified, he doesn't want to kill the whole 13th Amendment—just the passage that still allows involuntary servitude "as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted."

Without that change, he writes, the amendment allows "slavery in disguise."

In the years after the Civil War, many black convicts were forced to participate in "convict leasing" programs, where their unpaid labor benefitted private companies. Such programs no longer exist, but as Reason's C.J. Ciaramella noted in August, many states still force inmates of all races to work for nothing or close to it. The Marshall Project reports that "the average pay for a prisoner working a job in a state prison facility is 20 cents an hour." In Texas, Georgia, and Arkansas, inmates aren't paid at all for their labor.

When inmates in more than a dozen states went on strike in August, their demands included "an immediate end to prison slavery." Contrary to popular opinion, "the 13th Amendment didn't abolish slavery," Amani Sawari, a spokesperson for the strikes, told Vox at the time. "It wrote slavery into the Constitution."

Kanye West isn't the first rapper to address this. Killer Mike covered the issue in his 2012 song "Reagan":

'Cause free labor is the cornerstone of U.S. economics
'Cause slavery was abolished, unless you are in prison
You think I am bullshitting, then read the 13th Amendment
Involuntary servitude and slavery it prohibits
That's why they giving drug offenders time in double digits.

And in 2016, the Oscar-nominated documentary 13th explored how inmates are punished with forced labor. That said, 13th director Ava DuVernay doesn't seem to be a big fan of West's views on the subject.

It's possible West's red hat served as a red cape that distracted people from what he was saying. The timing also didn't help, as the post came the day after West defended Trump on the Saturday Night Live stage.

If nothing else, West does us a service by reminding us that a person's views do not have to be—and, outside the professional political world, often aren't—a perfect fit with any political party's. It may seem odd on the cable news channels to support Donald Trump and criminal justice reform at the same time, but the world is larger than the cable news channels.

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  1. I quickly tire of hearing the political views of singers and actors.

    1. West isn’t just a singer. He’s a songwriter. There’s a important difference there.

      Satirists have always been pivotal in politics. Whether they are in novels, songs, or editorial cartoons, art has always had an important place.

      1. I was talking more about the morons that felt it was necessary to spout their ” outrage”.

      2. “West isn’t just a singer. He’s a songwriter. There’s a important difference there.”

        No, there really isn’t.

        1. If his lyrics had a shed of poetry or insight to them, there might be a difference…

      3. West isn’t just a singer.

        Wait. He sings?

        1. He had a whole album he sang instead of rapping.

  2. How do I know any of this is true without embedded tweets?

    1. resists urge to know wtf embedded tweet is.

      1. It is so profoundly woke and righteous that it comes flying out the screen and hits you so hard it becomes embedded in your FACE!

  3. Slow news day. That said, even though I don’t think it’s possible for me to care any less about what Kanye West thinks about anything, I’ll still take this over more Kavanaugh bullshit.

  4. This time around, West’s critics include Captain America star Chris Evans, Arrested Development actor David Cross, and Matter of Fact anchor Soledad O’Brien. The general sentiment seems to be: Why abolish the amendment that abolished slavery? “Is there making sense of Kanye West’s Maddening Slavery Tweet?” blares Esquire’s headline. Others, such as singer Lana Del Rey, just couldn’t get past the rapper’s support for Trump.

    It’s clear someone has gone off the plantation.

    1. Uppity person of color doesn’t know that white affluent liberals know what’s best for him.

    2. Ole’ Kanye better get his mind right so he can go back to being a ‘good one’ on the democrat plantation.

  5. So he’e economically illiterate, doesn’t know how to write clearly, and thinks no criminals are so dangerous as to need locking up.

    Maybe he should try, Oh I don’t know, writing songs.

    1. I’m not sure about that last part. He might be saying that prison slave labor competes with the paid labor of ex-cons. It’s no clear that he’s right, and it’s not entirely clear that he’s saying that, so he’s definitely the first two things you mentioned.

      1. Yeah, I don’t think he’s arguing that prison should be abolished, just the practice of using prisoners for cheap, if not free, labor. But he definitely needs to work on his mastery of the English language, which is kind of surprising for a “lyrical genius and voice of his generation.”

        1. So what are the prisoners to do all day if they’re not working? More time for ass rape? No thanks. I would rather have the work.

      2. I had not thought of that. But that’s a lose-lose situation, like trading sign space for volunteers picking up litter along freeways. I have always wondered why unions haven’t been all over that free labor situation. The same law which requires paying prisoners prevailing wage will also require prisoners to pay for room and board, which will coincidentally leave prisoners with around 10 cents an hour.

        1. Yeah… When you get to the point where prisoners are given a bill for the cost of living them up, talk to me about free labor.

          Making them work agriculture is not a bad idea, but political suicide.

          1. It’s happening now. Convicts in Louisiana’s state prison are put to work picking cotton. I think it’s a bad idea.

            1. Hey it’s constitutional.

          2. On a libertarian site, I assume you wouldn’t object to setting the room and board charges at a market-clearing rate for accommodations and food of that quality.

    2. There’s a difference between “locking up” and “forcing to work.” I doubt many truly dangerous prisoners are out on farms picking cotton for $0.00/hour.

      And slavery is about as uneconomic as anything.

      1. 4 cents.

  6. The military draft is government enslavement, but nobody really wants to address that.

    1. Nixon did. Under the encouragement of Milton Friedman. We (males) may still have to register, but we haven’t had a draft since. And the only people calling for its reinstatement have been Democrats.

    2. I’ve heard that argument, but the court cases upholding the constitutionality of the draft equate military service obligations with the obligation to pay tax. It could just as easily be argued that taxes are ‘involuntary servitude’.

    3. Sorry dude, but having a draft is one of those necessary evils to have a society IMO.

      What’s that you say, if you’re in a just war that the people are behind you won’t have trouble recruiting people? One would think. Lots of people signed up for WWII, millions, but IIRC they still had to draft people, because of the sheer scale of it. With no draft and none of the other forced compulsion we used during WWII we may not have won the war, or it would have took considerably longer to do so.

      Now it SHOULD only be a thing held in reserve for the most dire of circumstances, rather like it is now. But I don’t think it’s an unreasonable thing to have available for catastrophic circumstances. Pure libertarianism is just a fail sometimes at actually continuing its own existence. Which is why I support hyper minimized government, with some room for unpleasant things that must be done.

      1. IIRC, we didn’t have a draft until the Civil war, and it was viewed at the time as very controversial.

        1. I don’t know a deep history of it in the USA, but that could be possible. I still stand by the idea that it is something that should be used VERY sparingly, but should be available just in case. Obviously we don’t need any BS where we conscript people into mandatory military or other government service like lots of other countries have, but if shit ever got real again with a ground war with a real country… Well it may be needed. Hopefully it doesn’t come up anytime soon!

  7. Free labour is the cornerstone of U.S. economics?

    I keep hearing this. Where does this come from? Stupid commies? Unions? The plantation economy as a metaphor for the economy as a whole?

    They make it sound like all those Chinese who laid down rail tracks or Italians on bridges or Irish in the coal mines did it for free or something.

    You try and enact ‘free labor’ and see how it turns out for you.

    1. Look. People need money for basic needs like food, shelter and clothing. That means they have no choice but to work, usually for a corporation. No choice is the same as involuntary, which means working for basic needs is the same thing as involuntary servitude. Involuntary servitude is slavery. Thus all working people are slaves to the corporations.




        1. we live in a society

      3. I don’t work for an evil corporation… Well, I do… But it’s an LLC, and I own it. There are choices for those with testicular fortitude! One need not be a corporate slave.

    2. A beautiful example of how the same words can mean two completely opposite things. I took the words “free labor” to mean the labor of free people, who are therefore fairly compensated for it, the opposite of “unfree labor”.

  8. Actually only 4 states (e.g. Texas) have ‘hard labor’ in prison (i.e. there is a punishment for not working). Otherwise the work is voluntary but low paid. That’s fine – work is a privilege and most people would chose to do it rather than sit in a cell all day.

    1. Refusing a work assignment is a disciplinary infraction in every prison orientation handbook I’ve ever read.

      1. At the prison where I worked you could make an inmate work by regulation for up to four hours. But nobody ever did that, and it was sort of understood that it was the kind of thing you might do in an emergency (a big clean up or something like that).

    2. As I will say in my post below, WTF is wrong with making prisoners work? Better than them loafing about.

  9. love Kanye. i’m a contrarian i guess it fits. touch the sky.

  10. We need to keep the 13th Amendment but how can it survive a challenge under the doctrine set forth in Shelby County v. Holder? The 13th and 15th were both about using Federal power to crush state-level racism. Both of them affected different states differently, it was the whole point.

    1. They don’t explicitly set different standards for different states, and anyway the Constitution is “the Supreme Law of the Land”. But I was wondering about the (recently overturned on other grounds) law about sports betting, which explicitly treated Nevada differently than the other states. How was that Constitutional?

  11. He certainly isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed (and neither is his buddy Trump), but it’s pretty clear what he was trying to say. For anyone without compulsive outrage disorder, that is.

    1. Somehow when people get outraged over something Kanye West is supposed to have said, the outaged not only get it wrong, they make bigger fools of themselves. At the end of this day, I needed a laugh.


  13. When is he going after drug prohibition?

  14. Hokay, so we end prison labour projects. How’s about we bill the sentenced individuals for all the publically finded lawyers, court time, vitctim restoration costs, etc, borne by the public?

    Biblically, when someone commits a crime there is punishment…. with ALWAYS includes restoration of the damages/loss TO THE VICTIM. Does this happen any more? Nope. It does not. WHO pays for all the damage done? We the taxpayers. That’s who. And most times, even with crime victim restoration funds, the victims bear the greater share of the loss.

    So HOWya gonna fix this? For one thing, do away with all the victimless crimes. Some guy wants to get stoned out of his gourd, and so buys some chemical he plans to ingest? So what. Since when do government officials have to nanny every aspect of everyone’s lives anyway? That would probably relase 3/4 of prison inmates, greatly reducing the tax burden on we who don’t commit crimes. Oh but the for-profit prison industry would not like that one bit, as the greater part of their revenue stream would vapourise. Tuff. Maybe they’re in the wrong business?
    If prisoner work can reduce the tax burden on society even a little bit, it should continue. But NOT in a way that accrues benefit directly to private corporations running the prisons.

  15. It’s fine and well to bitch about how things work overall in our criminal justice system… It’s fuct. But to think prison labor itself is wrong? Hell no it isn’t. The problems are waaay upstream from labor.

    If we abolished victimless crimes, which should be job #1 for libertarians, there would be little problem. Assume that’s done. Why SHOULDN’T a rapist, murderer, burglar, car thief, etc pay 100% of the cost for their own incarceration? They should, and there is nothing unlibertarian about that. Also they should pay restitution to their victims.

    In a world with more just laws, and just application of I have no problem with making them work, including shitty/back breaking work. Prison ain’t supposed to be fun!

    Now, the devil is in the details. Personally I think the prisoners should always get a reasonable cut of their income at the time of the work to make it “worth it” for them, the remainder going to restitution. The incentives need to be thought out so there’s no encouragement of locking people up just for labor. But with a well structured system there’s nothing wrong with forcing prisoners to work.

  16. And in some cases, they can’t practice skills acquired during incarceration following release.


  17. Any society (nation?) that has to write a law abolishing slavery is morally bankrupt. The assumption is that people will enslave without punishment if govt. doesn’t stop them. Of course, every law is broken anyway, but would you commit murder if it was legalized? That is the preposterous assumption in the “Purge” franchise. It is also the basis for the worldwide coercive political paradigm, i.e., that society will collapse in chaos unless a violent minority is given authority to threaten, initiate violence, and commit fraud, hence govt. politicians, bureaucrats, and LEOs who are lawless, unofficially exempt from morality. And the populace? They are willfully blind, obedient servants who pretend to be free/served/protected.
    Someday, if our species survives, his time will be looked at as mass insanity/delusion.

  18. The morally bankrupt person relies on an authority to replace lack of thought, the lazy rejection of introspection, and living a confused life. If it’s in the bible or the constitution it exempts them from the responsibility to self-govern.

    And then they wonder why bad things happen to them, as they whine “life is so unjust” (unfair, inexplicable).

    To the unthinking, everything is “God’s will” (a miracle), i.e., mysterious beyond comprehension.

  19. West isn’t just a singer. He’s a songwriter

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