COMMENTARY:

I agree wholeheartedly with Comedian Dave Chappelle when he said, “The worst thing to call someone is crazy. It’s dismissive.”

He made the remarks in 2013 to host James Lipton of “Inside the Actors Studio” on cable TV’s Bravo network. Chappelle was talking about his walking away from a $50 million contract from Comedy Central to continue the wildly successful show named for him.

After walking away from all that money and disappearing in Africa, many called the brilliant comedian crazy.

Chappelle said when people fail to comprehend someone’s actions they say, “I don’t understand this person, so they’re crazy. That’s bull*expletive.

Now let’s talk about Kanye West.

During the last few weeks, he’s been called crazy more times than the name his mother gave him.

This really gained steam on Sept. 30 when West tweeted about his viral and wildly criticized Instagram post of him wearing the red Donald Trump campaign “Make America Great Again” hat.

West tweeted:

“this represents good and America becoming whole again. We will no longer outsource to other countries. We build factories here in America and create jobs. We will provide jobs for all who are free from prisons as we abolish the 13th amendment. Message sent with love."

— ye (@kanyewest) September 30

Wait a minute. Did he just say abolish the 13th Amendment?

Yes, he did.

Is he crazy?

No, he’s not.

Let’s start with the 13th Amendment which ‘freed’ slaves. It reads:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

The onslaught of “he’s crazy” came largely from black people as West dared to touch the sacred amendment that supposedly outlawed slavery.

I wonder how many people knew the 13th Amendment explicitly says slavery is allowed “as a punishment for crime …”

West somewhat amended his original statement saying he meant the 13th should be changed, not abolished. He even doubled down on his original message during a trip to the White House where he held court in the Oval Office with Trump and a gaggle of reporters.

“They didn’t give us reparations. They gave us the 13th Amendment,” he said wearing his red MAGA hat. The clause that allows for slavery and involuntary servitude is a “trap door,” West said.

Is that crazy?

According to the Pew Research Center, In 2016, there were 1,608 black prisoners for every 100,000 black adults – more than five times the imprisonment rate for whites (274 per 100,000) and nearly double the rate for Hispanics (856 per 100,000).

And, no, it’s not because black people commit more crimes. This injustice, imbalance was kicked to new heights in 1971 with President Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs” which has been continued and ramped up by presidents after him.

There are many people incarcerated who should never be allowed to walk the streets again, but what’s the truth behind the “War on Drugs?”

John Ehrlichman, one of Nixon’s top advisors candidly answered this question in an interview in Harper’s Magazine in April 2016.

Here’s a portion of what Ehrlichman told Harper's writer Dan Baum:

"The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."

What followed the War on Drugs is best described with the term and title of civil rights activist Angela Davis’s 1999 book, “The Prison Industrial Complex.”

The term denotes the prolific boom in the building of prisons in the U.S. and the mass incarceration of its citizens. The overwhelming majority of those locked up are black and brown.

President Bill Clinton – referred to by many African Americans as ‘America’s first black president’ - played a heavy roll growing the prison-industrial complex in 1994 when he signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act which endorsed policies like “three strikes” and “mandatory minimums.”

“Between 1990 and 2005 a new prison opened in the United States every 10 days,” Bryan Stevenson wrote in his 2014 book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.”

That claim was corroborated by Politifact.com.

The number of adult correctional facilities increased from 1,277 in 1990 to 1,821 in 2005, a 43 percent increase, according to Politifact.com.

Slavery was a big business just as the prison-industrial complex is big business.

Prisoners provide cheap labor getting paid as little as 23 cents – or less – an hour, according to Unicor prison factories. They make an array of goods for the Department of Defense, Department of Justice and the United States Postal Service. Some other items made by prisoners include military protective gear, law enforcement equipment, McDonald’s uniforms, furniture, Microsoft software packaging, Honda car parts, JCPenny blue jeans and Starbucks packaging. In the 1990’s, retailer Victoria’s Secret hired some female inmates to make some of its lingerie and leisure-wear.

During his rant at the White House on Thursday, Kanye West said prison labor shouldn’t be used like this. He suggested building more factories in the U.S. and hiring people at a full wage when they’re released from prison. He also suggested that Americans who are unemployed or underemployed could find good jobs in these factories.

What’s wrong with that?

My guess is that many of the people calling him crazy would agree with what he is saying.

Unfortunately, people are unable to listen when they get trapped in their emotions. They see that red hat and then they start seeing red and lose the ability to think critically. They hear a ranting West in the Oval Office or on social media and lose the ability to listen to what he’s saying because of the hat he’s wearing and his support of a president they despise.

I refuse to do that. That’s not wise. The easiest thing to do is say, “he’s crazy.” That takes no thought.

Did you listen to what Kanye West was saying? Did you know that the 13th Amendment made a provision for slavery and involuntary servitude?

West and his wife are working on prison reform in direct contact with the White House. Kim Kardashian West successfully lobbied Trump earlier this summer to commute the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a nonviolent drug offender serving a life sentence.

Maybe West isn’t crazy. Maybe he’s trying to be an abolitionist.

Harold Goodridge is Digital Director at First Coast News and an award-winning newspaper columnist.