OPINION | Should we be done with Kanye?

Musician and fashion designer Kanye West, otherwise known as Ye, has been a controversial figure in the media over the last decade. The artist’s most recent actions and statements seem to have gotten more offensive, ignorant and dangerous.

While attending Paris Fashion Week to promote his fashion collection on Oct. 3, West, alongside conservative commentator Candace Owens, was seen wearing a black shirt reading “White Lives Matter” – a phrase that spawned as a counter to the Black Lives Matter movement and commonly used by many white supremacist groups. Following this, West made numerous antisemitic remarks on Twitter, which resulted in his Twitter account being locked due to his violation of the site’s policies. 

He also appeared in an hour-long interview with Fox News talk show host Tucker Carlson in which he made multiple controversial remarks, some of which were once again antisemitic, but were edited out of the interview that went to air. “I prefer my kids knew Hanukkah than Kwanzaa. At least it will come with some financial engineering,” said Ye, clearly referencing one of the longest-standing and most pervasive antisemitic tropes – the idea that Jews control the world’s financial system. 

This past weekend, West appeared on the Drink Champs podcast and claimed the death of George Floyd was caused by fentanyl. 

I watched the George Floyd documentary that Candace Owens put out. One of the things that his two roommates said was they want a tall guy like me, and the day that he died, he said a prayer for eight minutes,” West told Drink Champs. “They hit him with the fentanyl. If you look, the guy’s knee wasn’t even on his neck like that.”

As if all of these incidents were not reprehensible enough, it appears there is yet another twist on the Kanye rollercoaster ride – he is now in the process of purchasing the social media platform Parler, a site that is popular among right-wing users. Many conservative US politicians and broadcasters have accounts; however, so do many extremist groups. 

Google, Apple, and Amazon banned Parler from their app stores/web-hosting platforms for failing to monitor violent material after the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol building, as some rioters even posted footage and photos of storming and ransacking the Capitol on the app. The platform returned to app stores after leadership and moderation policy changes. How the platform would be managed with West at the helm is anyone’s guess, but it is unlikely to be positive.

Kanye has reached a point where the things he is saying aren’t just ignorant and ill informed, but rhetoric that has proven to have real-world consequences. These latest incidents are far from the first time West has been dangerously reckless with his words and actions. 

Back in 2018, West claimed slavery was a “choice” and a case of slave mentality rather than people physically being held in bondage. In reality, slavery was a system of oppression that included the use of physical violence – including torture, murder and rape – to maintain compliance. Furthermore, his overall premise utterly diminishes the mental strength and perseverance enslaved people needed to endure hundreds of years of oppression.

Alongside this, during his 2020 presidential campaign, West insulted the legacy of Harriet Tubman by claiming, “Harriet Tubman never actually freed the slaves, she just had the slaves go work for other white people.” I don’t see this as a momentary way of Ye trying to maintain relevance, but rather another example of his downward spiral.

Not only was the statement flawed and ignorant, but it is also incredibly insulting to Tubman’s legacy and the sacrifices made by many people’s ancestors, including West’s.

All of this is made even worse considering the large following that he has gained and how loyal many of them are. Even now, in the wake of what are arguably his most extreme and abhorrent comments, fans of his career continue to enable and encourage West’s behavior. Many people defend him by citing his past creative works and declare him a “genius.” 

I myself enjoy some of Kanye’s past music, but I don’t think it is responsible to excuse or ignore his statements based on his creative work. It has reached a point where supporting and contributing to his current activities will only empower West even more, along with people who parrot the same, if not worse, language. 

Something I hear many of Kanye’s older fans say is they hope Kanye eventually gets better and will go back to being the person he was in the early to mid 2000s. I can sympathize with wanting to see a creator whose work you still admire get better and I personally feel you can enjoy an artist’s previous works while still being critical of the artist as a person. But, should the public continue to line his pockets by streaming his music, buying his albums and flocking to stores to snap up the latest Yeezy gear?

The danger with Kanye’s rhetoric is that if it continues to go unchecked and ignored by people, there will be real life repercussions for these talking points being parroted by such an influential figure. Case in point: according to the Anti-Defamation League, more than 400 antisemitic incidents have been reported so far this year, including acts of vandalism and violence at synagogues. It is crucial for this type of rhetoric not to become legitimized in the mainstream and treated as acceptable language. 

When all is said and done, Ye may very well be a creative genius, and continuing to support his music and fashion empire is a personal choice. But, he is undeniably a  bigot, and in the past few weeks, his prejudice has been as ubiquitous as his Yeezy slides and sneakers, thanks to the clout of his influence. In questioning whether to support him, maybe we should remember Kayne’s own lyrics: “Runaway from me baby…Run away fast as you can.”