Kanye, we hardly knew Ye.
In my house, when I was a kid, my parents cared deeply about everything related to race, politics, and justice. They talked race night and day. Morning, noon, and night.
My father was what we used to call, in the parlance of the 1960s, a “race man.” He believed that race was at the heart of nearly every social policy problem in America. He was passionate about civil rights and equality for all. He marched in the movement, was arrested for his troubles, and raised me to think critically about race and racism with an eye toward justice.
There wasn’t a story in the news that my parents didn’t debate, dissect and hammer down over the dinner table. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the Central Park Five, subway shooter Bernie Goetz, Tawana Brawley, Rodney King, the Crown Heights riots. You name it, we talked about it.
After law school, I became a civil rights journalist to bring these conversations out of the kitchen and into the everyday discourse. These days, the discourse is challenging, with the country more divided than ever in my lifetime.
What to say about Kanye and whether to say it.
My father died in 2015, but I’m certain he’d have a lot to say about Kanye West. Me? Not so much.
I’ve been avoiding the topic for years.
What is happening with Kanye is painful. This shooting star is falling. The man we thought we knew as a poet, artist, and businessman is not the person we’d hoped he would become. Whatever else may be going on with Kanye, he is a racist and anti-Semite. Plain and simple. And that hurts.
Many people have said, “I wish Kanye would just go away.” Fair enough. I’ve thought that myself. But we can’t avoid the pernicious problem of Kanye West any longer. To do so would be irresponsible and dangerous.
His rantings reflect the deep current of white supremacy coursing through the veins of our country. It must be addressed, head-on.
Silence is complicity.
Last month alone, West:
=> Tweeted that he was planning to go “death con 3” on “JEWISH PEOPLE” (10/3)
=> Rejected an invitation to visit the Holocaust Museum in LA, saying, “I want you to visit Planned Parenthood. That’s our Holocaust Museum.” (10/15)
=> Complained that Los Angeles Apparel had backed out of the deal to manufacture his “White Lives Matter” t-shirts because Jews “take one of us, the brightest of us that can really feed a whole village,” he said, referring to Black people, and “milk us until we die.” (10/15) [More on “White Lives Matter,” in just a moment.]
=> Told Chris Cuomo that “Jewish people own Black voices” ... “I’m coming from a place of love and a place of we’re not going to be owned by the Jewish media anymore.” (10/18)
=> In the same conversation, West complained that his recent bad publicity should be blamed on the “Jewish underground media mafia.” (10/18)
But, West’s anti-Jewish provocations are not a new thing.
=> In 2013, referring to President Obama’s policy in the middle east, he said, “Black people don’t have the same level of connections as Jewish people. Black people don’t have the same connection as oil people.” [Why anyone would care what Kanye West thinks about foreign policy is beyond me, but Power 105.1FM asked, and he answered.]
=> In 2015, he appeared on YouTube with more anti-Semitic conspiracy theories: “I’ll find out somebody, like a Black dude, will be super good with money, He’ll be like, well, ‘Don’t tell anyone, but I’m actually half Jewish.’” Then: “That’s a compliment, that is not anti-Semitic! I love Jews.”
=> In 2018, when released his album “Ye,” close collaborators said he had to be convinced not to title the album “Hitler,” instead.
That’s just a sampling of his anti-Semitism. But it to makes the point. Kanye West is an anti-Semite.
The question is, what to do about it.
The strong instinct, when dealing with people like Kanye West is to cut off the oxygen, stop the reporting, stop talking about them altogether, delete their Twitter feeds, shut down their IG, and hope that their views will be snuffed out for the absence of attention.
As a staunch believer in the First Amendment, I understand that free speech is mainly about the marketplace. Without one, the speech has no audience. It becomes a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it.
In the case of Kanye West, however, he’s revealed something profoundly ugly, but true about America that goes well beyond the words and actions of a single rapper with a measure of talent and an immeasurable following.
Ye’s words reveal our persistent and pernicious problem with anti-Semitism. We cannot remain silent because the danger is real and present.
=> The attack on a Fort Worth, Texas synagogue by a British man who had traveled nearly 5,000 miles to get there (1/15/22)
=> In May 2021, vandals spray-painted “Jews are guilty,” and a swastika on the St. Petersburg Holocaust Museum.
=> Also, in May 2021, five or six assailants attacked a Jewish man in Times Square, punching, kicking, bludgeoning him with flag poles and a crutch, and macing and peppered spraying their victim. He was hospitalized. ]The attackers, who yelled anti-Semitic slurs, were charged with multiple hate crimes.]
There are too many of these incidents to name, but the Anti-Defamation League reports a dramatic rise in hate crimes against Jews in 2021, up 34 percent from the year before. Jews make up less than 2 percent of the population in the United States, but 60 percent of faith-based hate crimes across the country target the Jewish. Jewish people are left feeling vulnerable.
This shared sense of vulnerability created a formidable alliance in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s.
That coalition between Blacks and Jews was short-lived, but we are called to rebuild it, to work together as Dr. King and Rabbi Herschel did in Selma, as Thurgood Marshall and Jack Greenberg did in countless southern towns and their alliance with the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund, arguing and winning Brown v. Board of Education.
Yet, Instead of working to bring us together, Kanye West is driving us apart.
Kanye’s Anti Blackness
Which gets us yo the disturbingly ironic anti-blackness in Kanye’s words and behavior.
=> In 2018, he infamously told TMZ that slavery was “a choice.”
=> Ye recently blamed George Floyd for his own death.
=> He has tweeted and repeated his complicated and perverse theory that he “actually can’t be anti-Semitic because black people are actually Jew also.”
Which gets us to “White Lives Matter.”
Kanye kicked up more white supremacist dirt by wearing a “White Lives Matter” t-shirt at Paris Fashion Week with his NBF, the conservative political activist Candace Owens, who is also Black.
This is where Ye’s anti-black rhetoric dovetails with his anti-Semitism.
Kanye uses his bullhorn to speak for countless faceless white supremacists who are delighted to have a Black man promote their system of oppression and belief— a system that has for centuries benefitted Anglo-Europeans and excluded others. All others.
Kanye’s white supremacy is contagious.
In so doing, Ye gives permission to hate and hate speech.
=> Candace Owens was with him on the red carpet for the release of her 2022 documentary, The Greatest Lie Ever Sold: George Floyd and the Rise of BLM (the title says it all).
=> NBA star Kyrie Irving has been similarly emboldened to spew his anti-Jewish. (He issued a statement late yesterday, backtracking but not apologizing).
=> Donald Trump went on the attack this month, posting on Truth Social that Jews in the U.S. had better “get their act together” and show more appreciation for the state of Israel “before it is too late.”
=> On my Twitter feed, haters unabashedly pronounce their support of Kanye while espousing their hatred of Jews. If they are on my feed, they are everywhere on the platform. No doubt, they are just plain everywhere.
= > As if to prove the point, this group of white supremacists has crawled out of the woodwork in Los Angeles.
It’s time to break our silence.
It’s time to confront the twin demons of racism and anti-Semitism in America. Kanye West embodies both. Thanks to his ugly rhetoric and actions, these ghosts are out of the closet.
Now, as they scurry for the dark corners of American society, it is incumbent upon us to shine a light on the racism and anti-Semitism lurking throughout our society—and to root it out, once and for all.