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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Smith: The problem with Kanye

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The headline implies that Kanye West — who legally changed his name to “Ye” — has just one problem. In point of fact, he has myriad problems. (Jay-Z infamously confessed that he had 99; Ye has eclipsed that number.) And there are myriad reasons why all people should have problems with West.

Ye’s virtuosity as a rapper and producer is, rightfully, the stuff of legend. While the term “genius” is often applied capriciously, one could argue that the appellation is fitting for him. Unfortunately, Ye has devolved into a troubled, perhaps mentally ill pied piper of abject ignorance. Further, his antisemitic statements have caused him to become a foil for neo-Nazis, some of whom recently cited him while desecrating a Jewish cemetery.

Importantly, this is not simply about Ye. Given his celebrity, Ye’s behavior has had the inevitable effect of impairing other Black folks’ credibility in criticizing those who engage in anti-Black racism. It also impacts those of us who offer legitimate criticisms concerning discrimination (e.g., speaking out against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians). The sad reality in America is that the bad actions of one Black person, especially a famous one, reverberate to the detriment of the rest of us.

Still, legions of Black folks cling to Ye with unashamed obstinacy. His outsized platform is a vessel for their pent-up frustrations in large part because most of us exist at or near the margins of a society that is still infected by racism. Even though Ye’s actions have caused him to lose his billionaire status, he is still viewed as a wealthy and powerful Black man who defies all efforts to “cancel” him. But the sycophantic deification that has attached to him is misplaced. Such reverence should be reserved for those who actually act to advance the interests of African Americans.

Speaking of which, I ask the following in all sincerity: What has Ye ever done to benefit Black folks as a people? Has he given seed money to dozens or hundreds of Black businesses? Has he donated millions to Black charities? Has he championed voting rights or criminal justice reform? (His ex-wife did the latter.) The answer to all those questions is a resounding “no.”

In fact, Ye has done the opposite. He goes on anti-Black tirades that border on self-abnegation. Predictably, his actions are applauded and amplified by conservative whites. That fits a pattern. Consider, for example, the reception that talking heads Candace Owens and Jason Whitlock receive from their adoring, Trump-loving fans. Conservative whites’ version of DEI is supporting Black people who don’t like Black people.

I can understand why some African Americans are able to compartmentalize Ye’s artistic output from his political posturing. However, I simply cannot fathom how any of us actively embrace this iteration of the artist formally known as “Yeezy.”

Then there is the issue of West’s mental state. On the one hand, if he is mentally ill, we should take that into account when assessing his behavior. On the other hand, we run the risk of giving him a “pass.” I’m not a mental health professional. Even if I were, there is a taboo about diagnosing someone who isn’t under one’s care. Thus, I’ll leave it at this: I don’t know whether West’s actions are the result of a genuine mental illness or “marketing” or sincerely held beliefs. He either has a sick mind or a sick heart. Either way, his actions damage us — as Black people and as a nation.

Finally, it is extremely disturbing that Black people who consistently trash other Black people aren’t ever “canceled” — unless their Black victims are members of other marginalized groups (e.g., LGBTQ+). Why don’t Ye’s advertisers and business partners care about his vitriol against George Floyd’s family? Why don’t sponsors and record companies drop Black artists who glorify murdering other Black people? The answer is that too few people — including us — care about Black people dehumanizing other Black people.

In 2005, Ye infamously declared on national television, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” While I never voted for Mr. Bush, there is scant evidence that West’s claim was true. Tragically, there is ample evidence that Ye is actually the one who doesn’t care about Black people.

Larry Smith is a community leader. The views expressed are his own. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com.

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