Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, has been making controversial statements for years. Over the past few weeks, his latest tirade, laden with antisemitism, triggered the loss of major partnerships and widespread condemnation from Hollywood.
Ye’s problematic comments have gone largely unchecked for years. It was only his latest antisemitic rants, which have been embraced by far-right groups as an excuse to ramp up hate speech, that brought in sweeping economic and social repercussions for the rapper and fashion designer. What took so long for Ye to face real consequences? And what can we learn from the discourse around double standards in hate speech?
More:No, Ye’s mental health does not excuse antisemitism, experts say
Ye’s history of controversial comments
Ye’s incendiary speech has spanned years. He said in 2018 that slavery “seemed like a choice.” In October, he debuted sweatshirts that read “White Lives Matter” in large block letters at his Yzy Paris Fashion Week show (and wore it again a few days later to his daughter’s basketball game). A few days after that, he falsely claimed that George Floyd died from a fentanyl overdose, rather than being killed by a police officer.
The rapper has spoken about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which mental health experts have noted can explain why he may make provocative comments – but does not excuse them.
All of his aforementioned comments drew criticism. Many in the fashion industry spoke out against Ye’s “White Lives Matter” display, including British Vogue Editor-in-Chief Edward Enninful, model Gigi Hadid and Vogue global fashion editor-at-large Gabriella Karefa-Johnson, who called the sweatshirts “deeply offensive, violent and dangerous.” Floyd’s family plans to sue Ye for $250 million for “defamation” and “emotional distress.” But the biggest backlash was still to come.
After his Oct. 8 tweet promising to go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE” and subsequently echoing popular antisemitic talking points about Jewish people controlling the entertainment industry and media, stars including Jamie Lee Curtis and Sarah Silverman spoke out against Ye. The controversy grew, and days later Ye’s ex, Kim Kardashian, condemned antisemitic hate speech, as did droves of other stars and major corporations.
Adidas, Gap, Balenciaga, talent agency CAA, T.J. Maxx, Madame Tussauds London, Peloton, Foot Locker and production company MRC, which had completed a documentary about the artist, were among the businesses who severed ties with Ye after his antisemitic remarks.
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With Ye’s most recent comments, “I really felt like he was gaslighting people to believe he was standing on a white agenda, and then when he did the antisemitic comments, that’s when I realized, ‘OK, this is more than that. This is something else,'” says Jason Lee, the often inflammatory CEO of Hollywood Unlocked, who served as head of media and partnerships for Ye earlier this year but announced he had quit a few weeks before the Paris Fashion Week show.
Since then, Lee has spoken out on social media about his contempt for his former collaborator’s comments. Lee says he still has “love” for Ye as an artist, but is “really embarrassed and disappointed” and “can’t allow my love for him to make me blind to the fact that he was hurting our people.”
“He earned his position in culture, and then he just threw it all away for nothing,” Lee adds. “Culturally, regardless of his antics, he is important to the Black community, but he’s lost a lot of that support based on his comments recently, and I don’t know what he does from here. … When you wake up every day with no clear explanation for why you intentionally inflict harm on people and you continue to go and go and go with no strategy, that makes no sense.”
Why Ye’s antisemitic comments were a turning point for his partnerships
It’s always risky for businesses to work with someone as high profile as Ye, notes Erik Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management, but “in a time when consumers are examining the social values of their favorite companies in a very public way, choices about who represents your brand are more important than ever before,” he says.
So when someone who’s associated with a company’s brand threatens to bring down that organization’s reputation, they need to break ties. Nonetheless, Bernstein believes Ye could stage a comeback, as long as he quiets down for a while, offers an authentic apology and can “re-emerge with a killer new album or clothing line.”
But if Ye “continues to choose the dark road he’s on and becomes more known for hateful statements than the hits he’s created over the years,” Bernstein adds, “he could reach a point of no return where he’s simply untouchable for brands that don’t want to immediately face repercussions like boycotts or mass exodus of other business partners.”
“People are selling their Yeezys in the wake of these statements, so it makes less and less sense to have a figurehead who’s controversial in that way,” says Jeannine Bell, the Curt & Linda Rodin Professor of Law & Social Justice at Loyola University of Chicago School of Law.
Why now? Bell believes each incendiary comment through the years has helped fuel the business and entertainment worlds’ case against supporting Ye. Others argue that Ye speaking about his own race – and having the Kardashian PR machine behind him in the past – helped erase some damage. Still, some including Lee are frustrated that Ye’s comments about Black people weren’t met with the same widespread condemnation – and that non-Black power players often aren’t held to the same standards when spreading harmful speech.
Why it’s important to refrain from ‘us vs. them’ thinking
In the discourse surrounding why this moment was a turning point, experts warn against pitting the two groups about which Ye has made inflammatory comments.
“White supremacy would very much love for Black and Jewish people to turn *on each other* – and also ignore the existence of Black Jews! – instead of us fighting its systems,” activist Brittany Packnett Cunningham tweeted Tuesday. “Anti-Blackness and antisemitism are both enemies of our freedom and they thrive with one another. Focus.”
She added: “There is legitimately personal reflection to be done if you are white and Kanye’s anti-Blackness was an afterthought. But the lesson there isn’t competition. The lesson there is that when Anti-Blackness is allowed to persist, antisemitism is a most sure to follow.”
Antisemitism and anti-Black violence has been on the rise as of late. A record number of antisemitic incidents were recorded across the United States in 2021, according to a study released earlier this year from the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group that has been tallying attacks on the Jewish community since 1979. The 2,717 incidents marked a 34% increase from 2020 and included rising cases of harassment, assaults and vandalism. The FBI’s most recent data on hate crimes against Black people note a nearly 40% increase from 2019 to 2020 – and hate-motivated killings in general reached an all-time high since it began collecting data in the early 1990s.
“These two forms of bigotry are not separate,” adds Rachel Carroll Rivas, interim deputy director of research at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. “The false conspiracy about one community incites violence against both communities. Antisemitism animates anti-Black racism, and both are deeply harmful and wrong.”
While it’s difficult to directly source acts of hate to hateful comments, Bell highlights recent incidents of antisemitism that directly cited Ye as motivation.
“I think it would be wise of individuals who have millions of followers to understand that their comments could be interpreted in a way by people who, for whatever reason, want to commit crimes and could spur violence against valued members of society,” Bell says.
Story Credit: usatoday.com