Op-Ed

In “Defense” of Kanye West

kanye-west-the-life-of-pablo

At a tour stop in San Jose, for his massively successful and wildly innovative Saint Pablo tour, Kanye West told a crowd on Thursday that: “I said something that was kind of politically correct. I told y’all I didn’t vote, right. I didn’t tell you… I guess I told you… But If I would’ve voted, I would’ve voted on Trump.”

Further clarifying, or digging more of a grave (depending on how you feel), West said “That don’t mean that I don’t think Black Lives Matter, that I don’t …believe in women’s rights… because that was the guy I would’ve voted for.”

And then his punchline drove that home to the audience, “This world is racist, OK… Let’s stop being distracted to focus on that as much. It’s just a fucking fact. We are in a racist country, period. Do not allow people to make us talk about that so fucking long. Let’s talk about whatever the fuck we wanna talk about.”

Now, I can likely guess what your reaction was after reading this particular article or reading another article about the incident and then coming here. Your reaction was probably something to the effect of “HE’S AN IDIOT!!” Maybe, “WHAT A HYPOCRITE!!!!” He once said that George Bush “Doesn’t care about black people” and has repeatedly affirmed that he is treated differently because he is black and now he’s saying to “Stop talking about race so much.” You’re probably asking, “What is a better example of flip-flopping than that?”

And the answer is….not much. If race relations had dramatically improved between when West last made these claims and his oratory last night, he could kind of, sort of, say to stop focusing on race. But of course that wouldn’t be enough. There would be an expectation for him to say we need to focus on housing issues or economic issues or cultural issues that are interwoven with race but aren’t explicitly about race.

There’s also the issue of him admitting that he didn’t vote. Of course he has the right to not vote (hate that that even has to be said). Though that’s hilariously incongruous with Kim Kardashian voting for Hillary Clinton and her gun control campaigning. Kardashian has picked up plaudits for her “stand,” while West has continued to be relatively apolitical (at least publicly). When rappers such as Drake were saying their piece about the shooting of Mike Brown or Trayvon Martin or Philando Castile or Alton Sterling, we never really heard from West. So maybe if he spoke up more about issues of the day, he would be more revered or at least not be getting raked over the coals right now.

Maybe he wouldn’t be in this mess if he hadn’t said he “would’ve voted for Trump” if he did vote. Actually, no, not maybe, definitely. Because that’s entirely what this is about. Fifty-five percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the president-elect and for understandable reasons (naming a white-nationalist baiting, self-described Leninist as chief strategist is one that comes to mind). And skewering Kanye West has been a pop culture past time since before he appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone with a crown of thorns in 2006.

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Can’t imagine what people would make fun of with this.

Making fun of West has never been out of vogue because it’s cheap and easy to do and because his legion of existing eccentricities ensures that there will always be fresh material to lambaste. That’s largely what this is, though it’s slightly different because there’s a political bent to it that we haven’t quite seen since the Bush incident.

And that’s what is a little disingenuous and odious with much of the current criticism of West. It’s a bit of political stupidity being used as a battering ram against Kanye for his past indiscretions. Before, people used to have to mock Yeezy for all of his self-love. Now they have something real, something tangible. Now a lot of liberal-leaning white people get to yell at the brash black man and feel comfortable in doing so because they know how hated Donald Trump is in their circles. They get to tell Kanye to shut up and there will be no one around this time to defend him.

There’s also a lot of criticism of Kanye coming from the black community, which has been fairly continual. For awhile there’s been a feeling that Kanye spurned the communities that fostered him. While it’s good and right to criticize the “whitelash” against West, criticizing this criticism feels off-base. Those feelings of being spurned for the approval of white folks is something deeper and more personal than yelling at Kanye for supporting Trump. It’s rooted in a shared experience that he seems to now be rejecting.

And of course, Kanye West is an artist and he gets to do whatever the hell he wants with his stage. And has. Kanye has carved out an entire segment of his show for “ranting” for as long as I can remember. So the broader notion of Kanye “going off” shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that’s been paying attention. Of course the guy who has compared himself to Steve Jobs, Henry Ford and Walt Disney said he “would’ve voted for Trump.” Of course. Of course. Of course.

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