The recent surge in antisemitic hate speech in the media from celebrities like Kanye West is an important reminder that when it comes to harmful ideology, it’s impossible to separate the artist from their art.
Antisemitic speech posed by rapper Kanye West simply can’t be glossed over or written off as ideology held purely by fringe ideology. With media outlets giving Ye a platform to spew hate, it is important to remember that when it comes to harmful ideology, it’s impossible to separate the artist from their art. Tolerating hate speech makes you complicit in an environment of hate which legitimizes and enables violence.
I had just turned 16 when Kanye West — or ‘Ye’ — dropped “The Life of Pablo,” his seventh studio album. My youthful interest in “Pablo” propelled me into interest in other artists like The Pharcyde and MF DOOM, who I still consider to be personal favorites. In fact, most of Ye’s early discography pushed me to confront the reality of racial inequality in America and the blatant sexism that black women uniquely face in this country. I say this not to excuse Ye’s recent antisemitic presence in the news media — where certain media outlets have given him unfettered access to a platform from which he can spew hateful conspiracies — but to convey how dangerous his antisemitic speech really is.
In fact, the excuses that Ye fans give with each inflammatory, antisemitic statement are equally as concerning as the statements themselves. The chorus of “he made ‘Graduation’ though” after these headlines not only drowns out the real danger tied up in these fascist beliefs but renders those who defend him complacent, regardless of whether they agree with his views or not. I sat down with Professor David Patterson, one of the graduate professors in the Ackerman Center for Holocaust studies, to talk about the real-world impact of being silent on the issue.
“Words can give hope, or words and silence can destroy all hope,” Patterson said. “The higher our position in society, the more people turn to us, the greater our responsibility.”
This to Kanye’s discourse is so important because genocide find its root in inaction. In short, there is no middle ground to stand on with this issue. Even listening to his music is choosing to tolerate an ideology that has literally had genocidal consequences. This might seem like an overreaction, but at what point does arguing about the separation of the art from the artist become a cop out? Once we start drawing lines between what constitutes hate speech and hate crimes, when do we stop? Inaction is a statement itself.
The people who make excuses for a version of Ye that no longer exists are just as guilty of allowing antisemitic thought to take root in our daily social lives. Obsessing over the art vs. the artist debate reduces the very real danger this kind of language has on Jewish communities every day.
The reality is that Kanye West won’t see you defending his antisemitism on social media or thank you for continuing to listen to his music. But the people around you will. The people who look up to you will. And it is thanks to silent tolerance of antisemitism that violence arises.
So please, stop making excuses for Ye. Stop turning a blind eye to hate speech. And stop streaming his music.