I love Kanye. And when you truly love an artist, you ride with them through thick and thin. But riding with Kanye ain’t always easy. Lord, he’s been testing me with all this playing footsie with right-wing ideas.
He hurt me in 2016 when he posed with President Trump just days after the election. It felt bizarre, but bizarre is normal in Kanye’s world. And he didn’t actually say anything crazy at the time, so I dismissed it all as a sort of performance-art stunt. I gave the brother a pass. I mean, he’s made so much great music.
Still, I wanted to know what he was really doing there with Trump. Kanye loves to be iconic and iconoclastic—I can see where a picture alongside Trump could satisfy both of those impulses in him. But then, days after the Trump Tower visit, he said, in a mid-concert rant that he didn’t vote—groan—but if he had he would’ve voted for Trump.
That was hard to hear. Why exactly did he support Trump? He was never clear. Did he like the attack on immigrants? Did he like Trump’s appeal to white victimhood, white entitlement, and white privilege? I didn’t know. Ye wasn’t really saying. Shortly after these rants, he was admitted to a UCLA Medical Center named for Ronald Reagan, natch, because he was suffering from exhaustion and sleep deprivation. An anonymous source told People magazine that Kanye was really going through it after using “many different medications.” I told myself, that solves it. He was going through a rough time. He didn’t really mean it. Yes reader, I justified his behavior. That’s what you do when you’re a real fan. You justify. And you forgive. So I did. I had to. I mean, c’mon, he’s made so much great music.
But in that same concert where he said he would’ve voted for Trump, he also said black Americans should “stop focusing on racism,” which is curious because the problem is not us “focusing on” racism. The problem is racism. Not talking about it won’t make it go away any more than not thinking about the weather will make it sunny. Indeed, we talk about the weather partly to prepare ourselves for it—if you wear a heavy coat in the winter, you’ll get through it. And if you understand the nature of racism, white privilege, inherent biases, and stereotype threat, then you have a chance of finding ways to deal with them. But hey, Kanye’s entitled to his own view, right? And, it’s not like he’s putting these ideas into the music, right?
Look, I’m trying to ride with Kanye here because I love him. I’m a real Kanye fan. I’ve loved him since album one and I’ve loved almost every record since then, even 808s and Heartbreak. And I’m so here for the Kanye circus. The crazy rants, the presidential pronouncements, the big ideas, the insane ideas, the clothes, the ego, the award-show interruption theater—yes, yes, yes! Kanye’s like an old-school rock star living by his own rules and a postmodern performance artist trolling society.
I met Kanye when he was promoting his first album and I was writing about him for Rolling Stone. I met him at his apartment in a high-rise in New Jersey. He was in the bedroom for an hour after I arrived, getting dressed, trying to figure out which polo shirt to wear. I waited by walking around the place. I found on one wall a huge poster of… Kanye. He was mid-performance, yelling into a microphone.
When he finally came out, wearing a polo shirt, I said why do you have a poster of you on the wall in your own house? His answer was brilliant—“I have to cheer for me before anyone else can cheer for me.” Be your own biggest fan! It’s a great idea. You can totally hijack your sense of self-esteem and consciously convince yourself to believe in yourself to a radical degree. That sounded awesome and inspiring when he was a young rapper/producer still on the rise. I respected him a lot for that mind-set. And I felt like, deep down, I understood him. The productive young ego may have grown out of control—but without that boundless self-esteem, Kanye would have never made it in the first place.
But being a Kanye fan means constantly defending him, which creates a sort of bunker mentality. Which makes you really dig in. I’m a fan from day one so I’m dug way in. So it was hard for me to get mad at Kanye. Until last weekend.
He tweeted “I love the way Candace Owens thinks” and it felt like a circuit breaker in my mind broke. What does that really mean? Owens says racial oppression doesn’t exist, racism has nothing to do with police killing black men, and Black Lives Matter activists are pretending to be oppressed. She gives comfort to white people on the right, telling them racism is in the past and they have nothing to apologize for and no work to do to help current black Americans. What part of all that does Kanye love? And how much does she get paid for saying it?
Kanye also, on Twitter last weekend, repeated some of the hollow phrases black conservatives love to throw at progressives. “There was a time,” he tweeted, “when slavery was the trend and apparently that time is still upon us. But now it’s a mentality.” Slavery was never a trend like orthopedic sneakers are now and the “slave mentality” schoolyard taunt is empty and tired. It posits that the overwhelming majority of black people are still slaves, insulting both black Democrats and black history. I don’t think anyone was ever inspired to join a political movement by insults.
Also, the black right’s critique of the black left doesn’t take into account that the option the right is offering is horrible. It’s hard to argue that black voters should join the right when the right treats black Americans like we’re the enemy. Does the modern GOP seem to stand up for black people? Does it demonize black and brown people with its rhetoric and its policies? Does it vigorously oppose immigration from African and Latin American countries? Does it consistently oppose government programs that help so many black families? Does it revel in conspiracy theories that challenge President Obama’s citizenship and his legitimacy? Is it hostile to the voting rights of black people by insisting on voter-ID statutes that court after court have found to be an almost surgical attempt to disenfranchise black voters? Has it closed abortion centers and curtailed the ability for many black women to exercise the right to choose and the ability to control their bodies, lives, and families? Has it vigorously supported the National Rifle Association, which never seems to stand up for black gun owners like Philando Castile or John Crawford—or toy gun-holding children like Tamir Rice? Has it been tolerant of the overt racists in its tent? Does it address racism in policing and the justice system? Does it lionize media voices like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Rush Limbaugh, who regularly dismiss the existence of racism? Where, within that universe of thought, am I supposed to fit? Even if Kanye, Candace, and the right could convince me that the left was not the answer, when would they admit that the modern Republican Party is not welcoming for most black and brown people?
Kanye’s making it harder to love Kanye. It’s always been hard loving Kanye, but the righty rhetoric aligns him with people and ideas that are actively hostile toward black and brown people. I’m going to continue to try to keep loving him because, you know, he’s made so much great music, but there’s only so many times that he can play with right-wing toys before I start to feel like nah, there’s no beat hot enough and no verse dope enough to make me put on your record and also forget that you think it’s cool to co-sign people whose politics are dangerous for black people.
But I’m not done with him yet. Our relationship may be growing complicated but for now, I’m sticking with my man. Because I still don’t know if his heart is all the way in on the right. Maybe he’s just trolling us. Maybe he thinks being a black conservative seems like the most radical move he could make right now and he wants to shock, but he doesn’t really believe any of that stuff. That would be a dangerous game. Either way, Kanye just empowered Owens, made her famous, helped her broadcast her message. She’ll always be the one who Kanye co-signed. Expect to see her on Fox News way more.
Ye’s making it harder to keep justifying him but for now, I still do. Because I still don’t believe that he really believes any of that conservative stuff. But then again, I don’t believe Owens really believes that stuff either.