Your NPR news source
Kanye West performing

Kanye West performs at the United Center on Friday, Oct 7, 2016, in Chicago.

Rob Grabowski

Kanye West’s antisemitism -- not his anti-Blackness -- tanked his status as a billionaire

The cost of being antisemitic in the 21st century can be associated with a lot of ramifications that surround loss.

Sometimes it is a loss of employment. TV Host Nick Cannon was originally fired from his long-running comedy show Wild N’ Out after repeating antisemitic conspiracy theories during an interview on his Cannon’s Class podcast back in 2020. Other times it is a loss of partnerships; the Walt Disney Corporation cut ties with the most-subscribed YouTuber — Swedish creator PewDewPie, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg — after he posted nine videos with Nazi imagery or antisemitic jokes. Most of the time it is a loss of social capital, including the various celebrities who lost followers or access to social media platforms for repeating anti-Jewish sentiments or slurs.

But for Chicago-bred rapper-turned-fashion-designer Kanye West, who has made several antisemitic remarks over the past two weeks, the price was the loss of his billionaire status, according to Forbes.

Adidas, a German-based athletic manufacturing company with its own history of Nazi ties, announced on Tuesday that West violated the company’s values and ended a partnership with the rapper, who changed his name to Ye. The announcement comes after a series of companies publicly severed ties with the rapper, including Def Jam, which announced his G.O.O.D. Music was no longer affiliated with the label; Gap, which has effectively ceased its partnership with him and removed all YeezyGap merchandise from stores. The list of brands dropping him continuously mounts.

Adidas shoes sign

A sign advertises Yeezy shoes made by Adidas at Kickclusive, a sneaker resale store, in Paramus, N.J., Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. Adidas has ended its partnership with the rapper formerly known as Kanye West over his offensive and antisemitic remarks, the latest company to cut ties with Ye and a decision that the German sportswear company said would hit its bottom line.

Seth Wenig

The rapid backlash Ye has received is warranted but baits the question: What is the cost of his anti-Blackness? Apparently, not much in the month of October.

Within the same month as his antisemitic posts, Ye made several inflammatory statements about a Black woman and several Black men, as well as displaying the ultimate diss to the #BlackLivesMatter and other anti-racism social movements by donning a “White Lives Matter” T-shirt during Paris Fashion Week. He mocked Black Vogue fashion editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson, who condemned his choice to incorporate the shirts during his runway show on Oct. 3, by ridiculing her appearance in several now-deleted Instagram posts. During an interview on the podcast Drink Champs, the rapper relayed the conspiracy theory, which has been disavowed a number of times, that George Floyd died from a fentanyl overdose instead of asphyxiation from Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on his neck.

But one of his most damaging rants in modern times is from a TMZ interview in 2018, when he posited that slavery was a choice.

The reality in America is that anti-Blackness is not only accepted, but it has never been grounds for any significant repercussions other than short-term outrage from some members of the public and forward-facing Black organizations. In fact, anti-Blackness has been co-opted as a marketing strategy, most noticeably in the beauty and fashion industry where the exclusion of products for Black individuals or anti-Black images is used to incite outrage, which is subsequently used to promote releases of products. Two examples are Tarte’s Cosmetics foundation colors and Gucci’s wool balaclava jumper that resembles 1920s minstrel imagery.

Much of the discourse about Ye’s seeming invincibility after his repeated anti-Black remarks has surrounded the idea that the Black community has failed to come to a consensus on canceling the musician. Some have even stated that Black people have supported him more after his disparaging comments or made excuses like “separating the artist from the controversy.”

On the ground level, there has been a lack of overall consensus on how to handle Ye, who has openly been dealing with mental health issues in the public light for nearly a decade. But the two often get conflated. There is a lack of attention to mental health issues, but bipolar disorder does not incite or cause antisemitism or anti-Blackness.

At its core, the Black community has never had the means to enforce any real consequences for injustice or discrimination because Black individuals do not hold the power in society. Despite the #BlackLivesMatter and other anti-racist movements outlining different tactics to combat racial injustice — including boycotts, political demonstrations, voting and lobbying — we will not see real change until the people who are currently in power care about racism. That means white men in power.

Ye has come a long way from his infamous 2005 statement that “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” after Hurricane Katrina. Now he’s relaying himself to the likes of white men in power, most recently saying he empathizes with straight White males because they get “the least amount of platform to even speak.

Kanye West and Donald Trump

In this Dec. 13, 2016, file photo, President-elect Donald Trump and Kanye West pose for a picture in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York.

Seth Wenig

He regularly weaponizes the plight of some Black men — in regard to getting access to their children and the Black brute trope that falsely attributes Black men as aggressive, hypersexual and predatory toward white women. He uses the characterization not to bring awareness to the issue but to direct scrutiny and amplify his anguish that his ex-wife Kim Kardashian no longer wants to be with him.

In addition, Ye regularly hurls misogynistic comments toward Black women, including using the term Precious — the titular character in that movie — in song lyrics to denigrate women who don’t fall into Eurocentric beauty standards and stating that he had to take “30 showers” after dating model Amber Rose.

Ye has used the Black community in the same way as corporate giants have — to boost his sales while exploiting a real issue that many face in real life. He has used Black people as a stepping stool to reach a level of success and left the community the minute he reached a status he felt was on par with Jesus.

He also clearly does not care about Jewish people. However, Ye is still a Black man and as indispensable to the people he panders to as Black people are to him.

Until the world cares about racism, the Black community will continuously be on a hamster wheel, waiting for an assailant to offend a marginalized group that can actually inflict tangible consequences. At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a loss of anti-Blackness.

Correction: The story has been updated to reflect that West was born in Atlanta.

Dr. Aisha Powell is a culture and race researcher and an instructor at Morgan State University in Baltimore. Follow her @AishaPowell_.

The Latest
Many nonprofit groups are bringing humanitarian and other aid to impoverished Venezuelan migrants starting over in a new country.
The small, relatively poor South American country has received four times more Venezuelans than the United States but offers a path to integration. We went to see it.
Rep. Lisa Hernandez declined to give a timeline on any proposal, which she says could authorize more than 400,000 undocumented immigrants to work.
For the first time, Mexicans abroad can vote in person at locations around the world.

The conservative group Judicial Watch filed a class action arguing that Evanston’s first-in-the-nation reparations plan violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment because it uses race as a requirement for eligibility.