For the past year or so, I’ve been carrying around a not-so-secret shame. Like most of us, I have witnessed the ongoing spectacle of Kanye West. From his erratic rants against Jay-Z and Beyoncé and that first bizarre meeting with Donald Trump, to his sudden hospitalization and misguided argument that slavery was a choice, West’s controversies have not been lost on me. Where I have felt stigmatized is in my own emotions about the rapper’s string of faux pas. The popular reaction to his more shocking public incidents from just about everyone — my friends, colleagues and Instagram followers — has been irritation and righteous fury. However, I haven’t felt a single shred of anger. Carving out space to explain myself in the midst of what feels like a never-ending media frenzy has seemed precarious at best. Now, I’m finally willing to give it a go.
While I am unable to feel enraged by him, I am not apathetic to West or his problematic comments and behavior. Over the past two years I have experienced annoyance, confusion, pity, sadness, and even comical disappointment watching Kim Kardashian’s husband transform into one of the most divisive figures in popular culture. His antics have interrupted the cadence of my well-curated Twitter feed like a pesky mosquito. It’s hard to enjoy my memes in peace when everyone is harping on Kanye accidentally calling for 13th amendment to be abolished (he actually meant that it needed amending).
I was truly worried when he was hospitalized and placed under psychiatric evaluation in 2016, because I know how debilitating and dangerous mental health disorders can be when improperly treated. When West proudly donned his MAGA hat, doubled down on his support of Trump, and sat down with the President for multiple
photo ops conversations, I felt sorry for him. He seems foolish enough to believe that Trump sincerely gives a damn about his opinions.
Through this entire debacle, I’ve felt some type of way.
Still, the mass-scale uproar that ensues every time he opens his mouth (or his Twitter app) has felt like overkill. Perhaps because for me, there is familiarity in West’s provocations. He reminds me of some high school classmates who haven’t moved out of their parents’ houses, but argue adamantly about Illuminati conspiracy videos on YouTube. West’s passion reminds me of a few people I’ve met fresh after they’ve read The Alchemist or The 48 Laws of Power; they’re similarly emboldened by some grand concept of self-actualization. Their firm belief that no one has grasped the idea quite like they have oozes from their pores. Mental health issues aside, West is not the first person to be enthusiastically wrong about things that may or may not be true.
I also understand why West’s opinions deserve to be documented, given his stated interest in running for office. As outlandish as it seems, we are two years away from another presidential election set to be dominated by the dude who hosted The Apprentice. Stranger things have definitely happened. And should West transition from celebrity to candidate, he needs to be prepared to defend and explain his statements. As I’ve mused before, West could theoretically win the presidency or other elected office. Let us never forget that California elected the Terminator to be its governor for eight years. But currently, West is not the president, or even a politician, and it feels both unproductive and unfair to hold him to such a standard.
The access that social media has given us to our favorite celebrities puts us in a position to hold court about them at any time. Combine this with online activism — which can be extremely performative — and the result is a binary vetting system for entertainers, where the only available options are standom and cancellation. We hungrily judge them, dissecting the things they say and do in order to deliver a verdict. We want the famous to get it all right or get nothing at all, humanity be damned.
Our biased outrage leaves no room to address the things that West is definitely right about. As my Granny would say: even a broken clock is right twice a day. For example, when Yeezy’s career began, he was unequivocally pro-Black, a theme that showed up in his early discography often. He said on national television that George W. Bush “doesn’t care about Black people” after botched Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. And to address one of his recent affronts, the 13th amendment does need amending. It’s a part of our constitution that allows Black people to be disproportionately funneled into the prison pipeline, where they are exploited for cheap labor. Ava DuVernay’s award-winning documentary 13th is an excellent resource on the topic. West’s demand for some sort of intervention in his hometown of Chicago, where violence and corruption make national news, is also an important issue. He’s called out racism in the fashion industry, as well. And yes, he did make Taylor Swift famous. Don’t @ me.
Many people view West’s current state as an about face; a fall from his former glory. But my expectations were never that high for him in the first place. Through all of his ups and downs, his musical ingenuity, his brilliance, has maintained. Say what you want, but ye, his most recent solo album, slaps. Kanye West is, first and foremost, a musical artist, and a bold, groundbreaking one at that. I never anticipated him being a beacon of hope or a philosopher. I wish I could say the same for everyone else.
R29 Unbothered presents Trap Glazed, a bi-weekly column where Senior Entertainment Writer Sesali Bowen looks deeper at what’s happening in Black pop culture.