The rise of White Nationalists in this country shows how easy it is for young white America to erase the subjugation of Black America from reality. Kanye West is not going to further that.
When I was promoted to kitchen supervisor, the first thing I did was text the person leaving that position, who happens to be my best friend, and ask what I could do to prepare for being a leader of a hectic kitchen and managing other people. They told me to listen to “New Slaves,” a track off of Kanye West’s 2014 album Yeezus before my first shift. “You see there’s leaders and there’s followers, but I’d rather be a dick than a swallower,” has become a strong, albeit sexual, way to help ground me when things start going awry during a shift.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West’s 2011 opus that intertwined classical motifs and spoken word in a truly artistic way and featured some of the most prolific musicians in the genre, is one of my top-10 albums, and I find myself listening to Waves, a single from West’s most recent album, 2016’s Life of Pablo during a workout whenever I need to push to finish the last set or last few minutes of a run. At least I did, until Tuesday, when Kanye West let Black America down.
West made his career on being a black man who is a damn proud black man and nothing is going to take that away from him. And then he went on national television, TMZ, and said slavery, the systemic, profitable system that murdered hundreds of thousands of black people, was a choice.
While I have been someone who would routinely separate Kanye West the genius musical talent and Kanye West the larger-than-life celebrity who is absolutely no stranger to controversy; I cannot anymore. Yesterday I deleted West’s discography from my music library, as well as any song from another artist that features him.
Do not get me wrong, West has said many things before — most recently when he and our President were so busy gushing over each other on Twitter that the latter forgot his wife’s birthday — that have made me question whether he is aware of reality. I am also never going to fault a person for struggles with mental health, that is a battle that is long and arduous, something I can attest to. But mental health, wealth, fame, or genius is not an excuse for what West did this week.
The rise of White Nationalists in this country shows how easy it is for young white America to erase the subjugation of Black America from reality. Kanye West is not going to further that. He is not going to hide behind being an artist, or an innovator or a genius. The only difference between the white and black youth who listen to West is that there is not an entire system stacked against the former, and for West to say the worst part of that system was a choice, that is something that can not go without consequence. We are not punishing West for his genius by writing him off, we are simply not allowing him to use it as a shield from the repercussions of his words.
Asher Kennedy is a chef, freelance writer and transman living in Eastern West Virginia, about an hour outside of Washington D.C.