Kanye West is finally canceled. Now what?

Black people should have canceled Ye a long time ago. But now all of us have an opportunity to look past his antics

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published October 28, 2022 5:45AM (EDT)

Kanye West (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Surface Magazine)
Kanye West (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Surface Magazine)

White lives do matter, and Kanye West proved it. Not just by affirming it verbally, and not just by wearing it on a shirt, as if the whole world doesn't already know that white lives mattering is a given. 

Before getting into this, I think it is only reasonable to acknowledge that I am a Black American and I speak from my perspective. I do not know what it's like to be Jewish and would never offer an opinion on a Jewish person's response to antisemitism. And even though West himself is Black, in this instance he is the source of a common headache for Black people, Jewish people and Black Jews. West, the 45-year-old multiplatinum-selling rapper and clothing and sneaker mogul, had an OJ in the white Bronco on the beltway kind of week, after coming under fire for his White Lives Matter shirt at the Paris Fashion Week YZY show and making a series of hateful antisemitic statements ("I'm going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE") this month. 

The fallout began with Ye being suspended from both Twitter and Instagram. (Instagram has welcomed him back.) Then JP Morgan Chase cut ties. LeBron James and Maverick Carter scrapped the episode of their HBO show "The Shop" that featured Ye as a guest. His agency, CAA, dumped him, along with the fashion house Balenciaga, who deleted his likeness from everything, as did GAP. That led up to the biggest blow — the termination of his partnership with Adidas, which knocked him off the Forbes billionaire list.

TJ Maxx vowed to remove Ye's products from their stores. (But also, who in the hell knew TJ Maxx even carried Kanye's designs? I bet TJ Maxx didn't know TJ Maxx carried Ye shoes and apparel.) Peleton kicked him off their cycling playlist. Even Skechers, the OG of dad shoes — which you probably couldn't have paid Ye to wear before last week — escorted him out of their California office on Wednesday after he popped up uninvited, looking for a new home for his designs. 

"Skechers is not considering and has no intention of working with West. We condemn his recent divisive remarks and do not tolerate antisemitism or any other form of hate speech," said the shoemaker's statement. "The Company would like to again stress that West showed up unannounced and uninvited to Skechers corporate offices." 

Kanye's vile, insensitive words, his incoherent thoughts, his cheap, right-wing loser talking points — straight from the book of confused, clout-chasing Candace Owens — have already hurt many people. Ye has a history of using hate speech or playing on racial sensitivity when he's hungry for the headlines needed to bring attention to a new product. Let's not forget the time he stitched a Confederate flag on his green Yeezus Tour flight jacket, or when he called Trump his father, or that ridiculous 2018 rant when he said slavery was a choice. Black people should have had him canceled a long time ago. But Adidas stayed by his side after the slavery rant, maintaining that "Kanye has been and is a very important part of our strategy and has been a fantastic creator," although, as CEO Kasper Rorsted said in an interview with Bloomberg TV, "there clearly are some comments we don't support."

"Kanye and Yeezy is a very important part of our brand from a revenue standpoint," Rorsted added. "It's a very important part of how we promote our products, particularly in the U.S. and other parts of the world." Rorsted ended that conversation by saying the idea of dropping Kanye over his statement didn't come up in a meeting. It's not hard to see why — Black lives don't matter. White lives do. 

Black people should have had him canceled a long time ago.

When I say Black lives don't matter, I am not thinking about the #BLM hashtag or the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation's mansion purchased with donor funds. I am definitely not agreeing with Kanye. When I say Black lives don't matter, I'm talking about the way America consistently fails Black people with a smile. We can see Black lives don't matter by looking at schools in poor Black neighborhoods and the food deserts surrounding those communities. We don't matter because opportunity has been historically limited to us. When I say Black lives don't matter, I am talking about state violence against victims such as Michael Brown, Sandra Bland and George Floyd, who Ye falsely claimed died because of fentanyl, saying the cop's knee "wasn't even on his neck like that." Kanye is so eager to prove white lives matter he not only dismissed the evidence the medical examiner shared with the public, he overlooked the actual video of disgraced officer Derek Chauvin resting his knee on Floyd's neck. White lives matter so much to Kanye he is ignoring visual evidence in real time. And why is Ye doing this? We already know white lives matter. 

I am reminded white lives matter when I look at television, when I walk through the offices of the companies that published my books, when I watch cable news, when I rush to the post office only to find it closed because of Columbus Day, when I'm searching for Black dolls for my kid, and even when I look at the faces on my cash. Take a walk through any major university and you will see that white lives matter just by looking at the people schools choose to hang on the wall. My city, Baltimore, is a predominately Black city, and it is full of statues of white men on streets named after other white men, even the same white men already memorialized as statues. We know white lives matter. 

White lives, white history and white perspective matter. Tell us something we don't know, Ye. 

And though people of many backgrounds have their own foods, cultures, rituals, traditions and belief systems, in America if they share the same skin color, they are widely seen and treated as white. This is a white country, no matter how diverse we claim to be. A white person born in the U.S. is simply referred to as American, even if they are well aware of their Irish or Italian lineage, whereas a Black person born here is African American, even if their family has been in this country since its origin. White lives, white history and white perspective matter. Tell us something we don't know, Ye. 

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"Racial identity become the paramount spatial mediation of modernity within the newly reunited nation. Race nevertheless became the crucial means of ordering the newly enlarged meaning of America," Grace Hale wrote in her 1999 book "Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1940," which documents the period after Reconstruction when the U.S. begin to shift from a European ethnic melting pot to white:

"This happened because former Confederates, a growing class, embattled farmers, western settlers, a defensive northeastern elite, woman's rights advocates, and the scientific community simultaneously but for different reasons found race useful in creating new collective identities to replace older groundings of self. As important these mass racial meanings were made and marked at a time when technological change made the cheap production of visual imagery possible and the development of a mass market provided financial incentive, selling through advertising, to circulate the imagery".

Hale noted that this new way of advertising was responsible for exposing products cheaply to the masses, painting a new picture of America and what it should look like. She explains the way affluent whites masterfully executed that American vision by enforcing Jim Crow, practicing white versus colored, and always portraying Black people in the media as slaves, servants and clowns.

The creation of these different types of racial boundaries was only half of the battle. The other half can be recognized in the way white people, in power or not, never fully challenged those boundaries, but rather easily accepted mass lynchings, laughing at and participating in blackface and holding onto a culture of discrimination. Ye is a spawn of that culture, likely so poisoned and full of self-hate he actually thinks he has to save white men by speaking up for them.

What if we all took Ye's offensive comments and performed self-audits on ourselves and how we reacted?

"There's nobody that gets judged more than a straight white male." Kanye told Piers Morgan on his show "Uncensored."  "The straight white male has the least amount of a platform to even speak." 

White men — still the highest-paid group in America, who made up 45 out of the 46 American presidents — are doing pretty OK without Ye's help.

But this controversy could potentially lead to some good in a different way. What if we all took Ye's many offensive statements and stunts and performed self-audits on how we reacted? Did you get upset when he disrespected women? Or when he celebrated the Confederacy and denigrated Black people? Or when he publicly defended R. Kelly and disrespected abuse survivors, or made antisemitic statements and directed hate toward Jewish people, or aligned himself with homophobia?

Maybe all of it upset you equally all along, or maybe it's been a gradual process for you, separating your admiration for his art from his public persona. I know his comments against Black people and his praise for Trump, who is clearly anti-Black, bothered me the most because I am a Black man. It reinforced the reality that there are still no consequences for anti-Blackness. These feelings make me guilty of selective outrage. But we should extend each other grace for our selective outrage. Most people are going to identify strongest with joy and pain directly connected to their experience; however, we all have the ability to recognize that every group, no matter how relative we may perceive our own pain to another, needs to be loved and considered and supported, especially when they are choosing unity over empty hate like what Ye is spreading.

I'm sure a racial and religious apology tour is in the works for Ye. People tend to become more remorseful when their money disappears. But we should take a note from his playbook and make this moment about us — all of us banding together in unity across different races, genders, religions, classes and lived experiences — not him and his self-destruction. 

By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a writer on the HBO limited series "We Own This City" and a professor at the University of Baltimore. Watkins is the author of the award-winning, New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America”, "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," "Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope" as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new books, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," and "The Wire: A Complete Visual History" are out now.

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Antisemitism Black Lives Matter Commentary Kanye West Ye