“I see good things about Hitler,” Kanye West said last month. INFOWARS

How Kanye is taking the rap for his antisemitic rants

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How Kanye is taking the rap for his antisemitic rants

“I see good things about Hitler,” Kanye West said last month. INFOWARS

One day this past fall, Jonathan Golden checked in with his Jewish high school students to talk about antisemitic actions and statements made by the American rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West. His students at Gann Academy in Waltham asked Golden how they should respond to the way Ye was being amplified on social media.

“I think it’s the moments like this that kind of just raise questions and wondering what’s prompting them and what might the impact of someone like Kanye, who has so many followers, be when he shares this kind of speech that he shared recently,” said Golden, who also is a lecturer in the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University.

In October, Ye, a celebrity rapper, producer, and fashion designer, made several comments relating to the Jewish community, threatening violence and promoting historical tropes. Especially disturbing was his tweet that he planned to go “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.”

In December, Ye continued to draw attention to his outbursts. He dined with white nationalist Nick Fuentes and former President Donald Trump and then said on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ webcast, InfoWars, “I see good things about Hitler” and that people should stop “dissing the Nazis.”

Ye’s antisemitic remarks came with an additional twist, drawing attention to the long and complex history of relations between the Black and Jewish communities. In an interview with Piers Morgan, he said, “God forbid one comment could cause people to feel any of the pain that my people have went through for years.”

Jonathan Kaufman, journalist and author of the 1988 book, “Broken Alliance: The Turbulent Times Between Blacks and Jews in America,” said that Ye’s approach is one that has been seen many times before.

“Rather than turn it into a contest about who suffered more, the way I think Blacks and Jews can be effective is when they recognize they’ve each suffered,” said Kaufman, who now serves as the director of the School of Journalism at Northeastern University. “They each have lessons or things they want that will reduce discrimination, reduce persecution, you know, reduce the challenges that groups face and then work together rather than arguing over who suffered more.”

The relationship between Black and Jewish people “has a presence in American culture that Black-Greek relations or Jewish-Presbyterian relations generally do not,” wrote Trinity College professor Cheryl Lynn Greenberg in her 2006 book, “Troubling the Waters: Black-Jewish Relations in the American Century.”

Greenberg, among other authors, has noted how this conversation is revived whenever there is any kind of confrontation or public encounter between the two groups. In 2020, when the Black Lives Matter movement gained significant national traction, there was interest from Jewish groups to collaborate with Black groups.

In 2021, when Democrats Jon Ossoff, who’s Jewish, and Raphael Warnock, who’s Black, were elected to the U.S. Senate from Georgia, some observers praised what appeared to be a renewal of the Black-Jewish alliance. But Jeff Melnick, a professor at the University of Massachusetts in Boston wrote in an essay for The Washington Post that people should be careful about putting a label on the two senators.

“This says something about Democratic Party electoral politics, but it doesn’t say that much about Blacks and Jews in direct conversation,” said Melnick in an interview.

Ye’s outbursts have rekindled that conversation. In November, the New York Times published a guest essay headlined “Blacks and Jews, Again,” in which Michael Eric Dyson, who is Black, wrote, “We should remember the ways that our communities have historically passed the baton to each other in the long relay for justice. Until we see antisemitism as a toxic species of the white supremacy that threatens Black security and democracy’s future, none of us are truly safe.”

While Ye has millions of listeners across streaming platforms and 18.4 million Instagram followers, his sphere of influence is limited. “He’s got a lot of power. Like, attentional power,” said Melnick. “He can get our eyeballs, but he can’t make policy.”

The concern among many, however, is Ye’s association with extremist groups that bring his words to life. It was Ye, after all, who brought the white nationalist leader Nick Fuentes to Mar-a-Lago to meet Trump. The voices that are amplifying these harmful ideas are being heard because of the platform they are given, leading to physical manifestations of hate against Jews, according to Greenberg.

“One of the main reasons is that white supremacist and white nationalist groups have been given public platforms,” said Greenberg.

For instance, Ye’s statements were amplified by demonstrators in Los Angeles who flew a banner over a busy overpass that read “Kanye is right about the Jews.”

Ye has been challenged in numerous ways following his outbursts. Adidas, a company that has had a partnership with Ye since 2013, has cut ties with the artist and launched an anti-hate campaign. The Yeezy products sold through this partnership made the company billions of dollars, but now some fans who have purchased the shoes are turning against Ye, even burning them.

Forbes said it had dropped Ye from its list of millionaires and estimated his current net worth was just $400 million.

Online petitions for him to lose his honorary doctorate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago have succeeded, and there have been calls – so far unsuccessful – for his music to be removed from major streaming platforms like Apple Music and Spotify.

Young people across the country who were once fans of Ye have turned their heads and begun removing him from their music libraries. “That tweet and then the subsequent trying to justify himself on it, I was like, there is no redeeming him here. It’s past a certain point where he’s doing so much damage that’s irreversible,” said Lon Pierson, a student at Northeastern University who was previously a Ye fan.

Josh Levy, a 23-year-old New York University graduate, said that Ye was his favorite musical artist for six years. He owned a pair of Yeezy shoes and attended Ye’s “Donda” listening party in Chicago in 2021. Although he hasn’t sworn off listening to Ye’s music forever, he has naturally stopped listening over the past two months. “Whenever I hear it, I’m like reminded of the whole thing,” said Levy.

At Gann Academy, Jonathan Golden and his high school students are especially concerned about the sheer amount of amplification Ye has received online. His students are wrapped up in TikTok and Twitter, leaving them to feel like there is almost no escape from all kinds of “crazy things,” as Golden put it, that are posted every day. But what Ye has done struck them as different.

They continue to ask, “What does this signify?,” and they pondered how and why his message was receiving affirming comments and responses.

“I think my sense, too, is that’s why a lot of people are responding to this particular story. Because it’s this whole question around the limits of free speech versus hate speech and how we think about social media, how we respond,” said Golden. “I think that’s in part why this got more, more, and more momentum and attention and response than other stories have.” Θ

Ella Hamilton is an undergraduate student in the School of Journalism at Northeastern University.

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