The Kanye Conundrum
with John McWhorter
Are Kanye West’s recent antisemitic comments simply the ravings of a potentially unwell megalomaniac, or is there more to it than that? I don’t mean to ask whether we should take these remarks as intellectually serious propositions—we shouldn’t—but whether Kanye’s repellant views about Jewish people, and the similar views of other prominent people, risk making public discourse more hospitable to antisemitic sentiments. The problem is not exactly Kanye West’s personal antisemitism. There will always be individual antisemites, just as there will always be individual racists. That’s an unfortunate fact of life, but it’s not a real social problem unless large segments of the public who did not previously hold those views begin adopting them. When antisemitism grows from a personal defect—a belief perceived as so wrongheaded that it’s not even worth discussing—into a public position that must be debated, we’ll be in real trouble.
I don’t think we’re there. But Kanye West is by far the most famous person in recent history to take openly antisemitic positions in public. What are we to do about it? It might be best, as John suggests at the beginning of this episode, to just ignore Kanye and his ilk when they say such things. But that isn’t happening. Does the ongoing coverage of Kanye’s, it must be said, outrageous statements risk inadvertently sowing the seeds of antisemitism in the culture? Or do those of us who abhor antisemitism have a responsibility to speak out against it? The racial issue only complicates these questions, as it’s impossible not to notice that several recent antisemitic incidents occurred at the hands of black perpetrators.
I must admit, I’m undecided on the right course of action. Clearly, Kanye West and his ilk should be denounced, full stop. But how far should those denunciations go if we’re to avoid doing more harm than good? Forcing public figures who hold these beliefs to make insincere public apologies, as was the case with Kyrie Irving, can breed resentment. I definitely don’t want to see a backlash effect take hold, where people who feel that their views are being suppressed act out even more vociferously than they otherwise would have. That really could end in disaster. How do you, readers, feel like we should handle this conundrum?
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JOHN MCWHORTER: Why are we supposed to mull so extensively over Kanye West's facile antisemitism? This is something that I genuinely don't understand. I understand the significance of antisemitism. I understand that one could argue that it's on the rise. But when somebody says that they admire Adolf Hitler or that Adolf Hitler is somebody where you might want to consider that there were good sides to him—which you know, presumably there were.
But to even bring that up, the idea being that we give Hitler too hard a time, when someone says that, it seems to me that they're dealing so much in the realm of the ridiculous that I'm not sure why smart people are sitting around musing over the nature of what he said and what it indicates about the history of antisemitism in this country, et cetera. And yes, I know there's that—here I am with my naïveté—that sports figure whose name I forget.
GLENN LOURY: His name is Kyrie Irving. He plays for your hometown team, the Brooklyn Nets.
It's shameful how little I know. But I know that a person like that did that. And so Kanye West is an undereducated person. He is something of a megalomaniac. And he obviously likes to get a jump out of people by saying terrible things, such as supporting the Confederate flag. Why are we encouraging him by paying him so much attention? What am I missing here?
Okay. Well, you started out, I thought, asking why we—that is you and I and people like us—are asked to react to Kanye West because we're black. And because I think those who ask us to respond are both anticipating a certain censure—Kanye West doesn't speak for all black people, he's a nutcase, he's an undereducated whatever, and he's an antisemite besides. They're anticipating that we would censure him and that we would reassure them that, although Kanye West is black, we, the Black Guys don't stand with him. We denounce him.
I mean, why is Louis Farrakhan, from a time past, a similar kind of ... you know, he would say something antisemitic and then people would be asked to denounce Louis Farrakhan. I kind of recall Hillary Clinton asking Barack Obama during that campaign of 2008 to denounce Jeremiah Wright and, by association, to denounce Louis Farrakhan. So I think that's part of the reason.
But I think you're asking the wrong guy about why people are so sensitive, why our Jewish brothers and sisters in particular, why the Anti-Defamation League or B'nai Brith, why prominent Jewish public figures would react with great alarm when a black celebrity says something stupid, says something ridiculous, says something antisemitic. And I mean, I don't want to answer for them. My best speculation would be, nip it in the bud. That's the kind of talk which, when not confronted immediately and vigorously, builds into more and more publicly expressed anti-Jewish sentiment, which translates at the end of the day into violence and horror. And we Jews—again, I don't speak for such people, but I'm imagining—can't afford to let that kind of talk go by unremarked. The last time we didn't look carefully, horrific consequences ensued.
Maybe I'm understanding. Because I understand that you want to have control of the conversation. Certainly when people make certain kinds of statements, you want to make sure that there's some sort of general agreement in the public that this does not represent standard opinion and that these are ideas that we'd like to suppress as much as possible. With Kanye, though, it just seems like what he's expressing is so cartoonish that I wonder why anybody would worry that it would be taken seriously.
But I guess what I'm missing is that they're worried that maybe a certain kind of person, perhaps usually a lonely young male, might listen to him. Like is the idea that Kanye West is an influencer as opposed to somebody who almost everybody thinks of as a buffoon? I didn't know at this point that he had a fan base listening to him rapturously the way Donald Trump does. And I should say as an asterisk, I think his music is fantastic. That's not the point. We're talking about the person.
John has stepped away for a moment with a connection issue, and he'll be back. And I don't want to neglect to underscore that there are antisemitic attacks ongoing, some perpetrated [by] inner-city black people in Los Angeles and New York and around the country. I'm just commenting, John, in your momentary absence, to get on the record our acknowledgement of the fact that our Jewish brothers and sisters are not crazy. There really are antisemites. Sometimes they push people in front of subways or they cold cock them when walking on the sidewalk or whatever.
And often these are black people, and presumably some of them listen to Kanye West's music and watch Kyrie Irving's moves on the basketball court and so are not implausibly thought to have been influenced in some respects by the errant comments of these celebrities. I mean, I gather that the Hitler comment got some affirmation with the signage above the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, of people standing on an overpass with signs saying “Hitler was right,” or words to that effect. I don't wanna misquote, so please excuse me if I don't remember it exactly.
Was this in support of what Kanye said or a separate event?
Who can say? I don't know what motivated those people. It happened after the Kanye controversy and in the wake of the reaction to it, so I imagine.
Okay, I'm learning. So in other words, I am missing the extent to which he is an influencer. Because my feeling was not, why are Jewish people so oversensitive? That wasn't the issue. I get it. I get the sensitivity in general. But with this Kanye stuff, I thought it's this cartoon character with a mask on his face saying utterly ridiculous things. Who's listening? Then again, maybe I'm overestimating the nature of the public.
Dave Chappelle is listening. I don't know if you saw that opening monologue that he did for SNL a few weeks ago.
I have now, yeah.
I'm not saying he agrees with Kanye's antisemitic statements. I don't put that on Dave Chappelle. But I do say that when I heard that monologue, I came away from it thinking he thinks the reaction is overblown. He thinks Kanye West is no threat to the Jews. He thinks the Jews do sometimes act—excuse me, put that all in quotes, I'm paraphrasing Dave Chappelle here, I'm not speaking on my own account—are sometimes “paranoid” in their reaction against these kind of matters, and that they are powerful and influential. He says, “I've been to Hollywood. There are a lot of Jews. A lot.” That's Dave Chappelle. I'm quoting him.
So I think his reaction—this is Chappelle's reaction—is not dissimilar to that that many people and many African Americans … Stephen A. Smith, the sports commentator at ESPN who comments on basketball, had a long defense of [Kyrie Irving]. He condemned [Kyrie's] not responding to the owner of the Nets when he was confronted about his his retweet of the antisemitic video. But he said that he thought it was an, an emasculation of [Kyrie Irving], the list of demands that the owner had put before him.
This is Stephen A. Smith. This is just another kind of center-of-the-road black public commentator whose reaction was not without a certain degree of ambivalence with respect to the condemnation. “Yeah, yeah, antisemitism is bad. But, (a), the black celebrities who might give some voice to some of these thoughts are not really a threat to the Jews. And (b), the overreaction of the anti-antisemite is something that is a problem in its own right.” I think a lot of people think that.
I'm learning here. If somebody went onto Alex Jones's show and said similarly cartoony things about black people, including, you know, “Slavery wasn't so bad,” blah, blah, blah, my first impulse would be, who's taking that seriously? Who cares? We have bigger problems. The planet is about to burn. But then again, there are people who would be listening to that who are not crazy, who might think, “Okay, it's open season for expressing some of maybe the more temperate but still disgusting views that we have.”
I need to understand that there are many ways of being a person. I'm a little bit disturbed by a tacit sense I get from all of this, that a lot of our black brothers and sisters think that this antisemitism has to be seen in a particular lens when it comes from us, because it's okay for black people to be racist to an extent. And I have said with you, I can understand the idea that there's something different about white people despising black people and black people despising white people. In a different language, you could have different words for the same thing.
But I get the feeling there's a kind of an advantage being taken of that, because the idea is not that it's okay for black people to resent white hegemony in general, but it's okay for black people to nurture a vague, ungrateful, rather unreasonable, and superannuated animus against Jewish people as interloper, pushy people who ran stores in our neighborhoods and didn't let us work in them, et cetera, et cetera. A lot of this is rather antique. What is it that would create this? And there seems to be an idea that we're supposed to be allowed to nurture things that tacky because we're black and it's okay because we're oppressed. I'm not loving that. We have no reason to not like Jewish people. It's antisemitism.
Agreed a hundred percent. I mean, let's stipulate. Were someone to go on a TV show or a prominent platform on the internet and pronounce, “Slavery wasn't that bad,” they wouldn't be getting book contracts from major publishing houses. Their TV show would be canceled. Their record distribution network would dry up, et cetera. They would become personas non grata. And why should it be any different for antisemitism, I think a person could very reasonably say. So I have no problem with the sanctioning of people who spew hatred.
Glenn's editor here, moderator of the comments section. There are comments in this section that, ordinarily, we might consider deleting. But because deleting even the most outré comment risks engaging in the kind of discourse squelching whose efficacy Glenn questions in the above post, I'm going to leave them up (short of verbal abuse directed at another commenter). That does not mean that Glenn endorses the views represented in any given comment.
If its "racist" and "angry" to notice that you still have no proof, only opinions here and I have proof, indeed, the Judgment... is ... coming.
Here's more, PROOF: FROM THE BIBLE (no fraud, fake opinionated nonsense here)
KJV Exod 4:6-
v.6 "And the LORD said furthermore unto him, [thats Moses] Put now thine hand into thy bosom: and when he took it out, behold, his hand was LEPROUS AS SNOW.
[so Moses' hand turned...turned...turned WHITE. It TURNED white, leprous as snow]
v.7 "And he said, Put thien hand into thy bosom AGAIN. And he put his hand into his bosom again: and plucked it out of his bosom, and, behold, it was turned again as his other flesh.
[Merek, If the first miracle was to turn his hand leprous white as snow... then what was the color of "HIS OTHER FLESH" if this same Moses, an Israelite of the Tribe of Levi (PROOF: Exod 2:1-2, Num 1:18 his father was Levi, you are your father's seed), what color was his OTHER flesh originally if it had to turn white Merek?
The Tribe of Levi today are slave named Haitians today. If had any proof, today, you'd see the Haitians as Caucasians. Behold, they are not. They are a black, oppressed people... just like Judah (slave named African Americans today by their lying, Caucasian oppressors).
KJV Jeremiah 14:2
"Judah mourneth" [from oppression], "and the gates thereof languish; THEY ARE BLACK unto the ground..." (Gen 2:7 "of the dust of the ground" - thats various shades of the dust of the earth).
The same people that went into Egypt/slavery on ships in KJV Deut 28:68 for instance. Those were NOT Caucasians so again, Caucasians ARE ... NOT... GOD'S ...PEOPLE. **More PROOF**, not opinion.
Their oppressive Caucasians? Red. Again, THE PROOF, not opinion. THE PROOF:
KJV GEN 25:25 Esau (v.27 the hunters/outdoorsmen of the earth) You see this today.
[The first forefather, Esau] And the first came out RED... RED... RED... RED...
Sample Judgment of Esau/Edom: (Marek included)
KJV EZEKIEL 35:5-6
v.5 "Because thou [you] hast had a PERPETUAL HATRED, and hast shed the blood of the children of Israel [thse Black folks] by the force of the sword [the weapons YOUR people manufacture] in the time of their calamity, in the time that their iniquity had an end: [meaning, your killing AFTER AFTER AFTER we were declared "free" by the Emancipation Proclamation, so you haven't stopped]
v.6 "Therefore, as I live, saith the Lord GOD" [not me, my GOD says this]
"I will prepare thee unto b lood, and blood shall pursue thee: sith thou hast not hated blood, even blood shall pursue thee.
KJV Gen 36:8 shows you that Esau (your forefather and people) are the people of the earth of Mt Seir in the Bible. Also "Esau is [synonymous with] Edom". So continuing on into Ezekiel 36, its again confirming thats Caucasians, the same ones that have Judah in languish, the same ones wreaking havoc to Moses' people domestic and abroad. These are real examples of Israelites...
THIS.... IS... WHAT.... YOU CALL... **PROOF**.
Show me THE PROOF that Christ is a White man when it describes him dark skinned black (KJV Rev 1:15 'feet... fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace"). Christ is of the tribe of Judah!
PROOF (KJV Rev 5:5, Heb 7:14). You are a liar that also has no proof concerning your opinions. I hope you are offended by my PROOF of what I have typed continuously thus far.