Why I Judged Kanye West Too Soon, And Maybe You Did Too


I think my opinion of Kanye West from before two nights ago was just the same as everyone else’s: he was a less than bright, ignorant jackass with little to no talent. Though I had only heard a couple of his songs, and didn’t know much about his personal life and views, my mind was made up. I had seen which are probably the two most defining Kanye moments: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” and the infamous “I’ma let you finish” to America’s sweetheart, T-Swift.

The “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” line was spoken by Kanye during a segment of the Hurricane Katrina telethon he was hosting alongside Mike Meyers. I confess, I hadn’t watched the whole video up until yesterday. I had only heard the one line. And it sounded pretty shitty to me. As a preface, at the time I was a preteen, and I was also a George W. fan. Yeah. They were dark times. And I guarantee you, times have changed. But even now, as the liberal hippie I am, I can recognize that telling the nation their president didn’t care about an entire race might not have been the classiest, nicest, or correct thing to do. But was the statement completely unwarranted? No. Help didn’t come as soon as it should of (or as soon as it probably would have, if New Orleans had been populated by majority caucasians).

I don’t think W has a personal vendetta against black people. I don’t think he “doesn’t care about [them]” as Kanye said. But I can understand how people might infer that from the actions (or lack-thereof) taken by the government at that time. And, if you watch the full video (which I linked to above) Kanye actually makes some pretty profound statements regarding racism and the handling of Katrina by the US government. Kanye apologized in a 2010 for the remarks, saying that “in [his] moment of frustration, [he] didn’t have the grounds to call [Bush] a racist.” He did admit to taking it too far in his frustrated moments, but he is only human. In the 2010 interview with Matt Lauer, I also found Kanye to be pretty genuine in his apology. Maybe a little bit of a jerk, at times, when he chides The Today Show for showing him the clip of George W. Bush before he apologized, but still genuine (if there’s one thing I think we can all agree on about this guy, it’s that he is certainly genuine).

He made a mistake in calling someone out so personally when he was angry, but he owned up to that mistake while still bringing light to root issue: America’s still pretty racist (and it has real life effects). I don’t really have much to say about the incredibly infamous Taylor Swift interruption. It was an asshole move. He did apologize originally, but later redacted that apology. I’m not really sure why he said it or why he took back his apology, but I suppose there’s a part of me that appreciates that he was honest, gave a false apology, and then admitted that he only apologized to get record sales. But there’s a bigger part of me that just thinks this was a dick move and that’s it.

The thing about dick moves though, is everyone has them. And how we interpret them, is very dependent on the race of the perpetrator. It’s not just dick moves that we interpret differently, either. It’s also felonies. Chris Brown beat Rihanna. And that’s disgusting, please don’t get me wrong here. I am so glad that finally people seem to be disgusted by domestic violence, but I can’t help but wonder why the backlash towards Brown is so much larger than the backlash towards his white counterparts who committed the same crime. White celebrities that have been accused of domestic violence include Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Cage, Mel Gibson…the list goes on and on. Charlie Sheen has been a repeat domestic violence offender, but he still gets jobs. He was arrested for domestic violence during his run on Two and a Half Men, and signed another contract with them after committing the crime. While people might associate Charlie Sheen with crazy, he’s not generally perceived as a woman beater (and many times, he was).

Sean Penn tied Madonna to a chair, raped her and beat her with a baseball bat. He won two Oscars after. I’m a feminist, and a former Sean Penn fanatic. I loved him as an actor, and what I knew of his personal views. Like most of America, I had no idea of his abuse towards Madonna until recently. In contrast, Chris Brown’s name is now synonymous with his crime. He is constantly vilified by the press and the public. This sort of response isn’t necessarily unjustified for the crime he committed, but it’s certainly disproportionate next to the responses of the American press and public towards caucasian abusers. I believe, Kanye, too, is a victim of the harsh lens we look at black celebrities through in America. I’m certain more people hate him than Sean Penn, a man who is guilty of rape and assault.

Two nights ago, when I changed my opinion on Kanye, I was catching up on Keeping Up With the Kardashians (embarrassing–I know. Guilt Pleasure. Bad Habit. Whatever.) I watched the episode where Kim, her mother, and her (and Kanye’s) daughter go to Vienna and encounter racism in a way that they apparently had not before. There are definitely some problems with the episodes handling of the topic. They never acknowledge once that the context of blackface (or the n-word, for that matter) in Austria is so much different than the context in America. Kris Jenner gives an eloquent history of blackface, but neglects to explain that blackface was used to degrade African Americans, not African Austrians. Now, the Austrians should certainly have been more sensitive to the fact that they were in the presence of Americans and they should have been aware of the offensive sting their words could hold to people from America.

On the plane back, a woman allegedly yelled horribly offensive things at Kim and North (her daughter) (including: “shut that black baby up!”) and that’s just despicable–I don’t care the context. At the end of the episode Kim reads a rather insightful, well spoken blog entry of hers about racism. During this segment, they show a bit of Kanye speaking about racism at one of his concerts. He was more well spoken and educated in this bit than I ever gave him credit for. I looked up more of his thoughts on race in America online and realized that Kanye wasn’t the “mindless celebrity” I had perceived him to be before. And though I still don’t think he’s a “lyrical genius” as some people claim, I have a lot more respect for him as a person, an artist, and an activist. My hate for him has been transferred to some celebrities more deserving of it (Charlie Sheen, Michael Fassbender, etc.). I’m not saying it’s not OK to hate Kanye: it is. Hate whoever you want. Kanye has certainly said some cringe-worthy things (such as the implication that Kim K, his then fiance, is more influential than Michelle Obama–barf). I’m just saying before you hate him you should not only examine the double standard in which you judge him by, but you should maybe choose the words you condemn him with more carefully–because “ignorant” and “stupid” shouldn’t be on the list.