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The unfortunate inevitability of Ye discourse

Ye (formerly Kanye West) has drawn significant attention and criticism for antisemitic statements.
Ye (formerly Kanye West) has drawn significant attention and criticism for antisemitic statements.

Cards on the table: Ye (previously known as Kanye West) is one of my favorite artists of all time.

His music, and by extension hip-hop as a genre, found me at a formative age and largely shaped what I would become interested in and how I would think about it. Albums like “The College Dropout,” “Late Registration” and “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” still mean a lot to me to this day.

But being a Ye fan is exhausting.

It was easier to wave off his more outspoken moments in the past. Sure, his interviews and public statements were often contentious, but the only thing he was damaging was his public image. The quality of his music more than made up for it.

The moment many started questioning that balance came in 2016 when he became an outspoken supporter of former President Donald Trump. Trump’s stated platform threatened to hurt marginalized communities, and many of Ye’s fans became disillusioned by his willingness to throw his weight behind these views.

Before 2016, Ye had been viewed as a somewhat progressive figure in hip-hop. Early in his career, he criticized former President George W. Bush for his response to Hurricane Katrina and spoke against the prevalence of homophobia in hip-hop. Even after his Trump association, Ye was outspoken in his push for prison reform.

This endorsement coincided with a highly publicized deterioration of Ye’s mental health, which led to him canceling his then-ongoing tour and being hospitalized.

Ye’s bipolar condition took center stage for the next few years of his career, even being the main focus of his 2018 now self-titled album. Much of his erratic behavior around this time was attributed to his illness and his apparent unwillingness to take medication for treatment.

It’s important to contextualize Ye’s recent actions and statements within this history because it shows that not only is this not a new occurrence, it’s depressingly predictable.

Over the last month, Ye has been embroiled in yet another controversy, this one over antisemitic and conspiratorial comments. He has appeared on high-profile platforms like the "Drink Champs" podcast and "Tucker Carlson Tonight," spreading his rhetoric to millions of viewers.

“We’re not going to be owned by the Jewish media anymore,” Ye said in an interview with Chris Cuomo. “Every celebrity has Jewish people in their contract … And these people, if you say anything out of the line with the agenda, then your career can be over.”

Quotes like this are inexcusable.

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According to the Anti-Defamation League, 2021 saw the highest number of antisemitic incidents in the U.S. since the organization began tracking in 1979. This was a 39% increase from 2020, and included a 52% rise in right-wing extremist activity — the groups Ye is courting with his statements.

As unhinged as Ye’s rants have been in the past, they rarely served to draw ire toward anyone except himself. This is different, a targeted attack on a group who is already seeing an unprecedented amount of harassment aimed their way.

These worries become even more prevalent when localized to Miami University.

On Saturday, Oct. 15, three Miami students vandalized a part of the university’s Hillel center, which houses an organization dedicated to fostering community between Jewish students on campus. Though the culprits were not charged with a hate crime, the incident still resonated and sparked conversations about Jewish acceptance at Miami.

In a report by The Miami Student about antisemitism at Miami, multiple community members talked about the impact of Ye’s statements.

"The biggest thing that I've seen is celebrities making major antisemitic comments … We saw [Ye] recently,” said Matt Seifert, a first-year accounting major. “And following those you always see a huge rise in attacks of Jewish organizations, and you also see a bunch of people who are saying no one's actually taking those comments seriously when in reality, they are."

Whitney Fisch, executive director of Hillel at Miami, feels that people don’t take Jewish problems seriously until someone prominent begins speaking against them, at which point it’s too late.

"You get all these celebrities coming out saying antisemitism is wrong, but where were you before this?” Fisch said. “Be more proactive. Don't just sit in the reactive as an armchair advocate. Call it out before it gets to this level. This is not the first time.”

Grant Titlebaum, a first-year mechanical engineering major, recalled Ye’s previous controversies.

"I'm surprised people still take him seriously for his comments, especially how he's been in the past, too,” Titlebaum said. “I have no problem with people liking his music, but taking his comments seriously? You're looking at what he said in the past, and it's like, why would you listen to him now?"

Titlebaum hits upon something crucial here: Ye is empowered by controversy, leading to a cycle that was always going to inevitably lead to something like this.

For what it’s worth, Ye is facing consequences, significantly more than in previous similar situations. But he still refuses to fully apologize or even clarify his statements, which is a nonstarter when it comes to gaining public forgiveness.

Ye might be able to move on from this, but as Seifert makes clear, it's unlikely everyone else can.

"There were a couple of songs of his that I loved. I had them on most of my playlists; I had to take them off,” Seifert said. “I just lost all respect for him, and I'm honestly glad to see that he's falling because of this."

Some have called for a large-scale boycott of Ye’s music, with even Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek criticizing him.

I don’t think this is the solution.

Deplatforming absolutely works, as shown earlier this year with the case of Andrew Tate, but Ye’s antisemitic messages aren’t being spread through his music, at least not the music that’s available on streaming services. Even if it was removed, Ye is too big to fail at this point; as long as he can publicly speak, he will continue making headlines.

This is all going to come down to a personal choice whether to engage with his art, and it’s perfectly understandable why, as in the case of Seifert, someone would choose not to.

I myself have felt weird about listening to his music for the last several weeks, and I have very little connection to the communities being affected by his comments. That’s just it, though: people are being affected, and that’s enough to tip the scales for me.

Time will tell how long the fallout from this will last, but one thing’s for sure: Ye’s not finished.

Take that how you will.

Additional reporting by Assistant Campus & Community Editor Luke Macy.

@HollowCentral

hollowrr@miamioh.edu


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