Kanye West has long been a problematic figure in the music industry. Many remember his outburst at the 2009 VMAs in which he interrupted Taylor Swift while she was accepting an award. However, his behavior has lately become much less comical and a lot more inflammatory. In the past month, Kanye has been violently and outspokenly antisemitic.
It began at his Paris fashion show last month where the rapper horrifyingly sported a “White Lives Matter'' t-shirt, which is recognized as a neo-nazi hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Shortly thereafter, Ye tweeted “I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up I’m going death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.” This came after a string of other inflammatory remarks, including an interview he did with Tucker Carlson that was so violently antisemitic that Fox News decided not to send it to air.
Backlash to Ye’s behavior has been swift and unforgiving. Recently, Hollywood talent agency CAA dropped the rapper from its representation as a result of his antisemitic tweets. The agency, which has represented West since 2016, was not the only partner to cut ties with him; others include Adidas, Balenciaga, and MRC, which has canceled distribution of a completed documentary about the rapper. In addition to losing brand sponsorship and representation, West was suspended from Twitter and Instagram last month for promoting hate speech on the platforms.
It’s worth noting that West suffers from bipolar disorder. Manic episodes caused by bipolar disorder often cause people to behave recklessly and irrationally with no regard for the consequences of their actions. While Ye’s mental health is a serious matter and deserves attention in this context, it in no way excuses his blatant antisemitism. While he cannot be separated from his mental disorder, some of his actions can. Author Eric Levitz wrote in an op-Ed for New York Magazine, “There are plenty of bigoted billionaires who suffer from no mental-health issues. To attribute West’s hateful sentiments solely to his condition not only stigmatizes his fellow sufferers but also obscures the cultural wellsprings of antisemitism…” Clearly, mental illness can explain West’s irrationality, but it would be irresponsible and harmful to insinuate that it excuses it in any way.
While Ye’s actions are receiving swift backlash, this is far from an isolated incident. Antisemitic rhetoric and violence are unfortunately incredibly common in the United States, and especially in Massachusetts. A report from the Anti-Defamation League found that 2021 had the highest number of antisemitic incidents in Massachusetts since the organization started tracking data in 1979. Violence against the Jewish community is a huge problem in Massachusetts, with it being the state with the seventh highest number of antisemitic incidents last year, according to the report.
These incidents are happening right in our backyard and going almost completely unnoticed. Last year a rabbi in Brighton was stabbed eight times outside of Shaloh Jewish Day School. Additionally, a teenager in Newton wearing a kippah got rocks thrown at him as he walked through a park. Both of these incidents are horrifying enough on their own, but what’s shocking is that neither was widely reported on by local news outlets or BC campus sources. Unlike Kanye’s statements on Twitter, the antisemitic violence that’s happening in our own community seems to fly under the radar of those who really ought to be paying attention.
All of us have a moral obligation to prevent and condemn antisemitic violence and speech in our community, and luckily there are things we can do to make that happen. The first would be to report any known incidents to the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL uses the information in submitted reports to “help communities across the country by reporting on trends, educating lawmakers and law enforcement and advocating for stronger protections from incidents and crimes.” The next thing to do is to pay attention to incidents and trends of antisemitism happening in your own community so these horrifying incidents don’t continue to go unnoticed. And a third and incredibly important thing is to work on your own biases. Just like all prejudice, antisemitism is learned, and it’s all of our responsibility to unlearn the hate we consciously or unconsciously absorbed in our formative years.