In an interview last month, Kanye West said that he “doesn’t read any book.” This week, he’s proving that’s why he doesn’t make any sense.
West sparked yet another avalanche of controversy on Monday when he wore a “White Lives Matter” shirt at his Yeezy fashion show in Paris. Conservative commentator Candace Owens posted a photo of herself wearing the same shirt alongside him.
The backlash was immediate. “Kanye” quickly began trending #1 on Twitter. Jaden Smith, who was at the event, left early and tweeted: “Black Lives Matter… I Don’t Care Who’s It Is If I Don’t Feel The Message I’m Out.” Atlantic contributor Jemele Hill called the shirt “a dangerously dumb message to send for someone with his massive platform.”
I’ll say upfront it seems clear to me that this was a stunt on Kanye West’s part to (once again) steal the limelight at any cost. West is in the same category of egomaniacal characters as Donald Trump and Elon Musk. Few people more desperately seek to tap into the attention economy. Well, you have our attention now, Kanye. Regardless of the reasoning behind why he did this, I do see this as an educational moment that can be used to inform on the mechanics of white supremacy.
Some on social media are defending West, claiming that it shouldn’t be controversial to say white lives matter. It’s similar to the “All Lives Matter” response to the statement “Black Lives Matter.” It’s whataboutism at its worst. Here’s the thing: No one is saying white lives don’t matter, but in America, Black lives have been degraded for centuries. Obviously, every life matters, but the reason the statement “Black Lives Matter” is so powerful is because of the historical context of slavery, segregation, and the continued racial injustice we face today. Declaring that Black lives matter isn’t a statement that seeks to erode the value of other lives, while the “White Lives Matter” slogan does.
Just as “Make America Great Again” was a racist reaction to the Obama presidency, “White Lives Matter” is a racist reaction to the modern racial justice movement. As the Anti-Defamation League points out, “White Lives Matter” serves as a white supremacist response to “Black Lives Matter.” Since 2015, white supremacist groups, including the Klu Klux Klan and the Proud Boys, have used “White Lives Matter” in the perpetuation of their hateful ideology. Kanye West might know this if he decided to take up reading instead of believing whatever Candace Owens feeds him.
As for West’s intentions with the shirts, he has sent some signals as to his potential reasoning. In an interview that was published before the fashion show on Monday, West toldVogue, “Our point, our idea, is that there is no one who is not welcome at YZY, at Donda.” If his goal was inclusivity, West certainly undercut that through the “White Lives Matter” stunt and his statement responding to the controversy. On Tuesday morning, he posted on Instagram: “Everyone knows that Black Lives Matter was a scam. Now it’s over. You’re welcome.”
To be fair, West appears to be pointing to a lawsuit alleging misused funds at the Black Lives Matter nonprofit. But the organization Black Lives Matter is not synonymous with the statement itself. “Black Lives Matter” as a slogan stands on its own. West attacking the BLM nonprofit doesn’t excuse him from choosing to wear a symbol of white supremacy.
Many people point to his bipolar disorder diagnosis to excuse West’s antics, but this is part of a pattern of behavior that happens whenever he is seeking to promote something. West has always been a provocative contrarian, but his moves took a more overtly right-wing turn during the Trump era.
In 2018, West infamously called slavery a choice at the TMZ headquarters, with Candace Owens by his side. Later that year, he wore a MAGA hat and met with Trump in the Oval Office. During West’s 2020 presidential campaign — if you can call it that — he claimed that Harriet Tubman never actually freed slaves.
Last year, it seemed West may be turning a corner when it came to engaging in politics. On his Grammy award-winning song “Jail,” Jay-Z rapped, “Told him stop all that red cap, we going home.” Since then, Kanye kept pretty quiet when it came to social issues, instead focusing on cyber-bullying Pete Davidson. But now, he’s back at it again — just in time to promote his new clothing line after ending his partnership with GAP.
It’s important to note that there’s a lucrative market for Black people selling out for right-wing clout and money. It’s an easy grift and almost always disingenuous. These Black conservatives are often used to spread white supremacist ideas. Look no further than Diamond & Silk and Candace Owens. Now, West could be looking to cash in on the right-wing conservative grift factory.
While none of this is surprising, it’s still disappointing. West went from rapping “Racism’s still alive, they just be concealin’ it” and saying “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” in the 2000s to wearing a MAGA hat and “White Lives Matter” shirt in the 2020s.
Those lyrics about racism were in a song called “Never Let Me Down” in Kanye West’s debut album The College Drop Out. I was 11 when that album dropped in 2004. I was a huge fan for years and his music made a big impact on my life. But he let me down, as well as millions of others.
Kanye West used to inspire Black people and now he embraces those who hate us. He used to be a voice a young Black kid could listen to. Now he’s a voice they should ignore.