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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Celebrity worship, hate speech and the alt-right: Consequences of Kanye’s antisemitism

In 2022, Ye, formally known as Kanye West, went on an infamous antisemitic tirade, spouting anti-Jewish conspiracy theories and misinformation online and in public settings. The reactions to this prolonged spectacle were varied, ranging from the loss of corporate sponsorships to an outpour of support from white supremacists.  

Ye’s history of erratic behavior has included conversations with right-wing figureheads—in a 2018 interview with Candance Owens, Ye claimed that “slavery was a choice” [1]—promotions of eyebrow-raising slogans, including donning a “White Lives Matter Shirt” with a photo of Pope John Paul II on the back in 2022, [2] and smiling photo ops-with former president Donald Trump. [3]  

The public has been enraged, entertained and confused by Ye’s actions and claims over the years. Throughout it all, Ye has maintained a strong fanbase of people who like his music and has somewhat created a cult of personality. However, in 2022, his barrage of antisemitic remarks burst through the confines of humor and stoked the fire of white supremacy in American society. 

On Oct. 8, 2022, a single tweet that Ye decided to post sparked massive discourse that both supported and denounced antisemitism. Later deleted, the tweet read, “I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up I’m going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE. The funny thing is I actually can’t be Anti Semitic because black people are actually Jew also You guys have toyed with me and tried to black ball anyone whoever opposes your agenda.” [4] It was a crystal-clear message—one that pupated that violence be levied against Jewish people.  

Besides the threatening portion, Ye’s tweet also introduced two antisemitic conspiracy theories: that Black people are the “real” Jews—as opposed to white Jews, who are commonly understood to represent the Jewish community—and the theory that Jews control the media and entertainment industry.  

The post’s aftermath included companies severing partnerships, such as Balenciaga, Adidas, Foot Locker and many celebrities publicly denouncing Ye’s comments as hate speech. However, I would argue that the hit to Ye’s reputation was insignificant in comparison to the damage his comments caused, not just to the Jewish community, but to all of those who were exposed to his beliefs.  

The first time I saw the slogan “Ye Was Right” was while scrolling through Instagram reels. Most Instagram users are well-aware of the disgusting content and hateful comments that can be found on the app, so the hundreds of users posting that “Ye was right” did not surprise me much. My initial reaction was fear of the risk of antisemitic violence levied against the American Jewish community, emboldened by Ye’s comments.  

Within the coming weeks, I was proven right. In Los Angeles, the Goyim Defense League, an antisemitic hate group, hung a “KANYE WAS RIGHT ABOUT THE JEWS” banner over a major freeway, followed by another that read “Honk if you agree.” [5] Other incidents of graffiti and harassment occurred across the country, including in Massachusetts. In Newton, there were two reports of graffiti expressing support for Kanye in school bathrooms, and a Jewish student organization received an email saying “Kanye was right. We all know.” [6]  

These events served as a chilling reminder of the large number of antisemitic Americans, and the power that celebrities wield. Ye’s comments did more than bring antisemites out of the woodwork; they also planted seeds of hate in the minds of many of his supporters. There is nothing more terrifying than the fact that a single tweet could have such a drastic impact on the beliefs, experiences and safety of Americans.

We all know of the power that celebrities wield. Sometimes they use their positions for good, drawing attention to certain social issues or advocating for those who are unheard. But this is not the case for all, and Ye proves that remarkably well. Hate speech, when coming out of the mouth of one’s icon, is extremely influential. It also opens the door to dangerous behavior from those who already hold these sickening ideologies.  

We can’t expect all celebrities to use their influence wisely and carefully, so the responsibility lies with us, the audience, to not blindly accept what they say. Beyond that, it is imperative for us to take a stand against this behavior in any way we can, because we know how severe the consequences may be. A tweet or Instagram post can put marginalized people’s lives farther in danger. That alone should lead you to make a morally and ethically sound decision on if your favorite musician’s word is one you should accept.  

 

SOURCES: 

[1] https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/01/entertainment/kanye-west-slavery-choice-trnd/index.html 

[2] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/kanye-west-white-lives-matter-shirt-candace-owens-fashion-show-backlash/ 

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/dec/13/kanye-west-donald-trump-meeting-trump-tower 

[4] https://apnews.com/article/twitter-inc-entertainment-music-ba5c710ec59d195fe4d83cb2c9343589 

[5] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/banner-kanye-right-los-angeles-freeway-antisemtic-group-rcna53653 

[6] https://www.adl.org/resources/blog/ye-right-antisemitic-campaign-continues