Adidas has dropped Kanye West, but his antisemitism is part of a wider bigotry that appeals to the right

Ye’s threat to Jewish people is linked to his flirtation with white supremacy, his misogyny and his fatphobia

Noah Berlatsky
Tuesday 25 October 2022 13:14 BST
Kanye West apologises for 'hurt and confusion' caused by antisemitic comments

Rapper and musician Kanye West (aka Ye) posted an antisemitic threat of violence against Jewish people this month – the latest in a string of bigoted remarks which have horrified many former fans. It has now prompted Adidas to officially end their partnership with West, with the brand stating: “Ye’s recent comments and actions have been unacceptable, hateful and dangerous, and they violate the company’s values of diversity and inclusion, mutual respect and fairness.”

His remarks, though, have also been celebrated by right-wing media figures and politicians. Kanye’s enthusiastic, undeniable embrace of antisemitism shows that antisemitism is central to, and an inevitable consequence of, the GOP’s embrace of a politics of division and intolerance.

Kanye’s tweet, since deleted for egregious violation of Twitter’s rules, read, “I’m a bit sleepy but when I wake up I’m going death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.” He added, “You guys have toyed with me and tried to black ball anyone whoever opposes your agenda.”

Kanye’s message here is in line with that of other antisemites from Hitler on down. Like the Nazis, Kanye suggests that Jewish people have great power and are oppressing him. His hatred of Jewish people, and his explicit call for violence, is presented as a reasonable and necessary response to supposed Jewish attacks on him. For antisemites, paranoia and bigotry justify violence and more bigotry.

Of course, Jewish people have not actually been oppressing Kanye. His tweet is not a response to anything Jewish people have done. Instead, it’s an extension of Kanye’s own embrace of reactionary bigotry.

Kanye started to voice support for the right and Donald Trump around three years ago. Last week though was a significant escalation.

Ye appeared at Paris Fashion Week with conservative pundit Candace Owens. Both wore shirts emblazoned with the phrase “White Lives Matter.” The phrase is a racist response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which protests disproportionate police violence against Black people. There is in fact a neo-Nazi group called White Lives Matter which has popularized the phrase. The Southern Poverty Law Center writes that it was initially an off-shoot of the Texas Aryan Renaissance Society. The organization has made statements opposing interracial marriage; and says it is “dedicated to promotion of the white race.”

Kanye is Black, and his use of an explicit white supremacist slogan led to understandable backlash from colleagues. Vogue editor-at-large Gabriella Karefa-Johnson called the shirt “indefensible.” Singer and actor Jaden Smith walked out. Rapper and producer P. Diddy messaged Kanye to object. Basically everyone in the fashion industry told him that sporting white supremacist slogans was a bad idea.

Kanye reacted by doubling down. On Instagram he moved swiftly from white supremacy to misogyny, mocking Karefa-Johnson’s appearance. He also suggested that Diddy was controlled by Jewish people and boasted, “Ima use you as an example to show the Jewish people that told you to call me that no one can threaten or influence me.”

White supremacy, misogyny, and antisemitism alienate many of Ye’s friends and fans. But hatred is like catnip for the right. As the controversy escalated, Republicans rushed to associate themselves with Kanye’s ugly bigotry. The House Republican Judiciary Committee account posted a tweet saying, “Kanye. Elon. Trump.”

Tucker Carlson also invited Kanye on for a lengthy interview. During the program, Ye criticized his former wife Kim Kardashian’s fashion choices and launched into an unprovoked, openly misogynist and fatphobic rant against rapper and musician Lizzo. He also attacked Tump’s son-in-law and former White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, claiming Kusher only worked on the Abraham Accords, an Israeli peace deal, to “make money”. Kushner is Jewish, and Kanye’s comment leverages antisemitic stereotypes about Jewish greed.

Fox News hosts forced to make on-air U-turn over support for Kanye West

It shouldn’t be surprising that white supremacy and antisemitism go together. White supremacists like the Nazis and the KKK typically argue that Jewish people are a separate race. White supremacist propaganda, such as the 1978 Turner Diaries, present Jews as shadowy manipulators who promote Civil Rights for Black people in order to weaken the white race.

Currently, antisemitism is less openly acceptable on the right than some other forms of prejudice. That’s why Fox and Friends had to embarrassingly pivot on-air from touting Kanye’s white supremacist messaging to condemning his antisemitism.

But as Kanye makes clear, the white supremacy, the antisemitism, and for that matter the misogyny and the fatphobia, are of a piece, and reinforce each other.

Black people generally have good reason to reject white supremacists who hate them. But for Black people who aren’t Jewish, antisemitism can provide common ground even with neo-Nazis. Just as, for Jewish people who aren’t Black, white supremacy focused on anti-Blackness can be appealing (conservative Jewish pundit Ben Shapiro was supportive of Kanye’s appearance on Tucker Carlson, but notably has not weighed in on Kanye’s threat to “death con 3” Jewish people).

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The right offers its adherents a suite of bigotry and hatred. If you are white, or Christian, or a man, or heterosexual, or cis, or a citizen, or old, the GOP will tell you that you are better than someone else out there. They will assure you that that someone else is trying to take away your money, your status, your power, and your God-given right to be as cruel and vicious and hateful to those who are less white, or less Christian, or less male than you are.

Kanye likes to see himself as a genius provocateur, too awesome and too special to be bound by anyone’s rules. His estimation of his own entitlement is vast. That’s why he finds the right’s celebration of irresponsible prerogative congenial; he’s said that wearing a Trump MAGA hat made him “feel like Superman.”

To feel like Superman, though, is to see everyone else as lesser mortals – small-minded grasping supervillains, trying to pull down the truly exceptional. When people ask Kanye to stop being cruel and horrible, or to use his platform responsibly, he sees them as part of a vast conspiracy of mediocrity – conniving women and Jews who are trying to limit the vaunting power of a Great Man. It’s a fantasy that would be sad and ridiculous, if it weren’t being weaponized by a political party determined to make hatred the law of the land.

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