How to respond to Kanye West's bizarre rally — advice from a Black woman with a bipolar diagnosis

West's comments about abortion, Harriet Tubman and Plan B have caused ripples across the internet

Kanye talks about nearly being aborted at first campaign rally

On Sunday evening in North Charleston, South Carolina, a day before the state’s deadline to file as an independent presidential candidate and a few days after announcing that he was supposedly dropping out of the race, rapper Kanye West held his first campaign rally.

At the campaign rally, with “2020” shaved into his hair, Kanye West talked about a variety of topics, including business deals with Adidas and his struggle with opioids. At one point, while openly sobbing, he talked about how his father apparently wanted to abort him, and how he wanted his wife Kim Kardashian to abort their first child together, North West. This, Kanye says, is why he’s suspicious of abortion as well.

"I almost killed my daughter. I love my daughter. … God wants us to create," West cried, who now has four children with Kardashian West.

Saying that he felt abortion should be legal, West nevertheless added, "No more Plan B — Plan A," as many in the audience groaned to express their disappointment. West also said pregnant people should receive some kind of incentive for having children: "The maximum increase would be everybody that has a baby gets a million dollars or something in that range.”

On July 8, West also told Forbes that he’s “extremely cautious” about a coronavirus vaccine, calling it ‘“he mark of the beast” and declaring, “They want to put chips inside of us, they want to do all kinds of things, to make it where we can’t cross the gates of heaven.’”

People on Twitter as well as people within the latest rally were quick to voice their displeasure about West’s views, with some implying that he was having a public "breakdown".

West also made an anti-Black statement about the abolitionist and freedom fighter Harriet Tubman, claiming that she “never actually freed the slaves, she just had the slaves go work for other white people.”

As a Black woman, I find these statements incredibly offensive. Plan B is a vital medical service that all people with uteruses should have access to and so is abortion. “Incentives” for having children sound uncomfortably like forced birth and eugenics, not support. And to denigrate and distort the incredible sacrifices that our ancestor, Harriet Tubman, made to our history and our freedom as Black people enslaved in a brutal country is unacceptable.

Kanye West clearly has a lot of misogynoir within himself that he desperately needs to address and dismantle. Until he does so, he will continue to hurt women, especially Black women. In this political moment, where the lives of Black women and other Black people of marginalized genders are constantly threatened, such statements feel violent. And it’s very unlikely, but if he is able to funnel young Black millennial votes, particularly from people who already hold these harmful views, and somehow helps usher in another four years of Trump, he will be threatening women all over the country and the world.

In this context, the most dangerous part about West’s public comments is not that he makes them. It’s how we as a society respond to them.

Toni Fulton told the Washington Post that she and her sister went to the Kanye rally, knowing they would encounter bizarre behavior. Fulton said her sister sent her a text reading: “Hey, do you want to see the circus?” In another viral tweet, @toekneerlynos wrote: "I went for a laugh and I got one," before calling out some of West's more offensive moments.

West’s political views have grown increasingly confusing and conservative since 2016. It’s no secret that he has been friendly with Trump for a while. In 2017, West also revealed that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder — a diagnosis that I also share.

It’s completely understandable that people would walk out of a rally where West said such offensive things about Black women and abortion, especially if they are Black women themselves. But as someone who has bipolar disorder, I can’t help but wonder what the function of attending a Kanye rally is if you don’t agree with the controversial, conservative views he has been known to hold for some years now. Having a “laugh” about how he expresses himself still perpetuates ableism, even while West is incredibly wealthy and famous. And ableism affects people with much less privilege than him.

Conversations about West often teem with ableism, especially when he does something like perform at a political rally. From people calling him “crazy,” to making fun of his weight gain (which can be a side effect of psychotropic drugs, medicine West has said he no longer takes), to mocking him for seeming “manic,” West experiences criticism that Donald Trump never has for similar views and behavior.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to realize that mental illness does not cause bigotry. Racism, misogyny, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination and bias are not inherently symptoms of mental illness. But the truth is that we don’t truly know how to parse what Kanye says from his illness, because we are not his doctors and we do not have access to his personal life or brain.

Because Kanye’s statements are so harmful, I don’t believe it is our duty — especially Black women — to defend him. I believe it is the duty of cisgender men in our community to spend the time making sure that misogynoir does not flourish in their own circles, and that Black women and Black people of all marginalized genders are protected and respected. I believe it is Kanye’s duty to use his resources to seek mental health care when he needs it, and to educate himself further on gender, prejudice and abortion access so he doesn’t make offensive comments like this. I believe it is the duty of Kanye’s community — especially if they are cisgender Black men — to support him and encourage him to grow and make amends.

But I also strongly believe that the public, whoever we are, have a duty — not only to Kanye but to all the neurodivergent people watching how we talk about him — to simply ignore the things he says right now.

Two things can be true at the same time: Kanye’s statements are offensive and unacceptable. We also should resist amplifying or vilifying them. It is the only sensible way to respond to the behavior we are seeing.

West reportedly has another campaign event scheduled in New York City. It won’t happen — but if it does, then the best thing we can do for everyone is to simply not pay attention. It may not be a “laugh”. It may not be entertaining. But it is the responsible way to act in an election where a lot of people’s lives and livelihoods are on the line.

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