We’ve Made a Spectacle Out of Kanye West — That’s Racist

Ifunaya Obidike ’27

Contributing Writer

Kanye West’s career in entertainment began with frequent advocacy for Black justice in his music, but has since evolved into a continuous series of anti-Black and anti-Semitic remarks. Without a doubt, West should be condemned for his bigoted comments.

Yet that is not the only thing happening; we’ve given a microphone to a man who’s evidently struggling with his mental health and have made memes out of it. Why is it that the mental illnesses of Black individuals aren’t taken seriously? The media’s disregard for Black figures with mental illness is a phenomenon that should be studied in order to implement change.

In 2002, West and actor Mike Myers were invited by NBC News to deliver a scripted message on live television to the millions affected by Hurricane Katrina. Instead, West used his limited time on screen to condemn President George Bush’s treatment of Black Americans who endured the hurricane.

Clearly shaken by Katrina and the response to it, West said, “I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a Black family it says they’re looting, if you see a white family it says that they’re looking for food.” After Myers’ segment, West famously added, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” West received a dubious look from Myers before the program quickly transitioned to the next presenter.

Kanye West was, without a doubt, a pioneer for Black Americans; initially, he used his platform as a renowned celebrity to emphasize the injustices Black people face. In doing so, he inspired an entire generation of Black individuals. However, this stature quickly dissipated when West made anti-Black statements in an infamous 2018 interview with the tabloid TMZ.

West said, “when you hear about slavery for four hundred years… for four hundred years? That sounds like a choice. You was there for four hundred years and it’s all of y’all?” Unsurprisingly, this comment left many viewers extremely disgusted.

West did not stop there. For much of 2022, he appeared on various podcasts and live interviews attacking the Black and Jewish communities. He also took to his personal social media accounts on Instagram and Twitter to continue this wave of bigotry.

As a Black person, reading and listening to West’s hateful words feels oppressive. But what I find almost more oppressive is the media’s decision to play into his antics, knowing that West—who has spoken openly about his continued struggles with bipolar disorder— has a mental illness.

Broadcasters like Piers Morgan should understand that West is not going to provide anything of substance when he appears on the show. Yet West was still invited for an hour-and-a-half-long interview on Piers Morgan Uncensored. Morgan likely expected that West was going to deliver a prejudiced statement; the shock value, controversy, and resulting virality are exactly what Morgan wanted.

The media’s mistreatment of Black celebrities is a pattern, not just occurring in the case of West. Brittany Johnson, better known by her screen name Lovely Peaches, is another example of a Black celebrity whose mental illness has been exploited for entertainment purposes. Johnson gained notoriety on the social media platform TikTok after her unruly pictures and videos gained attention. Accusations against Johnson range from child endangerment to flashing minors on her live streams. These are serious, troubling allegations, yet we’ve made memes out of the woman when she is clearly struggling.

White celebrities do not have their mental illnesses exploited to the degree that Black celebrities do. For example, actor Mel Gibson, who’s spoken openly about his bipolar diagnosis, has made anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic statements similar to West’s. While Gibson was also exposed and condemned for his repeated bigoted comments, he was not put on display in the same way that West has been.

Sarah Silverman, a Jewish comedian, shares a similar fate with Gibson. She has been open about her struggles with depression and is no stranger to the discussion of mental health. In a 2007 sketch of her Comedy Central show The Sarah Silverman Program, she donned blackface as a comedy act. She claimed that the goal of this sketch was to “see whether it is more difficult to be Black or Jewish.” Did she effectively reach her objective through this sketch? Seemingly not. Still, despite these problematic actions, Silverman continues to secure major roles in Hollywood, clearly facing minimal backlash for her offenses.

In contrast to these cases, the media has decided to “point the finger and laugh” at Kanye West. His comments are undoubtedly worthy of condemnation, and mental health struggles are not justification for hateful rhetoric. However, TV shows and news platforms have profited by facilitating the further spiraling of West’s mental health. While this may not have racist intent, it is undoubtedly yielding a racist result in this disparity

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