Black professionals are granted a narrow space in which they can exist. On one polar end of the scale, they must exemplify the absolute best of their field; absolute excellence is their minimum requirement. On the other end, the far more captivating end, Black professionals are little more than exhibits for public viewing. Their outbursts, breakdowns, and general moments of emotional and physical distress are spectacularized for all to consume and perceive, and all with an amount of empathy the size of a thimble.
Kanye West, famed rapper and artistic personality, has come to embody this chaotic, destructive path of public life. His career has been one marred by controversy after controversy, tirade after tirade. From interrupting Taylor Swift’s MTV VMA award acceptance speech in 2009, to supporting the hatefully anti-Black Trump family, Kanye has molded a career from illogical, unkind behavior, and used his perceived musical genius to shield himself from what few repercussions were thrown at him.
What Kanye’s skill could not shield him from is the consequences of blatant, repugnant anti-Semitism.
In the weeks that it has taken this article to reach completion, Kanye has gone from airing his resentment for and hatred of Jewish people on Twitter, validating the beliefs and joining the ranks of the internet’s most despicable, prejudiced conspiracists, to openly praising Hitler in such a way that even Alex Jones, world famous bigot, had to rebuke him on air.
The public response was quick and merciless.
Kanye’s career, previously untouchable and on an unceasing upward track, has done nothing short of disintegrate in the wake of his most recent tangents. His streams have fallen, his social media presence has been restricted. Gap has pulled his clothing line from stores, Adidas ceased to distribute any of West’s popular shoe models, and his talent agency severed ties with the renowned artist. The world is witnessing the fall of a global supernova in real time, and despite being wholly deserved, it still feels somewhat unreal.
And while I am glad to see that fame and fortune can’t shield even the most acclaimed artists from unforgivable words, the feelings that linger most, beneath the shock and disgust, is a painful cocktail of grief and humiliation.
Why this blackening of Kanye West’s legacy feels so unbelievable is because never before have West’s rants and verbal attacks been enough to sully his career to such a punishing degree.
When Kanye West was terrorizing his ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, and harrassing and wishing death upon her then boyfriend, Pete Davidson, his devoted followers either excused his behavior as the effects of a manic episode unrolling online, or uplifted his violent behavior as prime meme potential, the funniest thing they’d ever seen. What scorn he did receive was pushed aside by accusations of stigmatizing mental illness, or overwhelmed by positive diversions.
His politics may be hateful, but his music is sincere.
He may be giving a voice to prejudicial bigots, but hey, he’s got an album on the way.
His words and actions may embarrass not just himself, but the community he represents, but at least he makes us laugh.
Black people are not often given such space to be authentic, especially when that authenticity is objectively ugly. Part of what has been Kanye’s shield for so many years of controversy is, I believe, his ability to not navigate but completely obliterate that spectrum on which Black people balance to appease white society. His unneeded remarks about President Bush, his unfair treatment of Taylor Swift in Beyonce’s name, it was all funny, yes, and anywhere between shocking and terrifying, but completely real, too. In a culture that allowed Tom Cruise to jump on Oprah’s sofa and Justin Bieber to spend time in prison, Kanye made room for himself to be honest about who he was and what he was going to say, and he got away with it. More than that, he trademarked it, and gave all of us just an inch or two more to reveal our most honest, unflattering selves along the way.
So yes, I join the rest of society in shock and revulsion, and I can’t say I’ll miss a pop cultural atmosphere with Kanye in it. Even though he’s finally reaping what he’s sown, I still believe that his years of antagonizing women, Black women, and the Black community as a whole deserves further consequence. But if there’s only one reason to grieve Kanye’s ousting from society, it’s the presence of somebody Black, dominating the world’s perception of himself. It was nice, this small joy of seeing someone who looked like you getting away with “it,” to an equal and even sometimes superior degree than his white peers could.
But I don’t have to say that there’s no getting away with this particular instance, as there shouldn’t be. I can only hope that the hateful spiral Kanye has allowed himself to descend into has reached rock bottom, and yet, I will continue to expect new lows nonetheless.
Image credit: Edward Berthelot at Getty Images, from NBCNews.com