A Few Things To Consider Before Continuing To Publicly Slander Kanye West
Try as I might to avoid Kanye West and the conversations being had about him all over the Internet this week, the polarizing behavior of the man considered by and large to be a musical genius is simply inescapable. Between text messages, chit chat in the office, and even being asked to comment on concerns over his mental health during a media appearance this week, I’ve had no choice but to think about Kanye. And, ironically, the one word that comes to mind when I think of him is the same word that got the rapper indefinitely excommunicated from the culture yesterday: empathy.
Now, make no mistake, I have neither the time nor energy, nor desire to be empathetic to white conservatives of the Donald Trump ilk. What I am sensitive to, however, and empathetic about are Kanye, his demise, and, frankly, the disgusting ways in which the trajectory of his life are being discussed.
I don’t consider myself a Kanye fan, though I’m quite certain I wouldn’t have made it through college or the first few years after without his debut work, College Dropout. However, it wasn’t long before I found myself struggling to see beyond the Chicago native’s arrogance which, honestly, may have possibly been the first signs of an emotional unraveling. (Narcissism is a personality disorder after all). But, for me, the perceived bravado overshadowed his musical brilliance and kept me from being the diehard listener I once was. I still bopped to his singles, but I never digested another album of his in its entirety. Perhaps that’s why I still see Kanye through that lens today: an enthusiastic boy literally on the verge of bursting with creativity and thinking up ideas most of us can’t even conceptualize. A man who had no idea what he wanted so bad — money, influence, fame, a voice — would eventually be what crippled him.
But it’s far too simplistic to say fame is what ruined Kanye, or any other celebrity for that matter. The f-word is just a fancy way of glossing over what underlies many of the public celebrity breakdowns we love to gossip about: mental illness. And it’s the word I’d like more of us to use when engaging in discussions about the creative mind in question, rather than coon or sellout, or describing him as being in the sunken place. In fact, it’s the way in which we’re choosing to clown Kanye rather than have compassion for him that proves what a sunken place many of us are actually in.
Trust me, I get the temptation to become enraged at Kanye’s antics and to even find them comical. Every word that comes out of his mouth these days is preposterous. But what I find more disappointing than his behavior is the response to it. See we can’t, in one breath, preach about the Black community’s need to be more opened minded and knowledgeable of mental illness and then simply throw Kanye away because he’s “crazy.” People are going out of their way to criticize a man they assume can even comprehend the words being thrown at him. To quote his own lyrics, “Our n-gga gone.” So what’s the point of the public fodder?
Today, Snoop took it upon himself to share this faux deep thought, essentially blaming Kim Kardashian for Kanye’s mental state and using his most recent public twitterings as an opportunistic way to praise himself and his wife. We’re talking about Kanye today so I won’t get into Snoop’s history as a womanizing pimp or his own marital troubles, but let’s just say he has some nerve. And as much as it pains me to say this: Kim Kardashian is not responsible for Kanye’s mental health issues.
In my (non-medical) opinion, Kanye’s marriage to Kim is more a symptom of his mental issues than a cause. As a friend put it to me the other day: Do you think Kanye would’ve married Kim if he was in his right mind? I don’t. I also don’t think the world was the same for Kanye after his mother passed, and that happened five years before he began dating Kim. Now I’m certainly under no impression that Kim and her family are influencing her husband’s mental state in any type of positive way. But I also think this constant looking to external factors to explain Kanye’s state of being is evidence of how ignorant and in denial our community, actually our entire American culture, is about mental health issues and their prevalence. We’re pointing the finger everywhere we can because even many of our minds, which are assumed to be in a healthy state, don’t have a clue what mental illness really looks like and how it shows up in our lives, often unexpectedly. We don’t understand predispositions and triggers and spectrums. We throw around words like “crazy” and then throw away the people who we think fit in that box and then we feel satisfied with ourselves. If we dismiss these people, we absolve ourselves of having to care about them at all. Because empathy would require us to stretch our minds, to feel a little more and criticize a little less. It would open our eyes up to the fact that any of us could lose it at any given moment. It would force us to consider blame doesn’t always have a place in conversations about trauma.
Which brings me back to my point about the public fodder. What’s the end-game here? Do we think we can slander Kanye enough to bring back the revolutionary man who once announced on national TV that George Bush hates Black people? Do we think we’ll convince him to leave his white girl for a Black girl so we can welcome him back to the fold? Do we believe we can shame the mental illness out him so that he never steps out in public wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat ever again? That’s not how this works.
Whenever I think of Kanye, my mind automatically shifts to Michael Jackson. I think about the jokes that were told about MJ right up until the end. We made fun of his skin, his nose, his hair, his voice, his relationship with kids. Then suddenly he was dead and he was the greatest entertainer that ever lived again. He was a father, a humanitarian, a person.
For all of your gripes about Kanye West — and there are plenty to be had — he’s still a person. He’s a person far from the individual we were first introduced to in 2000, and even then he was likely unrecognizable from the child born to Donda West June 8, 1977. I’m far from a Kanye apologist, but I am an empath. Part of the reason I don’t want to experience Kanye in any form right now is because I find his dealings, quite simply, sad. I think of the boy who just wanted to be “on” and had no clue that he would one day be “off” in a way that’s beyond his control. So while I get the anger and the disappointment and even the sense of betrayal John Legend spoke of, I don’t get the shade. At the end of the day, Kanye West is a man in need of help who, by many accounts, has refused it from everyone who’s tried to offer it. So wash your hands of him if you have to, but save the slander for someone who can actually receive the message and has the mental capacity to do something with it.