Serious Question: Why Has Kanye West Been So Silent About Ferguson?
In the reconceptualized words of Dave Chappelle, “Can somebody please, find Kanye West? Get hold of this mofo so I can make sense out of all of this. Where is Mr. West? Hide me Kanye West…”
But in all seriousness, there is a certain uncomfortable silence from America’s most vocal celebrity agitator at a time when we probably need to hear him the most. Yes, I’m talking about Ferguson. Yes, I’m talking about justice for Mike Brown, and Rekia Boyd and John Crawford and Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, Aiyana Jones and the rest of the brothers and sisters who are shot by a police officer every 28 hours here in America. If we could count on anybody having something to say about all of this, it would have been Kanye West. But lately, he hasn’t been saying much, and for me, that is slightly bothersome…
It’s not because I feel like West should be obligated to speak. I am of the school of thought that not every celebrity needs to make a political statement, especially when it is not helpful. Yeah, I’m talking about the neo-Negros among us like Kobe Bryant, Nelly, T.I. and Pharrell Williams (sort of), who all have been preaching this slightly ironic and exceptional view of respectability. I mean, a good portion of Williams’ early career involved him making beats for “bully” music, most notably “Superthug” by N.O.R.E. So if he wanted to do something about bully culture, being more selective about who he works with and accepts money from, is a good place to start.
However, Mr. West has always been a bit different from his fellow brethren in entertainment. For one, he’s always been sort of a race man. And no other incident illustrates that more than his now infamous ad-libbed statement that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” which he made during the Hurricane Katrina telethon. If you watch the video in its entirety, you will notice that West was pretty off-the-cuff and filled with raw emotion during his short speech. At one point in the video, particularly when his chest started heaving up and down, I thought for sure he was going to cry.
However, that single coherent statement out of all that raw emotion became one of the most profound and heartfelt political sentiments to ever come from that sad time. Why? Because West didn’t take the easy way out of just blaming black folks for not swimming hard enough. Nor did he punk out and just continue on with the script in front of him. What he did that evening of the telethon took plenty of guts and courage. I can’t imagine anyone else then or even now, being brave enough to do that.
And that is what many of us loved the most about West: You could always count on him to speak from his heart. And yes, even a little (okay, a lot) from his ego. There is no doubt that West goes hard for himself. And at times, he can be obnoxiously cocky in his assurance of himself, as illustrated by this third person account of Kanye West’s success as told by Kanye West in an interview with the New York Times. In particular, he tells the paper, “I think what Kanye West is going to mean is something similar to what Steve Jobs means. I am undoubtedly, you know, Steve of Internet, downtown, fashion, culture.”
He would again declare himself among the greats in a separate (and also infamous) interview with Sway, noting in particular: “I am Warhol! I am the number one most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh. Walt Disney, Nike, Google.”
It’s all sounds so unnecessarily self-aggrandizing until you consider the amount of belief in one’s self it takes to achieve the level of musical success (I’m not even talking about financial success because many untalented people are making major bank nowadays) West has achieved. If you’ll recall, not only did West spit the verses of “Through the Wire” through an actual wired jaw, but he also put up the money and more for his own marketing and promotion for the career-launching track.
There is a certain amount of narcissism needed to think above all visible indicators and detractors that your art, along with the thoughts in your head, are legitimate and worthy of public discourse and appreciation. West has that and over the years, has used that for the benefit of those who can’t always speak for themselves (or have the platform to speak for themselves).
But that was the past. And today, I read more headlines about West apologizing profusely to white people all over this country than I do of him actually saying something worthwhile. And I find that troubling.
In some respect I can understand his hesitation to speak out. His boldness oftentimes has come at a high price, with some obstacles still holding him back to this day. The mainstream media hasn’t forgotten about the Taylor Swift incident. The pundits and other talking heads have reduced his thoughts and opinions to the ravings of a self-indulgent eccentric. He gets booed and harassed by paparazzi just about every place that he goes. And even common folks, the same folks he used to lend his voice to, now mock and ridicule him worse than any in the actual paid media can.
A few years back West told the audience at the UK’s Big Chill film festival about the chilly reception he has been getting as of late, saying “I walk through the hotel and I walk down the street, and people look at me like I’m f***in’ insane, like I’m Hitler.” I can imagine that this public perception probably motivates him to choose the words that he shares with the larger community with more discretion…
But that hasn’t exactly been the case. And West has been more than willing to be controversial, but only with some things. Like using the Confederate flag in some of his touring merchandise. Or when he showed up at Occupy Wall Street as a prop for Russell Simmons. Or performing with a white Jesus. In fact, the only substantial outrage West has shown recently is when he made a fuss about the croissant shortage in his song, “I Am A God.”
It would appear that the most vocal mainstream celebrity has been neutralized, or perhaps, he simply no longer cares about anything important. Whatever the reason, you have to admit that there is something weird about the angriest black male celebrity in America not having a single thing to say.