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The Kanye West controversy

By Barrington M. Salmon and Richard B. Muhammad | Last updated: Oct 18, 2018 - 2:18:41 PM

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President Donald Trump meets with rapper Kanye West and former football player Jim Brown in the Oval Offi ce of the White House, Oct. 11, in Washington. Photo: AP/Wide World photos

Kanye West’s recent visit to the White House ignited a predictable firestorm of outrage, exasperation and in some corners, support.

Mr. West was invited, along with NFL great Jim Brown by President Donald Trump, ostensibly to discuss criminal justice reform. It’s unclear if anything will develop beyond rhetoric, but Mr. West used his stage to embark on what has been described by the media as a 20-minute rant, incoherent and disjointed and a “stream of consciousness” soliloquy.

Some Blacks were repulsed at his supportive expressions of the president, and disgusted that Mr. West has tied his fortunes so closely to a man deemed a racist and overt supporter of White nationalists, as someone who has been assailed from Black Americans for his bigotry, his crassness and his need to belittle all around him.

Others called for looking a little deeper into what the singer, producer and hip hop entrepreneur said and the issues he raised and whether they had merit, instead of rejecting any and all engagement with a president widely seen as an enemy of Black people.

During the Oct. 10 press availability, Mr. West expressed admiration for his friend President Trump, referred to him as a father figure of sorts and shared pushback he’s gotten from friends and foes for associating with the proponent of Make America Great Again.

He called Mr. Trump and American entrepreneurs, not politicians, his inspiration for business success. In his four-dimensional way of self-expression, Mr. West started by talking about the incarceration of Larry Hoover, legendary founder of the Gangster Disciple street organization in Chicago, and the need for his release. Mr. Hoover, who was trying to move and move others in a positive direction, is jailed but could help turn lives around and has a curriculum to change young lives, said Mr. West. Mr. Hoover is a nonconventional leader in the Black community and his incarceration and the jailing of others is tied to the lack of opportunity in inner cities, he said. America needs reinvestment with companies like Adidas coming back to the cities to build factories and create jobs, he said.

Larry Hoover
“Really the reason why they imprisoned (Mr. Hoover) is because he was doing positive for the community. He started showing that he actually had power, that he wasn’t just one of a monolithic voice, but he could wrap people around,” said Mr. West.

“And I have to go and get him free because he was doing positive [things] inside of Chicago, just like how I’m moving back to Chicago and it’s not just about, you know, getting on stage and being an entertainer and having a monolithic voice that’s forced to be a specific party,” he said.

“You know people expect that if you’re Black you have to be Democrat. I have—I have conversations that basically said that welfare’s the reason why a lot of Black people end up being Democrat. They say, you know, first of all, it’s a limit to an amount of jobs. So the fathers lose the jobs and they say we’ll give you more money for having more kids in your home.”

He blamed the lack of jobs and mental health institutions for helping to increase prison rates and sow violence in Chicago, though overall shootings are down from the worst times in 1980s and 1990s, he said. Education needs to be modernized and expanded to include nonconventional things like yoga and meditation, because all children aren’t bi-polar, they are bored with outmoded education, he said.

He credited Mr. Trump for projecting masculine energy and said Hillary Clinton’s “I’m With Her” did not resonate with him.

He said Mr. Trump and entrepreneurs like Ralph Lauren inspired him to challenge Adidas. “Because at Adidas, when I went in 2015, we were a $14 billion company losing $2 billion a year. Now we have a $38 billion market cap. It’s called ‘the Yeezy effect,’ ” he said.

Middle America needs to be strengthened and industry and innovation needs to return to America and continued attacks on Mr. Trump aren’t good because if the president fails, America fails, argued Mr. West.

“There’s a lot of things affecting our mental health that makes us do crazy things that puts us back into that trap door called the 13th Amendment. I did say abolish with the hat on, because why would you keep something around that’s a trap door?” he asked. He was referring to the amendment outlawing involuntary servitude, except for convicted criminals, which was used to entrap Blacks.  “Would you build a trap door that if you mess up, accidentally something happens, you fall and you end up next to the Unabomber? You end you—you gotta remove all that trapdoor out of the relationship.”

Kanye West makes iconic statement, during Hurricane Katrina failures: “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.”
Mr. West insisted he was not bipolar but had a mental health professional diagnosing him as sleep deprived. “But you know what I don’t like about—it’s not I don’t like. What I need ‘Saturday Night Live’ to improve on, or what I need the liberals to improve on, is if (the president) don’t look good, we don’t look good. This is our president,” said Mr. West. “He has to be the freshest, the flyest, the flyest planes, the best factories and we have to make our core be empowered. We have to bring jobs into America, because our best export is entertainment ideas, but when we make everything in China and not in America, then we’re cheating on our country. And we’re putting people in positions that have to do illegal things to end up in the cheapest factory ever, the prison system.”

The rapper and producer also declared his love for Mr. Trump and his desire to make America great, not great again. In between were sprinkled declarations of his own genius and his refusal to let others determine what he should believe or talk about.

Anton House, a Ph.D. candidate studying 19th and 20th century History at Howard University told The Final Call that while it’s clear that Mr. West might be manic, nobody should sleep on Mr. West. The rapper and entertainer has good ideas, he said, although he doesn’t know how to articulate them well. It would be wise, Mr. House added, for Blacks to heed some of Mr. West’s message.

“I like that he went there without anyone’s ideas or agenda,” said Mr. House, who was born and raised in Racine, Wisconsin. “I think it’s very dismissive to say he’s crazy. He may be crazy to a certain generation but he’s having a major influence and impact. Let’s not dissuade or create another rift in our community. People need to help him understand that it’s much more complex than he says.”

“I understand his angst and frustration about voting for Democrats and practicing liberal behaviors that are detrimental to us as Black people. I read a Chicago Sun-Times article and things he said. He had many rational points such as opening up industries in Chicago, creating factories, establishing mixed curriculums in schools, such as learning jazz and industrial arts, reinstating mental health clinics in the city and saying that illegal guns are the problem, not the right to bear arms. Unfortunately, the brand and tactics of Kanye West is overshadowing some of the good things he’s talking about.”

Kanye West, he said, is the chicken coming home to roost for Black people. Blacks abandoned self-sufficiency and a measure of independence they had prior to the Civil Rights era for integration and marginal acceptance into mainstream society.

“We got integrated schools and businesses but few Black cultural spaces,” said Mr. House who describes himself as a Republican in the John Mercer Langston vein. “Unions and skilled trades, which were once in the community for our people, like the majority programs disappeared. Everything we get is the consensus part of the mainstream. Now you have this microwave generation of shallow thinkers who have access and enfranchisement for the first time and don’t know how to use it.”

Mr. House said he was a member of the Gangster Disciples and knew that in Chicago, Mr. West had to navigate between tuft controlled either by the Gangster Disciples or Blackstone Rangers. Mr. West’s call for the president to free Larry Hoover from jail resonated deeply with him “and a lot of other people.”

“Larry Hoover tried to turn his life around. He was trying to shift a street organization to political entity, become legitimate just like Mayor Richard J. Daley, Sr., did,” Mr. House said. “They said he was responsible for things other people did. (Politicians) understood the influence of this individual which led to him being subsequently charged for things because he challenged ‘the machine.’ Him getting 25,000 people to the polls would disrupt ‘the machine.’ ”

Questions have bounced around social media, in discussions and arguments in barber shops and hair salons, on the streets, in boardrooms and around dining tables about Mr. West’s mental state; his unabashed embrace of Mr. Trump; whether he’s a role model; the inordinate amount of influence celebrities have on fans; and the viability of his message.

On Twitter, actor Jeffrey Wright described the pair this way: “Kanye & Trump. 2 self-obsessed BS mongers peddling bread & circus clown shows while Americans scavenge for bits of their lives, if they can, after rocked by a ‘Chinese hoax.’ And the press hover(s) like vultures to eat it all. If you build it, it will come. Tomorrow comes too. Nov 6.”

And CNN Contributor and former South Carolina state representative Bakari Sellers, while discussing the Trump-West meeting hammered Mr. West.

“I’m not sure if Kanye West is being used as a prop but what Kanye West has done is (do what) people who have gravitated into his (Trump’s) orbit (do) and shower him with adulation for what reason I have no idea,” Mr. Sellers said. “My issue with Kanye West is quite simple—is that anti-intellectualism simply isn’t cool.”

Mr. Sellers echoed a number of critics who argue that Mr. West is going to talk about issues that are central issues in many Black communities but lack the chops to do so.

“The fact is, we’re not sending Kanye West to the White House to talk about these issues because he can’t. He doesn’t have the depth to. I want to hear what Kanye West wants to do when you’re talking about criminal justice, justice reform or prisoner reentry … for instance, the other day (he) was talking about STEM programs and how we needed more STEM programs and then he had to ask a colleague what STEM meant. Kanye West is what happens when Negroes don’t read … and Donald Trump will use it and pervert it and he’s going to have someone to stand up with and take pictures.”

Maisha Hyman—who noted during the interview that she purposely avoided discussing the politics of Mr. West’s comments—said what we’re seeing playing out is a young man in the midst of a mental health crisis where nothing he’s saying makes sense.

“He’s nearly incoherent and he should never have been put in that space,” said Ms. Hyman, an employee of a large international development organization. “I used to be a fan of Kanye West. I think that he grew up as an extremely indulged child raised by a mom who was an intellectual. I wonder how that indulgence and his obvious intelligence impacted her willingness to discipline him and how what seems to be a lack of discipline in his formative years has played out in his life.”

“Beyond anything that has to do with Black people, Kanye’s last five to seven years show what happens when people face challenging situations and don’t have a grounding place to return to regroup and reconnect to something stable. This is what happens when you only hear your own voices in your head and sometimes those voices are not coming from a healthy place.”

 Nancee Lyons said she was infuriated when she watched Mr. West’s visit to the White House because of what’s at stake for Black people facing a president, administration and significant segment of White people who’re hostile to them and their issues and concerns.

“I’ve given it a lot of thought. The first instinct is to jump on the crazy.  I’ve seen all the vitriol and I didn’t want to jump into the fray,” said Ms. Lyons, who works with the District of Columbia Public Works Department. “The stakes are high and a leader with a platform like his should use good judgement. But he’s clearly uninformed and saying and supporting things that will hurt Black people. What he’s doing cannot be ignored.”

“Kanye West is looking at one part of Donald Trump. My question is, ‘Dude have you looked at Supreme Court and the impact (of having a far-right leaning court)?’ It’s infuriating. I was watching the press conference to hear if he would say something we didn’t understand. This did not belong in a press conference format.”