What was your line with Kanye West? If you never listened to what he had to say, you don’t get a medal: The rapper now known as Ye really deserved attention at one point for making some of the most progressive art of this century. (Plus he was funny, in a really trying way.)
But over the years he’s done a lot of things that suggest he’s a fundamentally bad guy, like going on the radio to shame his ex or telling black people they’d chosen to be enslaved will. Of course, he was constantly faced with accusations of reckless arrogance, but it was never easy to tell if these reflected a racial double standard — isn’t bragging American? For me, the exit point came late and strange. Earlier this year, Ye began publicly berating his ex-wife and making violent art about her new boyfriend. Acts that might have been dismissed as tabloid-bait theatrics became frightening in Ye’s life as a whole: He seemed to try to hurt others, both for his own benefit and for larger, almost metaphysical reasons, perhaps best described as evil to be discribed .
For Elon Musk, the Ye cancellation line is actually two crooked and interlocking lines signifying genocide. Last night, Ye tweeted a swastika (overlaid with a Star of David) and was kicked off the social media platform, which Musk has amid great excitement declared a hotbed of free speech. Less than two weeks ago, Ye was reinstated on Twitter along with Donald Trump and Kathy Griffin and various other exiles. Overall, the use of hate speech has increased on the platform. However, they have found the limits of this new Twitter’s tolerance. “I tried my best,” Musk tweeted. “Nevertheless, he again violated our rule against incitement to violence.”
Exactly what Ye meant by posting a Nazi symbol will only ever be known in his head, but what he means in general is clear: “I like Hitler,” as he told conspiracy boss Alex Jones on The Jones Show yesterday said. Or as he put it in the tweet that suspended him last time, in October, he wants to go “Death Cheat 3 vs. JEWISH PEOPLE.”
The psychology that may have led Ye here – whether related to his much-publicized mental health issues or not – is easy to guess. “Unable to rationally address his problems, he resorted to the age-old avoidance strategy of pinning them on the Jews,” wrote Yair Rosenberg The Atlantic. The mealy Dave Chappelle has even suggested that Ye’s turn to conspiracy thinking is an understandable reaction to Hollywood’s Jewish prominence. But any apology for Ye at this point is also a defense of dangerous ignorance. Anti-Semitism perpetuates itself with easy-to-debunk lies (like the fake Protocols of the Elders of Zion), and Ye dissed the idea of reading books.
Also, Ye’s foray into Nazism isn’t just some oopsie. According to CNN sources, he has been praising Hitler in front of staffers and associates for years. This revelation is only so startling when one considers Ye’s long-professed interest in reprogramming society, gaining unquestioned power, and using austere aesthetics for spiritual and social purification. He’s only making the subtext clear now – that the Jewish influence needs to be purged – so clear that Trump had to do some damage control after having lunch with Ye and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes.
As for Musk, his rationale for banning Ye – “incitement to violence” – sounds deceptively simple. What do the platform’s everyday insults do if they don’t incite violence? History has shown time and again that nicknames for immigrants or demeaning messages about women are common Catalysts for bloodshed. terms such as cancel culture and political correctness muddle things by redirecting discussions of impacts and dangers to norms and decency. When Ye first started hanging out with Trump in 2016, it was the rapper’s stated desire to disrupt the notion of what a black celebrity should be doing. What really worried viewers, however, was his alliance with ideologies that make state and civil violence against black people — not to mention other people of color, immigrants, Jews, women and queer people — more common.
A swastika bows meanly in Ye’s jumble of ideas: sexism, fascism, selfishness, Trumpism. It all boils down to the same pathetic belief that abstract prejudices (usually rooted in personal grudges) are just and deserve to be enforced. A civilized society trivializes such ideas not just because they are uncomfortable, but because they kill people. I’m impressed with what the Rock singer Max Collins tweeted with a picture of Ye and a group of reactionary commenters including Fuentes: “The most terrifying fall from grace in modern history bestowed on you through divorce, YouTube algorithms and zero books. Put a biohazard sign on this cautionary tale.” Let’s hope it ends up being just a cautionary tale.