I do not care much about so-called ‘celebrities’; their views and personal lives receive amplified and unnecessarily lengthy attention on social and corporate-controlled media. Every excruciating detail of their lives is offered as ‘news’ to be consumed in our celebrity-obsessed culture.
However, when a celebrity, such as Ye (Kanye West) recycles misinformed and harmful views – which reach millions of people – it is time to provide a rebuttal. It is perfectly reasonable to respect the work of an musician – and Ye is a talented hip hop artist and lyrical poet – but also to heavily criticise the views expounded, especially if those viewpoints are toxic nonsense. Ye’s drift into the cesspit of ultrarightist and antisemitic tropes has been a long time in the making. His descent is being aided and abetted by far right scoundrels.
Ye’s antisemitic comments are easily accessible through social media. He recycled various tired old cliches – Jews ‘control’ Hollywood and the music industry, Jews are conniving to accumulate more finance and power; boring and age-old tropes that are new only to the uninformed. I will not link directly to Ye’s comments – you can find them for yourself. What I will observe here is that Ye’s comments have found him new friends – neo-Nazis and white supremacists are loudly praising Ye’s antisemitic conspiratorial worldview.
Ye has millions of followers on social media, even though Twitter and other platforms have locked his accounts (for the time being) in response to his antisemitic posts. Millions can read his opinions, and take them seriously. Ye is a talented lyrical poet, applying his creative energies to producing music. Being remarkably talented is no insulation from being completely off-grid in other fields of endeavour. Elvis Presley was an incredible singer and musician – but a hopeless actor.
This is not the first time that Ye, alongside ultrarightist opportunist Candace Owens, has espoused views adjacent to white nationalism. Ye and Owens, during a public function, wore t-shirts bearing the slogan ‘White lives matter’. Seemingly innocuous perhaps, but then consider the origins of that statement – white supremacist groups, attempting to deflect attention from the resurgent Black Lives Matter and anti racist protests. Cynically posing as ‘civil rights defenders’, neo-Nazis and white nationalist organisations have cunningly countered accusations of racism. What better ally of white nationalist sentiment than an African American boosting the white supremacist cause?
Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972) was a versatile and internationally famous American poet. A pioneer of Imagism in poetry, his works are still studied in English literature courses around the world today. It is also true that he was an inveterate antisemite and fascist sympathiser in his politics. Confined to a mental asylum after the end of World War 2, he was released in 1958. He will forever be associated with regurgitating antisemitic viewpoints, and orienting politically to the European fascist powers. The American ultranationalist Right continues to provide support for European white supremacists until today.
Ye is not the only celebrity to advocate antisemitic and ultrarightist views. In his time, Charles Lindbergh (1902 – 1974), internationally renowned aviator, was a remarkably talented pilot. He proved his courage and resilience by achieving an historic first – the 1927 solo transatlantic flight. That flight earned him international fame and widespread respect. The book by Dan Hampton, The Flight, explains in elaborate detail the meticulous preparation, the skilled engineering and incredible technical skills that went into making that accomplishment possible.
His fame and celebrity status – in the days before the internet – seemed assured. However, he displayed to the public another side – purveyor of bigotry, Nazi sympathies and recycler of antisemitic conspiracy thinking. Travelling to Nazi Germany in the 1930s, Lindbergh praised the Nazi party’s efforts to ‘protect’ the white race. Inspecting Germany’s military aviation, he admired the vitality of the Germans, especially in promoting technologies in the service of the superior race.
Making radio broadcasts from Europe, Lindbergh’s views were heard by millions of Americans at the time. A strident eugenics advocate, he couched his bigotry in terms of ‘concern’ for the preservation of the white race – a community-minded bigot. After the defeat of European fascism, he tactically retreated from openly praising fascism, but clung to his racist beliefs.
To be fair, Lindbergh was not the only high-profile American to share antisemitic views. Henry Ford, the founder of the famous automotive company, did his utmost to promote antisemitic sentiment through funding publications and media. Nevertheless, Lindbergh went out of his way to propound antisemitic conspiracy theories, and worked with the isolationist America First committee to prevent (ultimately unsuccessfully) the participation of the United States in the war against Nazi Germany. The America First policy finds its modern expression in the politics of Donald Trump.
There is no doubt that Ye has made an incredible impact on modern music. I hope he receives the counselling he needs for his mental health issues. All of this does not absolve him of responsibility for his reprehensible views.