This fall, Kanye West made headlines after a tirade of racist and anti-semitic actions online and in various interviews. The rapper donned himself in “white lives matter” merchandise and publicly condemned the Jewish community over social media. Naively, he believed there would be no repercussions to his hatred, and even went as far as to publicly say, “I can say anti-semitic things and Adidas can’t drop me.”
Adidas did, in fact, drop him.
Days after expressing his hateful sentiments, Kanye lost an onslaught of commercial partnerships and ties. His net worth dropped from over a billion dollars to 400 million, and his reputation took a hard, and very deserved, hit. Yet, not all of Kanye’s fans viewed his actions in a negative light. In fact, some were inspired by his words and moved to action. On October 23, 2022, a group of neo-nazis hung a banner over an LA freeway stating “Kanye is right” as they performed the Nazi salute.
Kanye’s anti-Jewish sentiments emboldened people to rise up against Jewish people, signaling the detrimental effects those in power can have when given a platform to incite violence. According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-semitism in the U.S. has been steadily on the rise over the last few decades and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. It is therefore of the utmost importance that peace, not hatred, is spread.
While Kanye’s words are highly alarming and dangerous towards the Jewish community, they are also heartbreaking. Kanye has grown to be a pop-culture icon whose music resonates with fans worldwide, including Jewish fans. Jewish Kanye fans have been put in a horrible position in which they must reconcile their feelings regarding his music and what the line is between separating the art from the artist. I spoke with five Jewish teens about their feelings and thoughts on the situation:
Q: Are you a fan of Kanye as of right now?
To answer your question of if I'm still a fan right now or not, I’m not even sure. He was one of my favorite artists and now I’m trying not to listen to him, but it’s hard. So I guess I’m not a fan anymore, no.
No longer a fan.
I don’t totally know if I have stopped being his “fan” because I still listen to his music, but I don’t endorse whatever wacky stuff he says.
I still listen to his music, it’s just that I feel like I don’t look up to him as much as I did before.
I recently stopped being his fan, yes.
Q: How does the recent Kanye scandal make you feel?
The scandal makes me feel angry, but also confused. I’m a huge fan, yet he doesn’t even appreciate me for who I am as a person, so why should I appreciate anything he puts out?
He has such a platform that anything he says is so disruptive to any progress made by humankind to become accepting of Judaism and religious differences. It is intolerable, and I find it really hard to separate the art from the artist .
I feel relatively indifferent in the whole Kanye situation because he’s just hurting himself in the end. I think the problem arises when people take what Kanye says seriously, because he does have a lot of influence over people. And people that genuinely believe what Kanye is saying is the scary part.
I was terrified because I felt like he was inciting anti-semitism because he has so many followers, and everything he says has an indirect impact on them.
As someone who has enjoyed Kanye’s music for a long time it’s definitely very unfortunate to hear him spreading antisemitic rhetoric. It’s frustrating to see such an influential and talented public figure encouraging this type of thought.
Q: How do you view your relationship with Kanye now?
I very much dislike him as a person. People look up to him and are believing all these false scenarios and honestly just making everything worse, and I actually hate him for that.
I used to have Kanye posters in my room, and those have been taken down. I truly don’t believe I’ll be able to see him the same, and it’s upsetting to cut that music out of my life because it [resonates with] me.
I don’t totally know what my relationship is with Kanye. I still like the majority of his music (I wasn’t a fan of his whole journey into gospel stuff, it was weird) and I can’t go back now and say I don’t like it, because that would just be me lying. He got popular for a reason, his music is good. But I really don’t care what he has to say. I didn’t start listening to his music because I cared about his political views or because I thought he was such an upstanding citizen. I listened to it because I liked it. And if I’m listening to a playlist and a Kanye song comes on, I’m probably not going to skip it because there’s nothing wrong with the song. But I wouldn’t go to a Kanye concert anymore because I don’t wanna endorse him and promote his platform and what he has to say.
I just don’t respect him as a person, but as an artist, I still love his art and wouldn’t stop listening to it.
I think much less of him as a person and it’s now hard to simply dismiss his recent outbursts as a product of his poor mental health.
Q: How do you navigate separating art from the artist in this situation? How do you navigate doing so in general?
I’m trying not to listen to his music at all. Every time it comes on I turn it off. I enjoy his music but I don’t like who he is, and music is a way of embracing who you are and what you want to tell the world. So if antisemitism is what you want to spread to the world then I don’t want to hear it. But it is a struggle because he was one of the only artists I genuinely enjoyed listening to.
Every time I’ve heard his music since, my housemates point out the controversy. I find it hard to enjoy it, knowing that he’s a terrible person. That being said, it’s unfortunate to not be able to hear “American Boy.”
I think it’s pretty easy to separate the art from the artist, in my opinion. The situation with Kanye is pretty much the same with every celebrity who is providing a product. Sometimes I like what he makes, but I really don’t care what he has to say. I’m not very fond of those people who just listen to what any celebrity has to say and take their word for it. Especially now with social media because all these celebrities are endorsing their political opinion on there and trying to stuff it down the throats of their fans. I just don’t care what actors/actresses have to say on a personal level. I like it when they act in movies/shows, and beyond that I don’t want to listen to them. Even if what they’re saying is positive, good for them but I don’t care. I have no interest in seeing what presidential candidate each celebrity is endorsing, and I have no interest in Kanye on a personal level. I have no personal connection to these people, so it is not that hard for me to separate myself from them and separate their work from themselves as a person. The only problem is that often when you support art, you end up financially supporting the artist, which can be difficult to navigate around.
I think art is what inspires you to become better, deal with your everyday problems. In this case, the art is music. So no matter what he says, his music is still legendary. So, for people who are struggling with this, I’d say that making art takes effort and also has an ability to change the world. So if someone is putting in the work to change the world through his/ her art, support the art. If the artist who created that art is being a threat, then condemn the artist, but the art has nothing to do with it.
Typically I feel like there is an inherent feeling of guilt when it comes to listening or viewing the work of an artist who you know has done something seriously problematic. With Kanye, I feel that my feelings are slightly selfish since I am a Jew. I still think he has an incredible discography but I have stopped listening to him because there’s almost a sense of indirect betrayal. However, I can definitely see myself going back to his music later down the road without necessarily supporting him as a person.
Each teen is handling the situation differently; some are blocking out Kanye completely, while others are easily able to separate him from his music. However, no matter their personal take, each one of them believes Kanye poses a threat to the Jewish community when he utilizes his platform to incite violence.
When comparing Teen 1 to Teen 3, it is evident that not all Jewish Kanye fans are united in a reaction to his antisemetic sentiments. Teen 1 feels that the only way to handle the situation is to completely end all ties with Kanye and to cease consuming his music altogether. However, Teen 3 is rather indifferent; they don’t care about Kanye’s personal affairs and chose to judge him on his music alone.
While everyone is allowed their own opinion, I am more aligned with the views of Teen 1. While some are able to separate the art from the artist, as in the case of Teen 3, I am sadly unable to do so. I personally find his music to be permanently tainted due to my knowledge of his vile opinions towards me, a young Jewish woman, and my larger Jewish community. I can not find myself able to enjoy music created by someone who spews hatred towards those I love.
Yet, at the end of the day, whether people continue to listen to Kanye’s music or not is slightly irrelevant. What truly matters is that people can recognize the threat he poses and actively work to counteract the hate he puts into the world.
When evil people are given a platform to spew cruelty, devastation ensues. Kanye has more Instagram followers than there are Jewish people in the world. His words matter.