I want to believe that even Kanye West's most ardent fans loathe his racist, antisemitic rants.
I even would like to believe this about his newish Republican fanbase, which includes my very own attorney general, Missouri's Eric Schmitt. Schmitt tweeted, then deleted, his praise for West after the musician's unhinged interview with Tucker Carlson, which was laced with antisemitism.
West, who changed his name to Ye last year, publicly supports former President Donald Trump, endearing him to some who may not have had as much love for him before his hard-right turn.
West's actions and statements place him at the intersection of celebrity, mental health, politics and race at a deeply polarized moment in our country. Normally, I couldn't care less about celebrity provocations. But when someone with that much cultural influence starts spewing vitriol, it needs to be called out.
As Carly Pildis, director of community engagement for the Anti-Defamation League, pointed out: "Kanye West has more Twitter followers than there (are) Jews in the world. There are an estimated 14.8 million Jews, and he has over 30 million followers."
There's been a deafening silence from the GOP regarding West's virulent remarks about Jewish people -- none of which I care to repeat. Imagine the reaction if the exact same words were uttered by a Democrat: It would lead to nothing less than apocalyptic coverage on Fox News. But in this case, Fox News is providing the platform. To air this man's hateful words when American Jews are already experiencing a rise in hate crimes is a sick kind of political opportunism.
Unfortunately, I think many of us have gotten numb to these political stunts and blatant hypocrisy. But there is one demographic whose thoughts on West's meltdowns still matter to me.
A new survey of 14,500 American teens by the investment bank Piper Sandler found that the rapper ranked third on this year's list of teens' favorite social media personalities. Given that West is now acquiring Parler, a social media platform favored by the alt-right and rife with antisemitism, I wonder how many young followers will be lured into that same sewer. What is the long-term impact of being exposed to toxic racism online? Does seeing the same destructive and dehumanizing tropes over and over normalize them?
Over the years, I've had several conversations about West with my son. He's been a fan of the rapper's music since he was a young teen, and has tried on several occasions to get me to appreciate his musical genius. Years ago, he attempted to explain it to me in Gen X terms: Kanye is to my generation what Prince was to yours, he said.
Prince was undeniably a musical genius. But as teenage fans, my friends and I weren't privy to his every fleeting thought or personal crisis because social media, thankfully, did not exist.
I asked my son if he had seen West's latest social media stupidity. Like most teens, he had.
"I still love his music, but it's really upsetting to see him spew all this nonsense," he said.
Trying to separate great art from a morally compromised artist is a perennial issue across genres and political lines. Our children are confronting this sooner than we did, given their upbringing in a very online culture. For them, these debates unfold in the comments of Instagram posts and in TikTok videos. Anyone who has spent a minute online knows these are not spaces for nuanced conversation. Mob mentality can quickly turn any controversy into a racist, misogynistic cesspool.
This is exacerbated by the zealous fans who derive a sense of identity and belonging from being part of a fanbase. These are a celebrity's staunchest defenders and apologists. Celebrities cultivate this loyalty to sell more music, tickets, cosmetics, clothes or whatever else they might be hawking.
For the sake of my kids, I don't want to cede the discourse around Kanye to trolls, stans and political opportunists. I've discovered that the best way for me to approach current events with them is to ask what they think -- and then genuinely listen.
The responses are often reassuring.