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Why'd it take so long to make Kanye West a pariah — and why is he the only one?

Ye's business partners belatedly ditching him prompts some uncomfortable questions.
Photo diptych: Tucker Carlson and Ye West
Tucker Carlson gave Ye a platform earlier this month and effusively praised him.MSNBC / Getty Images

On Tuesday, Adidas terminated its contract with Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, after mounting pressure to do so over his antisemitic remarks. In recent weeks, Ye has peddled hateful stereotypes about secret Jewish control over people and institutions, even saying he would go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE,” in posts on Twitter and Instagram (for which he got locked out of both platforms).

Many are left wondering why Ye’s anti-Black rhetoric, which he expressed first, wasn’t enough for those companies to drop him.

I can say antisemitic things and Adidas can’t drop me. Now what?” Ye said in an Oct. 16 episode of the podcast "Drink Champs." Balenciaga dropped Ye after his latest antisemitic remarks, but did not say why, and Gap, which had already said in September that it would end its partnership with the artist and fashion designer, said this week it would go a step further and immediately remove Ye merchandise from its stores.

As for Adidas, the company said in a statement Tuesday that it “does not tolerate antisemitism and any other sort of hate speech. Ye’s recent comments and actions have been unacceptable, hateful and dangerous, and they violate the company’s values of diversity and inclusion, mutual respect and fairness.”

These companies were absolutely right to end their partnership with someone who promotes such hateful rhetoric. But many are left wondering why Ye’s anti-Black rhetoric, which he expressed first, wasn’t enough for those companies to drop him. And why do white people such as Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan operate with impunity and profit off similarly hateful rhetoric? These are the uncomfortable questions produced by Ye’s partners belatedly ditching him and Fox News and Spotify sticking with Carlson and Rogan, respectively. Those within the Black community — and outside of it — are dismayed by what this says about the valuation of human life.

"White men have long built cultural, political and media empires off anti-Blackness and the dehumanization of others,” Washington Post columnist Karen Attiah wrote of Rogan in February after the podcast host evaded cancellation when a video compilation of him using the N-word multiple times surfaced. Spotify reportedly invested $100 million into Rogan’s podcast, and Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said while Rogan’s use of the word was “incredibly hurtful,” he also didn't think his company should be “silencing” people.

Though Rogan apologized for using that slur, he's done other episodes in which he's compared a Black neighborhood to "Planet of the Apes" and conducted friendly interviews with Proud Boys founder Gavin McIness.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Confessore studied over 1,000 episodes of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” for an investigative series exploring the host’s ideology. He concluded that Carlson’s rhetoric — he consistently stokes fears around replacement theory, for example — can often be taken out of a white nationalist or neo-Nazi playbook. Appearing on NPR’s "Fresh Air" to discuss his investigation, Confessore said Carlson may have created “the most racist show in the history of cable news” and that it’s “been incredibly successful.”

Carlson gave Ye a platform earlier this month in an effusive segment. “We’ve rarely heard a man speak so honestly and so movingly about what he believes,” Carlson gushed. Vice's Motherboard said it obtained leaked footage of edited portions of the interview that revealed more disturbing antisemitic views, which contributed to Ye’s backlash. But Carlson’s show, which — antisemitism notwithstanding — celebrated Ye and with its blatant white supremacist ideology (which is itself inherently antisemitic), is still very much intact.

Confessore said Carlson may have created “the most racist show in the history of cable news” and that it’s “been incredibly successful.”

Earlier this month at Paris Fashion Week, Ye also made headlines for wearing a “White Lives Matter” shirt. Shortly after, in a stunt that appeared to be connected to Ye, boxes of the shirt with the same design were deposited to the unhoused community in skid row in Los Angeles.

Lest we forget, Ye’s anti-Blackness goes back years: In 2018, he apologized for his comment that said slavery was “a choice,” a comment that essentially accused Black Americans in the past of having volunteered for their enslavement.

And yet, Ye’s partnerships persisted. “he said slavery is a choice and those bull---- shoes still flew off shelves, he was invited to speak with countless media outlets, folks still made it a point to celebrate him,” Twitter user @JamalJimoh said Tuesday.

However, activists such as Brittany Packnett Cunningham reminded us that the issue is more complicated, and she implored those outraged by companies’ willingness to drop Ye over antisemitism (but not anti-Blackness) to see the situation as a holistic issue rather than a zero-sum game where minority groups are pitted against one another.

“White supremacy would very much love for Black and Jewish people to turn *on each other* - and also ignore the existence of Black Jews!- instead of us fighting its systems,” Cunningham tweeted. “Anti-Blackness and antisemitism are both enemies of our freedom and they thrive with one another.”

“It is possible and absolutely necessary for us to have a conversation on how we ensure that *none* of these forms of systemic oppression are profitable or permissible without turning on other oppressed people,” she added in a follow-up tweet. “There is legitimately personal reflection to be done if you are white and Kanye’s anti-Blackness was an afterthought. But the lesson there isn’t competition. The lesson there is that when Anti-Blackness is allowed to persist, antisemitism is a most sure to follow.”

Cunningham adeptly identified the real issue here: When one minority community is scapegoated or targeted, all minority communities are at risk. She facilitated solidarity by encouraging us to be mad that Ye’s anti-Blackness wasn’t enough to get him dropped while also being supportive of the fact that he was penalized for his antisemitism.

Figures like Rogan and Carlson have literally created business models — and highly profitable ones, at that — around racism and bigotry. So, yes, it’s great that Adidas dropped Ye. But it also points to a larger issue about who we’re willing to tolerate being targeted and who we’re willing to collectively give a pass to. We should consider what happened with Ye both a win and a loss.