As an avid watcher
of The Kardashians, I always follow up on Thursdays to see the latest episode.
I listen to Kanye West's music and enjoy seeing all of the obscure designs that
he comes up with for his collaborations with Adidas, GAP, and his own company,
YEEZY. I now feel a budding sense of shame that I (unknowingly) supported
On October 8, 2022
Kanye tweeted that he would go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE”. I don’t actively
use Twitter and had no idea that this was even going on until one of my Jewish
friends posted about it on their Snapchat story with a bunch of emojis - one
with its head exploding, another with a cocked eyebrow, and one with tears
streaming down its face. I too was all of these different expressions. But my
first reaction was to laugh. I laughed. His tweet was absolutely absurd!
It is known that
Kanye has Bipolar Disorder so my logical response was to give him the benefit
of the doubt that he couldn’t really mean what he had written. I understand
mental illnesses are hard to deal with and knew that sometimes he had
manic episodes. I constantly refreshed my Instagram page and looked at
different news sites and even Twitter to learn more. There was nothing. Not one
statement was released from him or his team stating that he didn’t really stand
behind his comment, that it wasn’t actually something that he believed, or that
it was connected to a manic episode. Instead, I found nothing.
Kanye West once
said: “I feel like I’m too busy writing history to read it”. I mean, obviously.
If he had bothered to “read history” maybe he would know that these biases he
holds against Jewish people have constantly been debunked. They are clearly
false and dangerous things to say.
I was deeply
troubled by his comments and I asked my friends what they thought about the
situation. Everyone, including my non-Jewish friends, uttered words like
“horrible” and “sad” and how bad they feel for the Jewish community. Once again
I headed to Instagram to see what I could find. While my Jewish friends and other
accounts that are affiliated with the Jewish community posted about the
situation by discussing how antisemitism was absolutely inappropriate and how
they stand by the Jewish community… my non-Jewish friends' accounts were
dormant. Not one of those friends had voiced those same opinions or support on
Instagram. I wondered where the public outrage from my friends was. If they
thought the situation was appalling, why didn’t they post about it? It doesn’t
take much to show solidarity by clicking “add to story” and sharing publicly
how you feel.
I started to
ponder why they wouldn’t post something related to Jewish Activism… was it
“controversial”? During 1st period while discussing momentous moments in
American history, I couldn’t help but turn to my friend and peer at the desk
next to mine and ask, “why didn’t you post about the Kanye situation, like actually?”
“Umm… well because
I didn’t want to be labeled in a certain way that would make me weird to my
friends”, they responded.
Oh. I didn’t think
that posting about things related to the Jewish community would be considered
controversial, and could end up with someone even being made fun of. We have,
unfortunately, had many opportunities recently to practice allyship and I
wondered what was stopping them now. Their response made me see that
antisemitism has, and may continue to be, rooted in not only political ideals
but also social ones too. The situation seemed to worsen and it did so quickly.
My Instagram feed, TikTok For You Page, and TV News Station became flooded with
content from Nazi sympathizers. There was a post with a group holding up a
banner that stated that “Kanye is right about the Jews” and that people should
“Honk if you know”. Kanye is right about the Jews? Right about… what?
That feeling of
shame that I (unknowingly) supported an antisemite grew. I liked Kanye. I put
money in his pockets. I inspired him to express his values to the world and
encourage others to do the same. For the first time in my life (that I can
remember) someone I supported, even looked up to, was openly antisemitic.
Someone I admired was voicing a prejudice towards me and my entire community
and I don’t know what to do about it. Just as problematic, many of my friends
who also admired Kanye were writing this off as being connected to his Bipolar
Disorder, rather than holding him publicly accountable. But what
hurt the most was that Kanye West is 45 years old and should know better than
to say such false and inappropriate things, but my friend is 17 and felt that
speaking out publicly against Kanye might make things weird. We can’t let
future generations be scared of standing up for what's right. So, I personally
am going to make it my job to make sure nobody gets made criticized for
being an upstander, rather than idly watching hate continue to grow. Hate is a
lot like a tree… But I suggest that instead of letting the roots dig their hate
into the dirt of society, I think that expanding with our branches, reaching
out, and not being afraid to blossom will lead to a more harmonious society.
I looked for the
voices of people speaking out against him and his hateful words so I could find
and lift up more allies. His ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, released a statement
saying that what Kanye did was unacceptable and that she sides with the Jewish
community. Then GAP and Adidas both dropped their partnerships with him, ending
their successful relationships of many years. Twitter and Instagram silenced
his accounts. Then I saw a TikTok with 500,000 likes that showed Kanye’s entire
collection scattered across the musty floors of GAP, clothes everywhere with
red dots indicating that everything was 75% off. It was reassuring but
was it enough? What can we do about the problem that has already taken root?
Musuem located in Los Angeles publicly stated that they would give Kanye a
private tour of the museum so that he would “understand just how words can
incite horrific violence and genocides”. Soon after, during a podcast, he
rejected their offer. I was shocked. The faculty of the Holocuast Museum in LA
showed immeasurable amounts of goodwill by inviting him there, and he rejected
them, denying their offer. Albert Einstein said, “education is the progressive
realization of our ignorance”. How can Kanye realize his ignorance if he
doesn’t want to be educated? How can we expect him to admit he was wrong if he
doesn’t want to be informed?
I don’t know what
to think. I guess I am writing this blog to let people that hold these
prejudices against Jews know that they are simply wrong. I am a 17 year old
girl living in the Chicagoland area, close to where Kanye grew up. I am like
any other teen. The Jewish people I know are all ordinary people, just like
everyone else. I worry about those around me that aren’t speaking out. If they
don’t speak out against antisemitism, is that because they may be like Kanye
and believe in antisemitic lies? As Kanye famously said in his song Violent
Crimes, “people never change, they just get better at hiding who they really
are”. I hope that isn’t true. I hope that those who aren’t sure, or who say
things they shouldn’t, are open to being educated about the danger of their
words. I hope we can do more to educate people and make it clear that this type
of speech is not okay.
We need more role
models and influencers who are aware of the world and can acknowledge other
people's differences, whether that's race, language, culture or more. I know
this wasn’t a definitive answer to the whole situation. My opinions and
thoughts are constantly changing and racing as I read new information and see
different people’s reactions. I know one thing for certain, that allowing
influencers and celebrities to get away with sharing hate speech, should not be
a precedent for the future. It’s our job to hold people accountable for their
actions, not just in private conversation, but in public words and actions.
About the Author: Olivia Graham is a current junior at Vernon Hills High School. She attends Congregation Or Shalom has been teaching there for a number of years. For the last three years, Olivia has helped students learn Hebrew at Congregation Or Shalom through different movements. She is the current president of Jew Crew, the youth group at her synagogue and she is very excited to see what this year holds for that as well. Outside of youth group and synagogue, Olivia enjoys doing gymnastics, playing trumpet, and baking.