When Kanye “He’ll leave your ass for a white girl” West and Kim Kardashian married in May 2014, the world knew that it would be a match made in heaven: two egos finally becoming one in holy matrimony.
Kanye West, a man who has had an infatuation with stereotypically beautiful women—read: women who have a closer proximity to whiteness—since his mother’s untimely death in 2007, had finally found his "white girl."
Now, the ways in which Kim Kardashian-West appears to fetishize black men has put in people’s minds that anything negatively related to Kanye West must be her fault. Not only is that sexist, but it defies logic. Women are not to blame for men’s wrongdoings. That thought process was sexist in the 19th century and still is today.
Kardashian-West is neither a societal victim nor a perpetrator, but we have somehow continually made her the latter. It doesn't escape me that our general dislike of her often causes us to do one of two things: either immediately reject everything she is saying as a fundamental untruth, and/or make her culpable for any act or statement made by her egomaniacal, self-centered husband. Both are deeply rooted in misogyny—that is, the hatred, condemnation and prejudice of women and girls.
I am not a Kardashian-West fan and I never have been. While I have come to appreciate her being financially savvy enough to capitalize on the American public's nonexpectations of her, it is also clear that she initially had to put forth minimal effort to reach her level of success. Part of me honors her for the entrepreneur that she is, while the other part of me is frustrated that many black women who work tirelessly will never achieve a similar success. I have learned to sit with that tension because it is apparently what it takes to be successful in America.
Many people feel this way about the reality star-turned-media mogul. And because of it, even in matters of life and death, there seems to be some unspoken agreement that no one should believe a word that comes out of her mouth. More specifically, she should never, under any circumstances, be seen as anything other than that “white girl” in a porn flick with Brandy’s brother who ruined Kanye West.
The widespread concern for Kanye West is as valid as the blame for his actions is misplaced. Many of us have questioned his latest antics—from storming offstage when Beck won Album of the Year at the 2015 Grammy Music Awards (of course, Beyoncé should have won) to announcing his 2020 candidacy for president. But nothing quite prompted “What’s happening to Kanye?” as much as his meeting with President-elect Donald Trump after his own hospitalization. It became abundantly clear that Kanye West wants to be accepted by white people, even racist ones, no matter how it makes him appear.
These cries for attention, however, are not just evidence of stunted emotional growth and low self-esteem—nor are they evidence of the "Kardashian curse." Kanye West's very public spiral has justifiably led to speculation about his mental health. This is critical to note here because mental illness is not a game that can be played in 140 characters or less, and even the potential of it is nothing to take lightly.
Rapper Kid Cudi recently announced that he checked himself into rehab for anxiety and depression. This sparked important conversations online about mental health care in the black community. Because of the “weakness” stigma associated with mental illness, living with it is a reality that many black men don’t want to envision, let alone accept. Considering the reasons that mental illness affects black men differently—and the lack of resources—we must address how accessing mental health care can save lives.
We can do this, however, while having an honest dialogue about the harm that Kanye West is causing himself and possibly those around him. Toxicity and male fragility should not be dismissed as nothing more than by-products of mental illness. Absent a diagnosis, we really shouldn't assume that mental illness is present at all, let alone that it's the cause of his behavior. To do so would not only be presumptuous; too often it's also a dangerous, albeit unintentional way of perpetuating entrenched societal stigmas.
This narrative often leaves a lot more people hurt rather than healed, and it paves the way for men like Kanye West—whose self-destructive fixation with whiteness has been increasingly evident since he shared his ugly, dark, twisted fantasy—to avoid criticism or accountability.
Because of Kim Kardashian-West’s mutually obsessive relationship with the mainstream media, many people don’t even entertain the notion that she may also be struggling with the man her husband has become—and, in many ways, the character he has always presented to the world in varying degrees. Like others, I miss the “old” Kanye West, too, but the “new” Kanye West isn’t because of Kim Kardashian-West; it’s because his old and new selves are finally catching up with each other, begging him to take care of his own fractured mental and emotional well-being.
Mental illness or not, our favorite college dropout clearly has a hole inside him that is vast and endless. That inner turmoil did not start with his wife, and it won’t end with her, either.
We are witnessing, in real time, a man losing himself and making it social media fodder. Too many of us are Kurt Cobain-ing him and Amy Winehouse-ing him because there is no genius, even if self-ordained, more beloved than a dead one. And if Kanye West doesn’t get the help he needs, a very public death could be his final curtain call.
Not even Kim Kardashian-West can be held responsible for that.