In Keri Hilson’s 2008 single “Knock You Down,” Kanye West spit a particular line in his featured verse: “Cause we had it, we was magic, I was flyin’, now I’m crashin’ / This is bad, real bad Michael Jackson.”
While watching ‘Ye’s first presidential campaign rally this weekend, the only words I could muster over and over were, “This is bad.” Like most music fans, I couldn’t help but think of his own lyric because it applies. This is bad, real bad...in a variety of ways.
There are two particular incidents that became prominent once reports started to surface in regard to the hour-long rally. One, Kanye commented on Harriet Tubman’s legacy noting, “Harriet Tubman actually never freed the slaves. She just took them to work for other white people.” Two, the rapper broke into tears when speaking on the topic of abortion, uttering, “My mom saved my life. My dad wanted to abort me” and “There would have been no Kanye West because my dad was too busy... I almost killed my daughter.” The latter statements were followed by a proposed policy to give $1 million to every family who chooses to give birth to their child.
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There is a colloquialism that says, “Two things can be true at the same time.” When we’re presented with situations as complex and varied as this one, I am in agreement that several truths can exist simultaneously; one does not define nor contradict the other. With regard to Kanye, here are the truths (with some opinions), I’ve witnessed:
Kanye Has Said He Was Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder
In a 2019 interview with David Letterman, Kanye talked about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years prior, including his experiences while placed in an involuntary psychiatric hold.
“You have this moment [where] you feel everyone wants to kill you. You pretty much don’t trust anyone,” West began, with the intent on providing personal insight on what a manic episode is like.
“When you’re in this state, you’re hyper-paranoid about everything, everyone,” West continued. “This is my experience, other people have different experiences. Everyone now is an actor. Everything’s a conspiracy. You feel the government is putting chips in your head. You feel you’re being recorded. You feel all these things.”
While everyone seems to have a theory or diagnosis, my concern is that the conversation around this leans more toward exploitation rather than education. What I do hope is that this becomes a moment of healthy listening and learning about what bipolar disorder can look like (especially for Black men and women, in all of its facets) and most importantly, removing the stigma from it.
Kanye’s Rhetoric Is Harmful and Can Negatively Affect Marginalized People
At one point in the rally, Kanye uttered, “I understand we live in a white supremacist world.” Based on the rhetoric he spews, Kanye lives comfortably in his own world of white supremacy. We’ve watched Kanye spiral into an abyss of weaponizing faith to uphold his anti-Black, capitalistic and misogynistic views. Accountability is way past due.
Trying to wrap one’s head around just how much his unchecked actions may affect his own children is one thing (which is none of our business, at the end of the day), but having to reconcile with the fact that his actions can ultimately affect an entire society filled with marginalized and oppressed people is another.
It may not be our responsibility to prescribe Kanye with the help he needs (and frankly, we don’t have the range to speculate on any of that), but as a media platform, it is our responsibility to call a thing a thing. We have a responsibility to hold officials accountable, whether that “official” status is government-based or a celebrity with an influential platform.
Kanye already has a significant social footprint, given his status of wealth, power and influence. Imagine what that would look like if he were to have an official government title. Oh wait, we don’t have to imagine...
We’ve Been Here Before
We’ve all fallen into the trap of sensationalism in regard to Kanye’s antics (for lack of a better word), namely because we had no idea how else to react. For years, it has been a bizarre combination of ignorance and intrigue. Should we take this seriously? Should we ignore him and hope he goes away? Is simply brushing him off dangerous, as well?
Overall, I couldn’t help but feel an ominous sense of déjà vu while watching this rally and the subsequent reports that came from it. Much like what happened with Donald Trump, I saw too much validation of this campaign and not enough critique or urgency to stop the direction in which we’re obviously heading. It took a global pandemic to realize the amount of damage Trump’s administration has done and I’m still not entirely convinced America, as a collective, really gets how fucked up this is. Treating this as entertainment fodder and not immediately tackling this head-on with the concern it deserves is inherently dangerous. Legitimizing this is inherently dangerous. Next thing you know, there will be a late-night talk show host basically patting his head (virtually, of course).
This is all too eerily similar to Trump’s trajectory...without the added benefit of white privilege.
“That was extremely good. That was extremely bad. I’m out,” Kanye exclaimed before walking off the stage.
So, that happened. Now...what are we going to do about it?
You can watch the full rally below:
For more resources on bipolar disorder, please visit the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) website.