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Fallout continues after Ye's recent anti-semitic comments


The performer and business mogul formerly known as Kanye West was dropped this week by Adidas due to his most recent anti-Semitic comments. They come after years of offensive actions from his saying slavery was a choice to selling merch with Confederate flags. NPR's Here & Now wanted to put Ye into a broader context.

KAREN ATTIAH: He was praised for being some sort of subversive genius by doing these things. And I think that's why he was able to get away with it for a long time.

SUMMERS: That's Karen Attiah, who's a columnist for The Washington Post. She and Chenjerai Kumanyika from NYU's Arthur Carter Journalism Institute spoke with NPR's Here & Now about what to make of the latest controversy. Let's listen in. Here's host Celeste Headlee.

CELESTE HEADLEE, BYLINE: You wrote, Karen - and I wanted to get Chenjerai's reaction to this as well. You wrote, Black folks have been speaking out against Kanye for years but to no avail. For all the fuss about the woke mobs and cancel culture, this whole episode makes clear that Black people don't have the structural power to cancel public figures who traffic in anti-Blackness. Understanding that anti-Semitic comments are always awful and often lead to really negative real-life consequences for people, I wonder, Chenjerai, what you think about this, that it's hard for there to be consequences when someone makes an anti-Black comment.

CHENJERAI KUMANYIKA: There's a real risk here that we limit this to Kanye. He should absolutely be held accountable. But the reason why his comments resonate with, quite frankly, large parts of America is because they at different times have been deeply American. Let's not forget, when we talk about anti-Semitism, that people in the Third Reich looked to the American model, as James Whitman has talked about, as they shaped the Nuremberg laws. And, of course, I'm doing historical work on, you know, the 19th century and police. You see anti-Semitism throughout that history. Anti-Semitism has been very real in American history. So and anti-Blackness is very real. So there's a way in which I think that these are American ideas at different times. And what we want to be careful of is not to limit them to make Kanye look at such an outlier that we don't get to the root of the problem.

HEADLEE: Karen, this idea that anti-Semitism, racism, regardless of what group is targeted, that can lead to awful consequences and sometimes violence against certain groups. That would imply that no matter what group is targeted, the response should be the same. Would you agree with that?

ATTIAH: Yeah, absolutely. And at the end of the day, you know, when we talk about anti-Blackness, anti-Semitism, all of these are, you know, the products of, you know, white European Christian constructs. And in many ways, our ideas, what we have - what we think about in terms of race and the other are rooted in millennia of the persecution of Jewish people. So I would hope that at the very least this moment, it's a moment to really reflect on what intergroup solidarity against white supremacy and these baked-in ideas should look like.

HEADLEE: Do you think Ye is being held to a different standard than others are?

KUMANYIKA: Well, what I think is that no one is entitled to these platforms. You know, the reality is that, sure, Kanye has lost some sponsorships, but let's not act like because Kanye is a Black person that we forget that he's also a billionaire, extremely influential. And I think that what we in media have to be careful of is to not actually extend his influence under the guise of, quote-unquote, "cancelling him."

SUMMERS: Chenjerai Kumanyika from NYU and Karen Attiah of The Washington Post speaking with Here & Now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Celeste Headlee