On October 24, Los Angeles drivers were cruising along their daily freeway commute when a Nazi banner unfurled above them. Members of the Goyim Defense League proudly “sieg heiled” over their massive sign: “Kanye was right about the Jews.” Many of the drivers were surely outraged. But I can imagine many of my fellow Jews sighed with exhaustion. This is nothing new for us.
If you haven’t been following this month’s profusion of white supremacy emanating from Ye’s brand, it started when he brandished a “White Lives Matter” T-Shirt during Paris Fashion Week. Shortly after, while talking with Tucker Carlson about why he chose to wear hate speech couture, he made a slew of remarks that drew from the most abhorrent depths of the antisemitic imagination, from the belief that Jews are scheming imposters to the claim that we control the world’s finances. And then the final blow came when Ye posted screenshots where he accused fellow rapper P Diddy of being controlled by the Jews, followed by a Tweet in which he promised to go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.”
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Only then were there some consequences. Ye got kicked off Twitter and Instagram. By now he has lost so many brand deals that Forbes has declared he is no longer a billionaire.
To be honest, awful as Kanye’s words are, what hurts more is the reaction: So many people acting shocked, as if this level of racist hatred (including but not limited to antisemitism) hadn’t become commonplace, and as if lots of us hadn’t already been sounding alarm bells for years.
Swiss architect Valerio Olgiati, who has designed buildings for and with Ye, was among many that said “I stand with the Jewish community and reject any form of hate speech.” Most statements disavowing Ye sound like this. While well-intentioned, they show a fundamental misunderstanding of what antisemitism is. Antisemitism is not a set of mean words that bad people sometimes say. It is an entire belief system that has encouraged violence toward the Jewish community for generations, and which in recent years has been steadily on the rise. In many ways it is the glue that holds the fragments of white supremacy together. In every right-wing extremist conspiracy theory, the ultimate villains are the Jews.
Walter Benjamin wrote back in 1940 that the “tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.” The problem with most people’s reactions to Ye’s latest actions is that they treat them as if they were the exception. In fact, they are the rule. Ye has been spewing white supremacism for years. The world that I saw barely seemed to care when he struck up a very public friendship with Marylin Manson, who has been accused of horrific antisemitic abuse, sexual violence, and racism.
When he claimed in 2018 that 400 years of slavery was a choice, not one brand deal was dropped.
It is of course utterly unacceptable that this statement went unpunished — that he only faced consequences when he started attacking Jews. It is equally frustrating to see how little conversation there has been about how anti-Black racism and hatred toward Jews have long been part and parcel of the same belief system. Tucker Carlson makes this connection utterly clear when he regularly spouts the racist “Great Replacement Theory,” the claim that “global elites” (Jews) are scheming to replace “legacy Americans” (Whites) with a “demographic change” (non-Whites). This past season alone, adherents of the Great Replacement Theory murdered Black shoppers in Buffalo and parade goers in the heavily Jewish town of Highland Park, Illinois. Treating Ye’s latest statements as exceptional, rather than a routine expression of the everyday reality of white supremacy, is only making the problem worse.
The art and design world routinely makes the same mistake — seizing on the exception and downplaying the extent to which it has become the rule. Many hands have been wrung over this year’s Documenta 15 debacle. But those same hands have long remained idle as museums around the globe have refused to give up their Nazi-looted treasures, such as the 1,500 items held at the Louvre. The Museum of Modern Art continues to comfortably advertise Philip Johnson’s name on their gallery wall, the founder of their architecture that was well known for his strict adherence to Nazism. The Victoria and Albert Museum faced no major backlash for their celebratory retrospective of CoCo Chanel, a known Nazi, in May. While the V&A was praised for simply acknowledging her Nazi connection, it seemed to simultaneously dismiss it by saying that it was “not a biographical exhibition,” and didn’t dare to explore how Chanel’s connection to Nazism may have inspired her distinctive brand of refined tailoring. The architecture industry that continued to embrace Kanye long after he made his white supremacist beliefs clear is the same industry that refuses to stop lionizing the fascist Le Corbusier. I could go on and on with high-profile examples, and really, I could write a whole megillah about how Kanye’s beliefs are easily detectable from his purity-obsessed, blindingly white and minimalist aesthetic — the same standards that have long reflected and reinforced the racism that upholds today’s design industry.
But most of all, when people ask me how I feel about all this, I tell them I’m tired. I’m tired of talking about it. I’m tired of being told that I’m the conspiracy theorist, when the real conspiracy theorists are actively at work killing my neighbors and loved ones, both Jewish and non-Jewish. I’m tired of feeling like I’m screaming into the void when I highlight the white supremacy in the design that surrounds all of us. It’s well past time that we stop acting surprised that someone prominent could espouse antisemitism and other forms of white supremacy. It’s time to recognize that this is how things are, and to get up and start fighting back.