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EDITORIAL: Ye's hateful speech makes clear that art cannot be separated from artist

Ye's antisemitic rhetoric demands both personal and systemic accountability

Ye has been a controversial figure in public discourse recently, sparking conversations about accountability for artists and hate speech. – Photo by @Rap / Twitter

Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, has been the subject of a significant amount of social media discussion. The artist has become notorious for his not only controversial but also hateful speech and actions.

On October 3, he wore a "White Lives Matter" T-shirt at his YZY SZN 9 fashion show in Paris when advertising his new Yeezy line. On November 22, Ye brought white nationalist Nick Fuentes to a dinner with former president Donald J. Trump. And on December 1, the musician spoke with Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on InfoWars.

In his interview with Jones, Ye said, "I like Hitler" and stated that "We got to stop dissing the Nazis all the time." He then tied in Holocaust denial as he claimed Hitler "didn’t kill 6 million Jews. That’s just factually incorrect."

Following this interview, the artist tweeted a picture of a swastika inside the Star of David to promote his 2024 presidential campaign which has since gotten him suspended from Twitter, where he had more than 31 million followers.

There have been public discussions in the past about whether a music listener can or should separate the artist from their art. Some examples include Rex Orange County, Chris Brown and R. Kelly who have all been involved in cases of sexual assault, domestic abuse or sexual abuse. Ye’s most recent actions present an ample opportunity to revisit this discussion that has generated a variety of opinions.

Here is the big question facing the public: How do we hold an artist — who has been deemed a musical genius but whose rhetoric has become hateful, racist and dangerous — accountable on both an individual and systemic level? On an individual level, there is a clear choice that many music fans would hope to avoid but becomes inevitable to confront: Stop listening to the artist.

Because Ye has been so blatant about his racism and antisemitism, his music, his rhetoric and his views must be regarded as one package. When you listen to his music, you are supporting his entire platform. All the revenue he generates is going to his platform, which is being used to target Jewish people and invalidate their history and existence. And because of Ye’s status and influence, his antisemitic rhetoric is particularly dangerous.

The best way to hold him accountable on a personal level is to give him less of an audience and, as a result, less attention. Unfollowing him and refusing to engage with his social media would accomplish this. The main hesitation in taking these actions, though, is that they essentially do nothing if only one person stops listening to the artist.

Even if this is true in some aspects, it is important to take on personal responsibility while acknowledging the need for systemic change. Larger platforms have already started to take concrete steps. Twitter and Instagram suspended Ye’s account. He has been cut off from the following businesses, sponsorships and individuals: JPMorgan Chase, Def Jam, Balenciaga, Creative Artists Agency, MRC, Adidas, Foot Locker, Jaylen Brown and Aaron Donald/Donda Sports, Peloton, T.J. Maxx and Madame Tussauds London.

Brown’s response is particularly important to look at as a prominent forward on the Boston Celtics who signed with Ye’s Donda Sports. In the wake of Ye’s antisemitic behavior, Brown condemned his antisemitic comments but announced he would be staying with the agency. Within 24 hours, Brown released a different statement in which he decided to cut ties with Donda Sports.

"I've been able to reflect and better understand how my previous statements lack clarity in expressing my stance against recent insensitive public remarks and actions," he expressed. "I have always, and will always, continue to stand strongly against any antisemitism, hate speech, misrepresentation and oppressive rhetoric of any kind … I now recognize that there are times when my voice and my position can’t coexist in spaces that don’t correspond with my stance or my values."

But, when it comes to the streaming platforms themselves, it appears Ye’s music will still be accessible to users. Even though Apple Music removed Ye’s "Essentials Playlist" in late October, users can still add his music. Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek has said the rapper's antisemitic remarks are "just awful comments … (but) his music doesn’t violate (Spotify's) policy."

So, essentially, his music will remain available for consumption. Ek's comment highlights what many music fans wrestle with — if the artist's music does not explicitly include hateful language, what is the issue with listening?

It is clear that true systemic accountability occurs at the top. Regardless of this, though, it is important not to be personally complicit. Holding Ye accountable is necessary for protecting members of the Jewish community. In the end, it comes down to whether you can sacrifice your personal enjoyment to uphold your morals.

No matter how tightly you may hold music to your heart, artists can cross boundaries. Ye has completely violated those boundaries. It is crucial to show that no person is untouchable, even him, by maintaining a trend of accountability.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 154th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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