It’s OK to be a white person who is frustrated by Kanye West. That might seem obvious, but the aftermath of West’s epic Twitter rant against Jimmy Kimmel necessitates it be reiterated. The feud is nothing more than the clash of two pop personalities, but it became something much bigger than that. On Twitter and elsewhere, Kimmel was labeled as being emblematic of racism in America. Ergo, white America criticizing West correlates to racism. This is not only wrong, it gives defenders of West an easy way out of a complex issue.
The seeds of West’s anger were planted during his interview with BBC Radio 1. As with almost anytime West speaks, he gave equal fuel to the fires of both his fans and his detractors. While West’s fans appreciated his candor, his critics latched onto the more absurd parts, like when West compared himself to a character in Disney’s Wreck-it Ralph or waxed poetic about his many ideas about “color palettes.” Kimmel, whose job it is to make fun of things, took the more humorous segments of the interview and had kids reenact the lines, a similar bit to the time he had Josh Groban sing Kanye’s tweets dramatically. It was funny. Only West didn’t see it that way.
West’s tweets are deleted now. But perhaps the most telling was the first, “JIMMY KIMMEL IS OUT OF LINE TO TRY AND SPOOF IN ANY WAY THE FIRST PIECE OF HONEST MEDIA IN YEARS.” This captures West perfectly: He’s straddling the line between a normal reaction and hyperbole. He’s right that during the BBC interview, he spoke candidly about how the ugly cloud of racism still blots out even the brightest of our culture’s stars. But West is wrong for saying Kimmel shouldn’t have poked holes in the interview, and that it was the first honest media in years.
West is one of the biggest stars in popular culture. When he says odd things or acts immaturely, he will be called out on it. This is true of all celebrities. And West doesn’t get a free pass because he’s black. This is the problem with the claim that his white critics are racist. Saying that everything West does is genius, and that his grating ego is a necessary weapon against a society that tries to keep him down, only ignores what’s really happening: West is his own worst enemy, and that’s frustrating.
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West supporters desperately want everyone to only see the best in him. They want the public to appreciate his impact on music and beyond. They want people to talk about how West broke ground by rapping about his low self-esteem on The College Dropout. West defenders want people to understand that Jay Z’s The Blueprint is a classic because West had his hands all over it. When West gives interviews, they want his critics to grasp the incredible truths hidden in what seem like clunky metaphors. And when he acts so ridiculously that he can’t be defended, West’s supporters pull the race card to keep the opposition at bay.
The irony of his stardom is that a good amount of his critics –including myself–would like to see the best West as well. But his actions don’t let us. There is no way to cut out the blatant immaturity and ego and leave only the good parts. West isn’t being asked by his critics to be completely quiet or extremely humble. In fact, one of his best moments was when he was the loudest. When West said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, West echoed a sentiment that plenty of people shared, regardless of race. And anyone who puts West down based only on his ego must not be much of a hip-hop fan; the genre was founded on bravado. His critics simply want him to stop with the overreactions, to ease back on the absurd declarations. No one expects West to be perfect. They also want his defenders to realize that not everything he does is earth-shattering. His critics want West fans to acknowledge, that no matter how groundbreaking they find Yeezus or any of his other albums, he doesn’t get a life pass for acting like an entitled asshole. In real life, we may toast the douchebags, but we can also call them douchebags. In his BBC interview, Kanye proved he can, at times, be one. Kimmel isn’t a racist for pointing that out, and if you’re white and happen to agree, you’re not either.
This isn’t to say that racism isn’t a factor in some of the criticism directed toward West. There are plenty of white people who hate West simply because he is a wildly successful black man. It scares them. But overall, it’s West’s behavior that generates the waves of criticism. A genius who stumbles over his own feet is always going to have a difficult time walking tall, no matter the color of his skin.