Kanye “Ye” West is a smooth, round stone rolling down a very steep hill. Those of us that have followed his career saw the first signs of smoke when he said that slavery is a choice. One could look back further, to when he interrupted Taylor Swift mid VMA acceptance speech. Whatever poison you pick, the fire is burning now. The list of people West continues to disrespect and violate gets longer and longer by the day, and includes his own wife and children. We scroll through social media spaces in disbelief of what he is reported to have said that morning. We ask, will it stop?
As it happens, there are several possible excuses for Kanye’s behaviour. His fans and supporters call for mercy given his mental health struggles. They appeal to his recent divorce and his struggles with single(ish) parenting. They appeal to the grief of losing his mother.
What’s a mother to a Black man? She exists like a shaded background, a tree under which he rests. Studies show that Black parents will often “coddle” their Black sons while simultaneously raising expectations of their Black daughters, which leads, in adulthood, to the creation of the same systems that subjugate Black women by labelling them as indestructible, and therefore, deserving of disrespect. Kanye isn’t the only Black rapper (or, Black man) that loves his mum: the intro to UK rapper Stormzy’s new single, “Mel Made me Do it,” features him and his mother celebrating her new wealth in light of her son’s fame: “Claim it, mummy! Claim it!” Similarly, Donda West, Kanye’s mother, stood as a central pillar to his personal and artistic journey. She’s the subject of two of Kanye’s most recent albums. He talks about her constantly. It’s a culture, amongst Black men, to want to ‘make it’ for their mothers. To do right by them.
Is Kanye’s outburst an appropriate response to this loss? Grieving is a universal human emotion. It doesn’t turn people into anti-Semites. The excuse that Kanye is acting out because he is missing his mum is an appeal to the dark and misogynistic social structure that exists between Black men and Black women, and Black women and the world. Black women are both the social ideal and the social nightmare for Black men like Kanye, who live their lives towing the line between worshipping their Black mothers and disrespecting them. Donda, the album dedicated in it’s entirety to the memory of his mother, featured artists like Marilyn Manson, who has recently been accused of sexually assaulting women, DaBaby, who hit a woman in the face after she shone a flashlight at him, etc. (I use etc here to imply that this list is non exhaustive. In fact, the misogyny in Donda has been extensively covered since its release.)
Does Kanye truly love his mother, and therefore Black women, by extension, or is he simply in love with the idea of making his mother a martyr? While the academy he created in her honour and his penchant for naming his artistic projects after her may point to the former, to attempt to excuse his racist, misogynistic tirades as an attempt to be closer to her memory is facetious. Donda West died due to complications in the aftermath of her cosmetic surgery. Recently, Kanye took to Instagram to cyberbully Vogue Editor Gabrielle Kareefa Johnson after she called him out for his “White Lives Matter” stunt at Paris Fashion week. The same man whose mother died trying to change how she looked, making fun of another Black woman, for how she looks.
It’s behaviour that I’ve witnessed several times. Black women are held under the impossible standards of being both saints and sinners. Black men, publicly facing Black men in particular, uphold their mothers as pillars of godliness, while at the same time tearing down and destroying Black women. DaBaby, who features on the album in celebration of a Black woman, continues to support Tory Lanez, a man who shot Meghan Thee Stallion, another Black woman (and seems to have gotten away with it). The idea is distant from its reality, and intentionally so, because to embrace the reality would mean to embrace years of disrespect towards Black women. Kanye’s idea is beautiful to uphold. The reality, that Black women still live at the bottom of the social totem pole, is less stunning. In this light, Kanye’s mother is no angel. She is yet another victim of the world he continues to perpetuate.