The Anti-Defamation League rapped rapper Kanye West over his off-the-cuff remarks in a radio interview that Jews and “oil people” are more well-connected than black people in general and President Obama in particular.
“If the comments are true as reported, this is classic anti-Semitism,” the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, said in a statement. “There it goes again, the age-old canard that Jews are all-powerful and control the levers of power in government. As a celebrity with a wide following, Kanye West should know better. We hope that he will take responsibility for his words, understand why they are so offensive, and apologize to those he has offended.”
For the record, here’s what West said:
Man, let me tell you something about George Bush and oil money and Obama and no money. People want to say Obama can’t make these moves or he’s not executing. That’s because he ain’t got those connections. Black people don’t have the same level of connections as Jewish people. Black people don’t have the same connection as oil people.
“You know we don’t know nobody that got a nice house. You know we don’t know nobody with paper like that we can go to when we down. You know they can just put us back or put us in a corporation. You know we ain’t in situation. Can you guarantee that your daughter can get a job at this radio station? But if you own this radio station, you could guarantee that. That’s what I’m talking about.
Longtime West observers might suggest that these comments are just classic crazy Kanye rambling, a habit that occasionally has taken the rap impresario into some offensive places. Back in 2011, West drew criticism when he whined that his detractors looked at him as if he were Hitler. (The ADL seems to have steered clear of that Kanye kerfuffle.)
Still, West’s latest crazy comments provided an opportunity for some thoughtful punditry.
Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progress agrees that West was engaging in stereotyping and takes issue with his premise. “The Presidency is as connected an office as exists anywhere in the world,” she writes.
But Rosenberg also suggests that there is a kernel of legitimate insight in West’s remarks. She suggests that West was giving voice to “a sense that there isn’t enough internal solidarity and self-help in African-American communities, in part because there aren’t enough black people in positions of power who can extend a hand up to the people who aspire to follow him.”
Nevertheless, Rosenberg concludes:
It’s one thing, though, to attempt to learn from the ways that other marginalized groups have built political and cultural power. And it’s another entirely to ascribe them with mystic powers of solidarity that paper over deep divisions and conflicts that do great harm to both members of the groups in question, and to people outside them. West may admire Jewish networking, but I doubt that he wants African-Americans to have the exact same experience of Jewish political organizations in the U.S., which haven’t exactly been conflict-free. Invoking some sort of monolithic Jewish authority isn’t just a bad idea because it’s a stereotype, and one that’s fueled hatred and suspicion of Jews for years. It’s a myth that obscures the difficulties of building political power and an enduring movement.
Tablet’s Adam Chandler, meanwhile, thinks West’s remarks were “ultimately harmless.” He writes:
But Kanye, who once declared himself “the Lyor Cohen of Dior Homme” (that’s Dior Homme, not Dior, homie) after the Israeli industry mogul, wasn’t just talking about Jewish power in music. He was talking about Jewish power in everything. Was it pernicious? Not entirely. Just last May we were talking about Vice-President Joe Biden’s oratorical contribution to Jewish Heritage Month, which raised some hackles because it was so laudatory of Jewish influence that it seemed to resemble the tropes of those who trade in conspiracies about Jewish power.
Discarding the fact that one does not become senator, POTUS, or editor of the Harvard Law Review without some contacts, this seems another inelegant but ultimately harmless utterance about Jews, which speaks to a popular perception that keeps some Chinese employers interested in hiring Jewish workers. For those who were fixating on the statement over Thanksgiving, I’ve got to ask, how you gonna be mad on vacation?