It’s been a wild few weeks for Black men with huge platforms.
It all began with Kanye West’s October 15 appearance on the popular Drink Champs podcast hosted by N.O.R.E and DJ EFN. During a 3-hour interview, Kanye made comments about Jewish ownership and control of entertainment that outraged many Jewish people.
In subsequent interviews on other platforms like Tucker Carlson and Hollywood Fix, he further espoused his beliefs in the history of exploitation of Black artists and entertainment industry control at the hands of Jewish entrepreneurs.
The reaction was swift. Along with the Drink Champs interview being pulled, several corporations including Adidas, Balenciaga, and the sports and talent management agency CAA announced publicly they were severing their business relationships with Kanye.
On October 27, New Jersey Nets star Kyrie Irving tweeted a link to a documentary titled Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America, a film many in the Jewish community said was filled with offensive antisemitic propaganda. As in the case of Kanye, the reaction to Kyrie’s action was swift; a 5-game suspension, along with a list of demands from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
Into this media firestorm charged Dave Chappelle, arguably the point man for the current state of events. On November 5, he was announced as the host of the following week’s taping of Saturday Night Live and the news sparked a mini-revival of the backlash and protests he faced in the wake of his 2019 Netflix special “The Closer.
In a 15-minute opening monologue, Chappelle tied together the threads linking these incidents and made the point that accusations of bigotry that can be leveled at other groups fall flat when used on Black men. At this point, Chappelle is too big to cancel, but a fresh batch of editorials made the rounds condemning his points of view.
All this begs to question whether objectionable speech deserves more censure if it comes from a Black male. Many Black pundits have been moving as if that’s true. Along with the on-air statements of sportscasters like Shannon Sharpe and Jalen Rose, writers like Jemele Hill and Goldie Taylor found welcome homes for their essays linking Kanye and Kyrie’s opinions to Black male cultural ignorance and ingrained antisemitism in Black communities, respectively.
As often happens, these individual men have become proxies for Black men as a collective.
American celebrity penance follows a script: Public apologies, with mandatory cameras present, followed by a reasonable isolation period so the public can forget. In conversations about these cases, many have questioned why these steps are expected for antisemitism, while celebrities with histories of anti-Blackness can go about their careers almost unchecked?
Sarah Silverman and Howard Stern have been among the most vocal celebrities condemning Kanye and Kyrie, which inadvertently made people recall their histories of anti-Blackness. Yet, to date, there have been no mass demands for either of them to apologize for their actions.
The documentary shared by Kyrie is hosted on Amazon, where you can also buy Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, German helmets and uniforms, and Black leather SS trench coats. There have been no organizational demands to hold Jeff Bezos accountable.
When an ambassador gloats about a Black man being “put in his place,” and the hesitancy of Black male voters is relegated to ignorance and lack of intellectual capacity, it creates a toxic mix of condescension and patronization that stifles any constructive discussion of historic cultural tensions and naturally puts people on the defensive.
Studies have shown that liberal whites tend to dumb down their speech when speaking to African-Americans and it’s an attitude that far too many Black people in positions of influence have bought into.
Much of the energy around Kyrie and Kanye bled over into the outcomes of the highly charged Georgia gubernatorial and senate races. The results of both were bad for Black liberal candidates. Stacey Abrams lost to Republican incumbent Brian Kemp, and Reverend Raphael Warnock was forced into a runoff against Republican challenger and former NFL star Herschel Walker.
In the case of Abrams, a campaign that relied heavily on “Black Girl Magic” failed to resonate with the white Georgia voters who make up the majority of the Georgia electorate. But before the results were fully tallied, the idea gaining traction in online spaces was that Black men wanted Stacey to lose because they couldn’t accept a Black woman in power. Even subsequent proof that Black men and Black women in Georgia voted as a bloc during the midterms didn’t stop this narrative.
Still, if the Black male voice wasn’t so powerful, people wouldn’t put so much effort into dismissing it or explaining it away. Public resistance in the social media square doing an end run around mainstream narratives about Kyrie, Kanye and Black male voters forced some people pushing those narratives to clarify their statements — a strong example of the ability of marginalized people to use technology to make themselves heard.
Information and public opinion no longer flow from elites to the masses and assumed reactions to outrage don’t work anymore.
Anti-Blackness is a founding principle of American society and permeates every aspect of it, from social customs and laws to demeaning stereotypes of Black people in entertainment.
Antisemitism has long and ugly roots in American history as well, and nobody should have to accept disrespect. But, at the end of the day, the value of opinions should be left for all of the public to decide, not to censors.
Black men have as much right to speak freely, be seen as individuals, and be offered opportunities for grace and growth as anyone else.
Torraine Walker is the founder and EIC of Context Media Group. His Twitter bio describes him as an “Observer. Journalist. Commentator. Enemy of anti-Black misandry. I tell stories and collect receipts.”
PHOTO: Illustration By Torraine Walker