After being inactive on all social media platforms since May 2017, Kanye West returned to Twitter on April 13, retweeting an old post from Def Jam Recordings Co-Founder Russell Simmons. His tweets initially began as either philosophical observations or promotions for his Yeezy merchandise. They quickly became political, however, when he expressed his support for President Donald J. Trump, a position that was not unexpected but nonetheless unnerving.
In 2016, West met with Trump at Trump Tower to “discuss multicultural issues,” according to a tweet following the meeting. But speculation regarding his true political views began in early April 2018 when Hot 97 radio host Ebro Darden discussed how West explicitly told Darden that he was a Trump supporter.
“You don’t have to agree with Trump, but the mob can’t make me not love him,” West tweeted on April 25. “We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone. I don’t agree with everything he does. That’s what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought.”
This tweet was followed by another two tweets of West wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ hats, one of which was autographed by Trump.
In light of his tweets, many West fans felt extremely betrayed by West’s sudden and direct support of Trump, a president who has openly discriminated and verbally attacked people of color, women and immigrants.
One famous West fan, singer John Legend, voiced his betrayal in a text, which West later tweeted in the form of a screenshot on April 26. “I hope you’ll reconsider aligning yourself with Trump,” Legend said. “You’re way too influential to endorse who he is and what he stands for…So many people who love you feel so betrayed right now because they know the harm that Trump’s policies cause, especially to people of color.”
West responded saying that he posted the texts in order to represent how he respects all ideas, but he will stand his ground in the face of opinions like Legend’s.
Legend is correct in his sentiments, however. Such public acceptance of a demagogue of racism and white supremacy disrupts Black liberation and promotes assimilation, or the encouragement of people of color to assimilate to the traditions and culture of the white majority.
As a person of color who is outside the Black community, I cannot directly relate to the confusion I expect some members of the Black community are facing. Nonetheless, as a person of color, I definitely recognize the detrimental effects that an influential person of color — like West — can have when they endorse a candidate that goes against what people of color usually stand for: tolerance.
I am not completely surprised by West’s support for an intolerant person like Trump because he has never spoken out about his own wife’s frequent cultural appropriation. Kim Kardashian has frequently appropriated Black culture. For instance, in late January, she posted numerous photos on Instagram and Snapchat of her wearing cornrows, which she called “Bo Derek braids.” Cornrows can be traced back to the West African ethnic group Fulani, but Kardashian blatantly disrespects this history when she refers to the style simply as an emulation of actress Bo Derek, a white woman who appropriated cornrows in the 1979 film “10.”
West has never spoken against the public cultural appropriation that she engages with, so his willingness to overlook other kinds of racism from people like Trump has a precedent. It is still somewhat shocking, however, because while West is tied to Kardashian through family relationships, but he is under no such personal obligation to support Trump.
Amidst the extensive social media buzz surrounding West’s tweets, he released a song on April 27 titled “Ye vs. The People” featuring Grammy Award-winning rapper T.I. to further defend his Trump support. T.I. plays the devil’s advocate in the song, allowing West to address all facets of his political views.
“You representin’ dudes just seem crude and cold-hearted,” T.I. raps in the song. “With blatant disregard for the people who put you in position/Don’t you feel an obligation to them?”
Even Trump himself recognized that West’s Black fans have contributed to his success. “Kanye West has performed a great service to the Black Community,” he tweeted on April 27. “Big things are happening and eyes are being opened for the first time in Decades – Legacy Stuff!”
Although Trump was merely tweeting to reciprocate his support for West, the fact that even he recognizes how intertwined West is with his fan base shows what kind of an impact his support for Trump can have.
While Trump’s knowledge of West’s fan base and the Black community as a whole are definitely inaccurate, given his ignorance on racial issues, West was indeed popularized through loyal Black fans, who now may feel betrayed due to his support of a racist politician. Nonetheless, he continues to stand by his beliefs.
“Make America Great Again had a negative perception,” West raps back to T.I. “I took it, wore it, rocked it, gave it a new direction. And y’all simply questionin’ my methods . . . Lot of people agree with me, but they’re too scared to speak up.”