Freeman: All Thought Is Free, Not Just Kanye's
People need to use their free thought to call out Kanye's ignorance.
“You don’t have to agree with [T]rump but the mob can’t make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone. I don’t agree with everything anyone does. That’s what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought.”
On Wednesday, Apr. 25, Kanye West continued writing his live-streamed book on Twitter after tweeting the above quote.
The international music community immediately went into chaos. Twitter users worldwide were confused and disappointed. It wasn’t long before hashtags like #KanyeIsOver and #KanyeIsCancelled were trending globally on the social media platform. Celebrities with large social media presences, including Travis Scott, Rihanna, John Legend, and Kendrick Lamar showed their disapproval by unfollowing Kanye on Twitter. But what did Kanye’s tweet mean, and what consequences will it have?
Kanye’s tweet was not meant as an announcement of his conversion to Republican ideology, nor should it be seen as his expressing support for white supremacist ideals, both being accusations made by various Twitter users. Shortly after the initial tweet, Kanye told his fans that he was neither a Democrat nor a Republican. He also tweeted “I don’t agree with everything Trump does. I don’t agree 100% with anyone but myself” furthering his point that his tweet was not a proclamation of solidarity with President Trump. Even so, right-wing media and Twitter users quickly took advantage of the statement, using it to report Kanye’s support for Trump and his advocates. Fox News quickly published an article titled “Trump and Kanye West’s relationship through the years: From friends to ‘brothers’”, and Brietbart took Chance the Rapper’s tweet defending Kanye by stating “Black people don’t have to be democrats” as a basis upon which to write an article reflecting on rappers standing up the Leftist community.
On Apr. 28, three days later, Kanye chose to publicize another layer to his free thought. He tweeted a picture of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior Emma Gonzalez, calling her his hero. Many far-right Twitter users , having previously shamed Gonzalez for her outspoken nature and negative view of the NRA, disapproved of Kanye’s public support of the activist. Similar to the response from the initial tweet, those who disagreed with Kanye’s thoughts didn’t hesitate to denounce him, while those who agreed responded positively and saw the tweet as his way of reconciling with those who had been turned off by the previously pro-Trump rhetoric.
There are two narratives at play here. This situation epitomizes a sentiment popular today: free speech is only acceptable when it is agreeable. In theory, modern society loves free thinkers; however, this love has limits. As shown by the recent Kanye controversies, the love of free thought often ceases where one does not agree with the thought that is being shown. First, the Left loathed Kanye when he tweeted seemingly pro-Trump sentiments, while the Right used the statements to bask in their perceived popularity. Later, the Right repudiated the artist they had so recently promoted after he tweeted his love for Gonzalez, many right-wing political figures deplore. In America, freedom of speech granted by is the First Amendment to the Constitution, yet many cases still arise where certain types of speech are deemed socially unacceptable.
The second narrative at play here regards how celebrities’ large platforms can seem frightening when they showcase their public ignorance. After Kanye’s initial tweet, President Trump responded to boos from a crowd by stating, “Kanye gets it!” to justify his legitimacy. This is not worrisome with respect to meaningful consequences. No one is going to watch that broadcast and think that since Kanye West supports their president, they should too, no questions asked. If that thought process does occur, it is not due to any celebrity’s words, but instead to the watcher’s own ignorance and naivety.
Why, then, are celebrities said to have such a large influence? On May 1, in an interview with TMZ, Kanye described his recent opioid addiction and how it contributed to the livestream book he decided to pursue on Twitter. His choice to publicly admit to having a drug addiction so recently should have mitigated any effect his words could have had on the minds of those listening. Somewhere in his rambling, he later stated his belief that throughout history, slavery was a choice. If any statement could have further undermined Kanye’s intellectual legitimacy, it was that one. Although the artist will doubtlessly feel the disapproval from his ex-fans, be it by a decrease in followers or album sales, one must maintain confidence in the human race to see through celebrity status when forming opinions and beliefs. The idea that celebrities have a platform that can influence millions is simply false. Fans, followers, readers, watchers or listeners, give celebrities this societal power, and can just as easily take it back.
As people who receive a considerable amount of information from different sources every day, much of which is not particularly credible, we must continue to exercise caution when interpreting it. This caution, however, ought to occur simultaneously with respect for freedom of speech. This can occur by having confidence that people will exercise their own decision-making processes, using their own free thought, to form opinions regarding what they hear –– whether it be from ignorant celebrities or biased media sources. Kanye isn’t the only free thinker: everybody is. And everyone must use this free thought to differentiate between what they believe and what they do not, no matter who is saying it.
Correction Appended (May 6, 2018): This column's title has been updated for clarity.