Kanye West Suggested Slavery Was ‘a Choice.’ Critics Are Decrying It as Self-Promotion Gone Way Too Far
Kanye West, rapper and sometimes Twitter philosopher, made a splash when he ended his 11-month Twitter silence two weeks ago.
The artist faced criticism for his tweeted support of Trump, but arguably the biggest backlash was yet to come: it erupted Tuesday when West spoke to TMZ Live.
The conversation shed light on West’s 2016 breakdown and an opioid dependency, but most perplexingly, it also led to a questionable comment by West about slavery. At one point, West told TMZ, “When you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years?! That sounds like a choice.”
TMZ employee Van Lathan quickly interjected, saying, “I think what you’re doing right now is actually the absence of thought.”
Lathan continued: “And while you are making music and being an artist and living the life that you’ve earned by being a genius, the rest of us in society have to deal with these threats to our lives. We have to deal with the marginalization that has come from the 400 years of slavery that you said for our people was a choice.”
On Twitter, West’s comment sparked the hashtag #IfSlaveryWasAChoice.
West later sought to defend himself in a series of tweets, contending that “once again I am being attacked for presenting new ideas.”
Some critics took to Twitter themselves to blast West for making inflammatory comments for what’s being seen as his own self promotion. West reportedly is planning to release two albums this summer, and his controversial remarks and tweets are giving him added publicity.
Director Ava DuVernay, for instance, wrote, “I’ve had it with @KanyeWest + @RKelly using the imagery of lynching as rebuttals re: their dastardly behavior. Evoking racial terrorism and murder for personal gain/blame is stratospheric in [it] audacity and ignorance. This is what lynching looked like. How dare they?”
(DuVernay’s R. Kelly reference was a nod to the Time’s Up movement calling on the entertainment industry to cut ties with the artist who has been accused of several counts of sexual misconduct, statutory rape, and child pornography. R. Kelly’s management called the move an “attempted public lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture.”)
Others sought humor in reflecting on West’s remarks. One user wrote, “Congratulations to new Fox News hire Kanye,” while hundreds of others mocked him, using memes along with the #IfSlaveryWasAChoice hashtag to underscore the absurdity of his comments.
It is not immediately clear whether or if brands associated with West will respond to the controversy. Adidas, for instance, did not immediately reply to Fortune‘s request for comment.