Adidas dropping Ye after anti-Semitic remarks is accountability culture in action—leadership that requires all of us

Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) looking away while wearing a black hoodie and baseball hat.
Edward Berthelot—GC Images/Getty Images

Well, he did dare them to do it.

Adidas AG has severed ties with rapper, designer, and mogul Ye (formerly known as Kanye West), ending an arrangement that made Ye a billionaire and cemented the apparel maker as a taste-making celebrity brand. The decision to immediately stop producing Yeezy products is expected to cost the company some 250 million euros ($246 million) this year alone.

The move also raised some thorny questions about when and why brands—and fans—should cut ties with mega-celebrities with outsized platforms.

The Adidas partnership had been under review for the better part of a month after Ye wore a “WHITE LIVES MATTER” shirt at Paris Fashion Week on Oct. 3, then threatened to “Go death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE” in a tweet that got him suspended from social media. 

He then taunted the company directly.

“I can say antisemitic things and Adidas can’t drop me. Now what?” he said on an episode of the Drink Champs podcast, which has since been deleted. In addition to repeating anti-Semitic conspiracies, he also made false and uncorrected comments about the murder of George Floyd, forcing the hosts, N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN, to issue an apology.

That would have done it for me.

Oh, who am I kidding? I would have called it quits long ago, after the anti-Blackness, the misogyny, the Trumpism, declaring slavery “a choice,” terrorizing his children…but I’m only in charge of me. More on that in a moment.

By the time Adidas had announced its decision, Ye’s world had already started to get much smaller. He was dropped by both his talent agency, CAA, and Vogue, Gap ended a much-ballyhooed plan to open standalone “Yeezy” stores, Hollywood producer MRC halted distribution of a completed documentary about the artist, and Maverick Carter, CEO of LeBron James’s production company, pulled an episode of its unscripted series The Shop after the artist used his appearance “to reiterate more hate speech and extremely dangerous stereotypes.”

Dangerous, indeed. His fashion aspirations have always been fraught, petulant, and dramatic. Now, West has found purchase with the ugliest elements of society, embracing the twin demons of white supremacy and anti-Semitism with an uninformed authority that has given a wide swath of people permission to say the quiet part out loud.

Not that they needed much encouragement. In 2021, reports of anti-Semitic incidents rose 34% from the year before.

There’s a lot to discuss here, and we should stick with all of it. We should talk about mental health, everybody’s, not just West’s. We should talk about the unrepentant rise of the arrogant mega-rich, who can launch a mob with a tweet—though, thanks to his own hate speech, West is no longer a billionaire.

But we should also talk about what it would take to for society to manage the impulse to be entertained by toxic figures while normalizing the enormous harms they breezily inflict just because they’re rich and famous. (Though I will say that the current interest in Jeffrey Dahmer Halloween cosplay, a serial killer who preyed exclusively on vulnerable gay men of color, seems to take this normalization to a disturbing new level.)

My consistent theme these many years of writing raceAhead has always been a plea to better understand the past for what it was, to better understand who we must become to fix what’s broken in the world. I admit, embracing ugly conspiracies to feed a thirsty id sounds like way less work.

So, yes, I think Adidas—a German company founded by enthusiastic members of Hitler’s Nazi party and who built the company on sneaker sales to the German army—waited too long to act. But so do many of us who have yet to process what our fandom, for Ye or anyone else, costs the world.

More news below.

Ellen McGirt

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Ashley Sylla.

On point

Brittney Griner loses on appeal. A Russian judge has decided to uphold the WNBA star’s conviction on drug smuggling charges; she is still facing a nine-year sentence in a Russian penal colony. In a statement, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan called the latest hearing a “sham,” and that, “President Biden has been very clear that Brittney should be released immediately.” Experts are hoping for a prisoner swap, but it was a tough blow for Griner. “I’ve been here almost eight months, and people with more severe crimes have been given less than what I was given,” she told the court by video.

What would you do with $30 billion? Reporter Emily Flitter decided to ask, yet again, what JPMorgan Chase had done about its pledge to put $30 billion toward closing the racial wealth gap—which seemed to focus on affordable housing and better access to banking services for Black and Latinx communities. The truth is it’s too early to tell, but her analysis seems to indicate that the bank is doing lots of things right—as long as the metrics for success remain crystal clear and the entire process is transparent. “A $30 billion commitment, to me, is a down payment,” says one expert observer.
New York Times

Midterm political advertising dusts off familiar dog whistles. Analysts say ads in battleground communities are increasingly calling Black candidates “different” and “dangerous” and saying they’re soft on crime. The ads, along with campaign trail chatter—like accusing Democrats of scheming for reparations, or referring to the racist and anti-Semitic “replacement theory”—has injected racial fearmongering into the election season homestretch. “Such language, as well as ads portraying chaos by depicting Black rioters and Hispanic immigrants illegally racing across the border, have prompted Democrats and their allies to accuse Republicans of resorting to racist fear tactics.”
New York Times

Parting words

“This morning, after discussion with our filmmakers and distribution partners, we made the decision not to proceed with any distribution for our recently completed documentary about Kanye West. We cannot support any content that amplifies his platform. Kanye is a producer and sampler of music. Last week he sampled and remixed a classic tune that has charted for over 3000 years – the lie that Jews are evil and conspire to control the world for their own gain. This song was performed acapella in the time of the Pharaohs, Babylon and Rome, went acoustic with The Spanish Inquisition and Russia’s Pale of Settlement, and Hitler took the song electric. Kanye has now helped mainstream it in the modern era. Lies are an important part of all discrimination, and this one is no different."

A statement from MRC CEO Modi Wiczyk, CEO Asif Satchu, and COO Scott Tenley.

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