Rapper and producer Kanye West continued to stoke controversy this week when he expressed provocative opinions about slavery.
After days of mounting criticism — largely from within the black community — in response to his support of President Donald Trump and certain conservative commentators, West escalated his rhetoric in an explosive TMZ interview Tuesday.
The Grammy winner began by explaining his decision to wear a Trump campaign hat publicly last month, explaining that he was attempting to promote the acceptance of free thought.
West said he “felt a freedom, first of all, in just doing something everybody tells you not to do.”
When the conversation shifted to the topic of slavery, though, he sparked backlash on a new level by suggesting blacks enslaved in America chose to remain captive.
“You hear about slavery for 400 years,” West said. “Four hundred years? That sounds like a choice.”
He went on to suggest blacks were “mentally imprisoned” during that period of history.
“I like the word ‘prison’ because slavery goes too direct to the idea of blacks,” he said.
Prison “unites us as one race,” West said, explaining that he hopes to be a representative not only for blacks or the hip-hop community, but for “the human race.”
Though Twitter and other online forums were soon teeming with critical comments, West was still in the TMZ studio when the backlash began.
TMZ employee Van Lathan took an opportunity to weigh in on what he felt was a hurtful misrepresentation of the struggles blacks faced during slavery and in the centuries since.
“I actually don’t think you’re thinking anything,” he told West. “I think what you’re doing is actually the absence of thought.”
Though Lathan acknowledged West has the right to express any opinion he chooses, he warned that “there is fact and real-life consequence behind everything” the influential artist had just said on the record.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Artists, social activists and many others shared similar viewpoints in their own reaction to West’s interview.
Kanye’s rhetoric continues to fuel the racist right-wing folks who believe that black people are responsible for their oppression.
— deray (@deray) May 1, 2018
“Frankly, I’m disappointed, I’m appalled, and brother, I’m unbelievably hurt by the fact that you have morphed into something that, to me, is not real,” Lathan said.
West sought to explain his comments in a series of tweets after the interview aired.
“My point is for us to have stayed in that position even though the numbers were on our side means that we were mentally enslaved,” he wrote.
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