Kanye West's Slavery Remarks: The Harshest Responses

Will.i.am, Spike Lee have a major problem with them, and they're not alone
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted May 2, 2018 11:37 AM CDT

To say Kanye West has had a week would be some kind of understatement. News that he fired his manager and tweets about his shared "dragon energy" with President Trump were just the crescendo leading up to a Tuesday interview with TMZ Live that left even TMZ incredulous. Though West revealed he has battled an opioid addiction in the wake of liposuction surgery, the real headline-maker was his comments about slavery, chief among them: "When you hear about slavery for 400 years, for 400 years, that sounds like a choice." The reaction hasn't stopped. The latest:

  • West took to Twitter Tuesday night to clarify and elaborate: "to make myself clear. Of course I know that slaves did not get shackled and put on a boat by free will," he tweeted. "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 continued.
  • A further selection of his many tweets include him saying, "the universe has a plan. I knew that TMZ would be awesome," and comparing himself to Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner, writing, "if this was 148 years ago I would have been more like Harriet or Nat." As for "the reason why I brought up the 400 years point," he writes, "we can't be mentally imprisoned for another 400 years. We need free thought now. Even the statement was an example of free thought It was just an idea."

  • He also tweeted this quote: "I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves. - Harriet Tubman" Except there's no proof Tubman ever said that. Snopes took a deep historical dive and explains the situation here.
  • Jimmy Kimmel addressed West's "tangent not seen since the glory days of Gary Busey on Celebrity Rehab" Tuesday night. He interspersed clips of West's interview then said, "Keeping up with the White House on a daily basis is exhausting. I can't handle Donald Trump and Kanye West at the same time. It's too much. It's like being a single mother with twins. I can't do it! One of you is gonna have to stop—I'll let you decide between yourselves which one it's going to be."
  • Kimmel's comments were practically a compliment compared to what Will.i.am had to say, with the BBC characterizing him as the leader of the "fierce backlash" against West. The singer called West's slavery comments "one of the most ignorant statements that anybody who came from the hood could ever say about their ancestors." In an interview with Good Morning Britain, he added that he hoped there was no ulterior motive at play—"to raise awareness so you could sell a record and some shoes, because that would be the worst thing to do, to stir up this very touchy race situation and you be the benefactor from it. So I encourage you, if you really believe this, give your shoes away for free, give your album away for free."

  • Spike Lee took to Instagram with his reaction: "'SLAVERY... A CHOICE'??? My Brother ... OUR ancestors did not choose to be murdered, lynched, castrated, raped, burnt at the stake, families sold apart. OUR ancestors built this country (on land stolen from the Native Americans) from the ground up under the institution of SLAVERY."
  • CNN has a bit more on Van Lathan, the TMZ staffer who offered a forceful response to West's comments during the interview after West asked the newsroom, "Do you feel like I'm thinking free and feeling free?" "I actually don't think you're thinking anything," Lathan said. "I think what you're doing right now is actually the absence of thought." There are "real-world, real-life consequence behind everything that you just said. 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."
  • One tweeted response to Van Lathan came from comedian Chloe A. Hilliard, who wrote: "This is why it's important to have diversity on your staff. No one else was gonna speak up. And #Kanye wasn't going to respect anyone else speaking to him like this. Thank You @VanLathan #TMZ."
  • On Twitter, the satirical hashtag #IfSlaveryWasAChoice emerged. Click the link to read the tweets.
  • On Twitter, Roxane Gay described West as "not a free thinker. He is a free moron who doesn’t read." Indeed, in 2009 he described himself as "a proud non-reader of books."
(More Kanye West stories.)

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