Kanye West And Antisemitism: ‘I’m Fearful This Is Now Our Norm’

'I promise you there are things you do not know about what it is to be a Jewish woman, mother, colleague, friend in Britain today,' writes Deborah Linton.

Kanye West

by Deborah Linton |
Updated on

There is nothing surprising about opening up Twitter as I did last week to find #antisemitism trending again. And I get it, there will be people reading this and already moving to swipe these words back up into the chasm of the internet because, despite the hashtag, the experiences behind it are not popular topics. Prejudice against Jewish people feels heard, known, talked about for decades, done. ‘What’s their problem?’

I implore you not to pass this over. I promise you there are things you do not know about what it is to be a Jewish woman, mother, colleague, friend in Britain today; to take a phone call because your eight-year-old has been racially abused at school - ‘We all hate the Jews,’ they said to him - to walk into an office and feel the room of people you work with go silent because there is now a Jew in the midst of their discussion about the ugly axis where your otherwise shared politics and antisemitism have come to meet; to be on the sidelines of kids’ football matches, at the hairdresser or in a shop and hear other people crack Jew jokes and tell you ‘It’s not me, it’s what other people say about them,’ when you turn to call them out and reveal your Jewish identity; or to be on any kind of social media at all where it lurks, constantly, and, yes, trends often.

It doesn’t take Kanye West, a man with more Instagram followers and more than double the number of Twitter followers than there are 14.8 million Jews on earth, to share a string of rants, including a threat - now deleted - in which he reportedly wanted to go ‘defcon 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE’ - for me to feel ignored or invisible for who I am.

Amy Schumer, raised Jewish, and the Jewish Friends actor, David Schwimmer (even writing this I’m thinking, god, people are sick of hearing the word Jewish aren’t they? They’ll be switching off) have condemned Ye’s racism with posts of their own.

But also visible on social media are the images of antisemitic banners draped from the overpass of a Los Angeles freeway, this weekend, reading ‘Honk if you know Kanye is right about the Jews.’ It followed later posts by the rapper, Kim Kardashian’s ex, in which he sounded off on old, odious tropes about Jews and power in the music industry.

Apparently we have a lot of it, yet here am I, cautious and afraid about putting my reality on the page.

'Whether or not Kanye West is mentally ill, there’s no question he is a bigot,’ wrote Schwimmer. Ye has spoken openly of his mental illness and earlier this month drew heavy criticism for donning and dressing models in ‘white lives matter’ T-shirts during Paris Fashion Week. His hate, it seems, has no end.

‘If you don’t know what to post. Let’s start with this,’ wrote Schumer, yesterday, in response to his latest tirades, sharing a square with blue text reading: ‘I support my Jewish friends and the Jewish people.’ It’s a welcome try although I fearfully wonder what we all do: is anyone listening? Does anyone still care?

Instagram and Twitter rightly restricted his posts. But the antisemitism fandom on TikTok, the fact that it’s another incarnation of a centuries-old, systemic hate that has filtered down through social media and deeply-embedded dogwhistles enough to reach the eight-year-olds who abused my son; the slow response from the Kardashians (until Kim finally instagrammed on Monday evening) or Adidas (who finally acted to 'terminate the partnership with him on Tuesday), or the silence, that weird silence I’ve felt in person and online so many times before — Jewish people are really afraid of bystander silence because history in every corner of the world has taught us that when people don’t speak up against intolerance, it does not turn out well for us at all - they all make me fearful that this is now our norm.

I’ve known that for a few years, really. That allies are hard to come by - or perhaps the hate is louder and they just don’t know. Humanity can’t provide me with an answer as to why. I’m not into persecution porn. It’s inescapable, to me, that one the most defining characteristics of my family of five is that we descend from refugees of Jewish persecution in Europe - the Holocaust in which six million European Jews and another five million minorities including Black, disabled and LGBTQ+ people were murdered in an attempt to wipe them out - and Iraq, a country where I can count on one hand the number of Jewish people who now live there but, in the 1950s, made up half the population of its capital, Baghdad before they were forced out. As a result, what happens when prejudicial intolerance rages on and people just ‘swipe past’, is ingrained in my kids, my husband and I.

I don’t believe that should be traded against anyone else’s inherited or lived experience and I feel strongly about that. But the fears it instills - that our parents and grandparents saw banners and public outpourings of hate or went to a concert, as I did a couple of years ago where the warm-up man used antisemitism to rally the crowd, before they were forced into a migrant’s life, or death -  are certainly not worth less. They should all be heard.

And I despise social media’s crass, polarising efforts to engage us all in ‘racism Olympics.’ Ethnic minorities and every other sidelined group all have different, distressing, shaping experiences to bring to this table. All should be met by ally-ship; all should be called-out, held, heard.

I’m not here for any of those polarising trauma trading sports. I’m just weary, I’m so weary of being afraid to reveal myself - something Jewish children in Britain, Europe, the USA learn when they are young (if you’re going to survive as ‘Other,’ work hard and stay small) to dare to say ‘this hurts’ in public, or to make someone else uncomfortable, for fear of them telling me ‘this doesn’t matter.’ Or far, far worse, not hearing it at all.

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