This story reflects the views of this author, but not necessarily the editorial position of Fast Company.
Since Kanye West broke his Twitter hiatus this month, he’s been doubling down on his pro-Trump rhetoric that began to surface back in November 2016. What started as a post-election endorsement at a concert has gone full tilt MAGA, with tweets in support of alt-right darlings and a reinforced stance of his love for former host of The Apprentice.
At this stage in Kanye’s career, it’s impossible to discern if what he’s tweeting is his version of performance art or something he truly believes in. What is certain is that the pro-Trump outbursts don’t sit well with the black and largely liberal community that built him up in the first place–not to mention the multinational corporation that supports him.
my MAGA hat is signed ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? pic.twitter.com/DrDHJybS8V
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 25, 2018
After Kanye’s relationship with Nike went sour, Adidas struck a deal with him to create a line of shoes and apparel that have since elevated the brand’s cachet. It wasn’t long before demand for a pair of $350 Yeezys pushed resell prices on eBay into the thousands. Despite the often lukewarm press for his apparel, Kanye’s sneaker line proved to be one of the most in-demand shoes on the market. Most brands would do anything to collaborate with someone with as much influence as Kanye, but what happens when that influence becomes toxic?
Just last year, Adidas, along with numerous other companies, vowed to fight against Trump’s attempted ban on Muslims entering the U.S. An Adidas spokeswoman had this to say at the time:
Our company is built on the core belief that ‘through sport, we have the power to change lives. Sport has shown in the past and will show over and over again in the future that it can bring people together from all over the world–regardless of their nationality, gender, age, religion or sexual orientation. We at Adidas are proud to bring this positive power of sport to life every day at work and we cherish the diverse, international workforce we have around the globe. Some companies have already voiced their concerns about this decision and we join them in their call for an open and diverse society and culture in the U.S. and around the globe. It goes without saying that our commitment to the U.S. market and our people in America remains unchanged despite this current political climate.
If Adidas was willing to take a stand against Trump then, how does it justify remaining silent while his latest, most vocal disciple spreads the MAGA message of hate and divisiveness?
Kanye’s effusive tweets toward Trump and the alt-right have reportedly led to several of his peers, including Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, and Justin Bieber, to unfollow him on Twitter. John Legend tried to reason with Kanye in the most John Legend manner possible. Janelle Monae called “bullshit” on Kanye masking alt-right views under the guise of free thinking. But it’s Adidas and artists signed to Kanye’s record label, including Teyana Taylor, Big Sean, and Pusha T, that need to speak out the loudest right now.
You don't have to agree with trump but the mob can't make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone. I don't agree with everything anyone does. That's what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought.
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 25, 2018
It’s a tricky position to be in: Kanye is undeniably one of the best hip-hop producers of a generation and he certainly has a creative mind and edge that brands love–but where are we drawing the line with this version of Kanye? This isn’t the Kanye we could just shrug off when he stormed the stage at the VMAs. This isn’t the Kanye we simply roll our eyes at when he launches into a braggadocios rant. This Kanye is dangerous. This Kanye is dumping kerosene on the fire of racism, classicism, and misogyny that’s been fueling the current administration.
Kanye claims he doesn’t agree with everything Trump does–he just has love for everyone, including, apparently, Hillary Clinton. But there isn’t any rational way to dissect Trump into parts you like and parts you don’t when the president has dedicated his whole self to throwing the world into entropy. Kanye has said that he will always be a free thinker and express himself accordingly, which is fine, except when that thinking and those expressions, however directly or indirectly, serve those who have made it their mission to keep the oppressed powerless.
Now when he spoke out about Trump… Most people (including myself) have very different feelings & opinions about this. But this is HIS opinion. I believe in people being able to have their own opinions,even if really different from mine
He never said he agrees with his politics
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) April 25, 2018
Kim Kardashian and, disappointingly enough, Chance the Rapper, can try their best to distill Kanye’s alt-right support into something palatable, but it’s impossible to make sense out of nonsense. Sure, Kanye has the right to tweet his support for Trump and the alt-right. No one is disputing that. But downplaying the hate-filled rhetoric he is supporting by chalking it up to freedom of thought is disingenuous at best. And his actions have consequences.
Trump is already using Kanye’s support to make it seem like he’s not a bigot. And the key word here is use. Kanye is bolstering the alt-right by allowing himself to become a pawn in Trump’s propaganda machine, put into play to make people believe that everything the president stands for is not, in fact, white nationalism. The Kanye who once said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” after Hurricane Katrina is now a mouthpiece for Trump’s America.
Kanye West has performed a great service to the Black Community – Big things are happening and eyes are being opened for the first time in Decades – Legacy Stuff! Thank you also to Chance and Dr. Darrell Scott, they really get it (lowest Black & Hispanic unemployment in history).
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 27, 2018
It’s too soon to tell whether Kanye’s fanbase will turn on him significantly because of this. But those financially linked to Kanye can take a stand right now. They can cut ties with him. And Adidas can send a clear, searing message by ditching him first.