When asked by a radio station last week about his fellow Chicagoan-gone-global, Kanye West gave this appraisal of President Obama’s execution (or perhaps lack thereof) as a political leader.
“Man, let me tell you something about George Bush and oil money and Obama and no money. People want to say Obama can’t make these moves or he’s not executing. That’s because he ain’t got those connections. Black people don’t have the same level of connections as Jewish people. Black people don’t have the same connection as oil people.”
Just a few weeks ago, West foreswore mentioning President Obama at all, accusing him of capitalizing on the uproar surrounding West’s infamous Taylor Swift incident in 2009, for which the President called Kanye “a jackass.” (For proper context check out the excellent profile of Kanye by David Samuels in the Atlantic.)
West said that flap was evidence that Obama “used” him to “distract people from everything that’s going on.”
This new story about Obama, West, oil men, and the Jews, while reported widely, was mostly written straight as click-bait. Headlines left out the parts about Bush and the oil men and focused on the Jews, but made few editorial statements about the event itself (except for Breitbart, of course, which labeled the statement anti-Semitic).
But what’s hidden underneath this story–one wood chip buzz-sawed from the forest of Kanye and pop culture detritus–is a trail to several stories just like it. Back in October, Liel Leibovitz chronicled Miley Cyrus’ distaste for the “70-year-old Jewish man” stuck behind a desk, making decisions about the future of music. Leibovitz also chatted with the rapper Scarface after he bemoaned the Jewish and white control of the hip hop game. Back in 2011, David Meir Grossman wrote on Tablet about the rapper Sadat X, who made similar remarks about the music industry.
But Kanye, who once declared himself “the Lyor Cohen of Dior Homme” (that’s Dior Homme, not Dior, homie) after the Israeli industry mogul, wasn’t just talking about Jewish power in music. He was talking about Jewish power in everything. Was it pernicious? Not entirely. Just last May we were talking about Vice-President Joe Biden’s oratorical contribution to Jewish Heritage Month, which raised some hackles because it was so laudatory of Jewish influence that it seemed to resemble the tropes of those who trade in conspiracies about Jewish power.
Discarding the fact that one does not become senator, POTUS, or editor of the Harvard Law Review without some contacts, this seems another inelegant but ultimately harmless utterance about Jews, which speaks to a popular perception that keeps some Chinese employers interested in hiring Jewish workers. For those who were fixating on the statement over Thanksgiving, I’ve got to ask, how you gonna be mad on vacation?
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.