In my previous post, I broke down the content of Kanye West’s nearly 10 minute monologue given in the Oval Office in front of President Trump, fellow guest Jim Brown, and a collection of reporters. In this Part 2, I dive into the Q&A with reporters that followed West’s speech. For the sake of brevity (ha!), I’ve mostly omitted the responses by President Trump and Jim Brown to focus on West’s remarks. For convenience, I’ve numbered West’s comments (picking up where we left off last time and excluding questions or statements from others).
So you had said, of President Bush, that he doesn’t care about black people. And you’ve heard some people say that about this President. What do you – how do you respond to that? What do you make of that?
75. I think we need to care about all people.
[Lest this be dismissed as an empty platitude, West has gone so far as to publicly discuss forgiving the plastic surgeon who last operated on his mother, Donda West, who later died from complications from the surgery.]
76. And I believe that when I went on to NBC, I was very emotional, and I was programmed to think from a victimized mentality, a welfare mentality. [West has been reconsidering his post-Katrina comments, which former President Bush has described as the “worst moment” of his presidency [[which is in itself interesting for a presidency that included 9/11, an invasion of Iraq over WMDs that were not present, and other events, but I digress]].
77. I think that with blacks and African-Americans, we really get caught up in the idea of racism over the idea of industry.
[The idea that black voters are more concerned with racism than with the economy (ignoring for a moment the interconnectedness between these issues) is pervasive, but actual evidence is scant, due largely to a lack of good polling data on black voters. What evidence we have suggests, however, that while black Americans are significantly more concerned about racial issues than white Americans, black voters are also very concerned with economic issues,
79. We want Polo-sporting Obama again.
80. We want a brand more than we want land.
[West’s argument ignores that black Americans are actually the racial/ethnic group most likely to desire home ownership and to equate it with the American Dream., despite (or perhaps as a reaction to) being the group least likely to own their own homes. This argument ignores various systemic barriers to black homeownership, including discrimination, redlining, disproportionately large impact of economic downturns on black Americans, and undervaluation of black-owned real estate.]
81. Because we’ve haven’t known how it feels to actually have our own land and have ownership of our own blocks.
82. So when you don’t have ownership, then it’s all about how something looks.
[Research on this proposition actually exists, but it paints a more complicated picture. Black and Hispanic Americans do, on average, spend more on “conspicuous consumption” (goods like clothing, cars, or jewelry that can and are intended to be seen by others) than white Americans. However, once income and community variables are included, a different picture emerges. Poor black and poor white Americans spend more on conspicuous consumption than wealthier black and wealthier white Americans, respectively. Furthermore, poor people tend to spend more on conspicuous consumption when they live next to other poor people (since these purchases can help socially distinguish them from their neighbors) and less when they live next to richer neighbors (since the gap is too large for poor individuals to “catch up” to their rich neighbors through conspicuous consumption). Thus, black American’s focus on conspicuous consumption is seemingly based on the facts that blacks tend to both be poorer on average than whites and are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods, even compared to poor whites.
83. It’s about the patina; it’s not about the soul, it’s not about the core.
84. So we focus more on, is somebody wearing something; is someone disrespecting so I got to shoot them.
[The narrative of (black) (teenage) Americans killing one another over clothing, particularly sneakers, has been around for at least 25 years, marked by some high-profile cases. Statistics claiming this to be a widespread problem, however, are sketchy and unsubstantiated, and notorious cases have sometimes turned out to be misleading or outright hoaxes.]
85. Or the idea of someone being racist.
[Roughly three-quarters of African Americans disapprove of President Trump’s job performance, and a similar number believe he has set back race relations in the United States.]
86. You know, we talk about police murders, which we definitely have to discuss, and we have to bring nobility to the police officers and make – the police officers are just like us.
[The Washington Post has been keeping a comprehensive database of police killings since 2015]
87. But there’s this whole hate-building, right?
[West is seemingly referencing a common conservative argument that highlighting police killings of unarmed or otherwise non-dangerous black individuals, as done by the Black Lives Matter movement, generates anti-police biases and perhaps even anti-police violence. Supporters of the movement highlight that it has never advocated violence against police, and even some white police officers have pointed out that one can be both pro-police and support BLM.
89. And we also, as black people, we have to take a responsibility for what we’re doing.
[The argument that those who care about black lives should focus on black-on-black violence, which kills more African Americans than police shootings, is a standard conservative talking point.]
90. We kill each other more than police officers.
[This argument ignores several things, including that fact that the vast majority of murders for all racial groups are committed by others within those groups, or the fact that unjustified police shootings and black-on-black crime are separate issues and that both can be addressed at the same time, instead of using one as a distraction from the other. In other words, the refrain of “what about black on black violence” is a deflection that is both misleading and irrelevant.]
91. And that’s not saying that the police officer is not is not an issue, because they are in a place – a position of power.
[West does acknowledges that, unlike ordinary crime, police killings have a unique element of unequal power – police, as agents of the state, exercise a monopoly on the legitimate use of deadly force, implying a certain level of responsibility beyond that borne by the average citizen].
92. But sometimes they’re in a place of law enforcement.
93. They need to be law-power.
94. It’s force versus power, and when you – you shouldn’t have to force people to do that.
95. So a lot of times the police officer is sitting there, they’re being forced to do this and forced to do that block.
96. And then they force somebody into something and force into something.
[I…don’t actually know what he’s getting at in these statements, so let’s just keep reading].
97. We have to release the love throughout the entire country and give opportunities.
[This sounds good, although
99. So we don’t have reparations, but we have the 13th Amendment.
[The debate over reparations – economic compensation for ex-slaves or their descendants as a way to benefit their lives and as a recompense for the injustice of slavery – has been going on since the end of the Civil War, with many arguments from thoughtful people arguing either for or against the idea. By juxtaposing the lack of reparations with the creation of the 13th Amendment, West may be arguing either : A) African Americans were granted freedom but not the material means necessary to translate that freedom into equality, or B) Not only were African Americans not granted compensation after the end of slavery, but they were not even necessarily granted freedom, giving the punishment clause of the 13th Amendment]
100. We got to open up the whole conversation, so – and that’s a move.
[West is accusing “liberals” of playing the so-called “race card” to win black voters through emotional appeal rather than policy or argument.]
101. One of the moves that I love that liberals try to do – the liberal would try to control a black person through the concept of racism, because they know that we are very proud, emotional people.
[The argument that Democrats opportunistically appeal to fears of racism to maintain black support – without necessarily implementing policies that specifically benefit black populations – is salient given the consistency with which black voters have supported the Democratic Party. In recent years, then Vice President Joe Biden’s comment that Mitt Romney would put people “back in chains” was seen as a racially-based scare tactic, if not a dog whistle. Black voters’ reliable support for the Democratic Party may actually decrease black influence over the party, as Democrats can effectively ignore black voters’ policy preferences while relying on their support.]
102. So when I said “I like Trump” to, like, someone that’s liberal, they’ll say, “Oh, but he’s racist.”
103. You think racism could control me? Oh, that don’t stop me. That’s an invisible wall. [I’m honestly kind of guessing West’s intent at this point]
But you don’t think – you reject those who say he’s racist?
104. On your question – and you had one question; we’re going to do it to another question.
105. I answered your question.
106. I don’t answer questions in simple soundbites.
[West has had a difficult time defending his support for Trump in the face of questions, as seen in West’s appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel Show.]
107. You are tasting a fine wine; It has multiple notes to it. (Laughter.)
When would you like – I’m from the Chicago Sun Times, sir. I would like to know what you would like to ask President Trump to do for Chicago. You’re here to talk about crime in Chicago.
109. The thing that the head of the police and Mike Sacks met with me last night at the Soho House about was we feel that “stop and frisk” does not help the relationships in the city.
110. And everyone that knew I was coming here said, “Ask about stop and frisk.”
111. That’s the number-one thing that we’re having this conversation about.
112. Another thing is opening up industries, and we’ve got to get some tax breaks too.
[The Trump White House has been promoting its tax breaks as benefiting manufacturers.]
113. Because we’re making – we got a Speedfactory in Atlanta, but the shoes are costing us $300, so it’s costing us too much to make things.
114. So we need some prototypes here so we can get people back working, so China can’t just beat us and Vietnam can’t beat us.
115. You got Levi’s, the greatest jeans company in the world, making their jeans in Vietnam.
116. So we’re going to need to get a few breaks to be able to have some places in my hometown of Chicago, and 2.7 million to the 9 million surrounding suburbs where we can create some factories.
[The decline in manufacturing has been traced to various negative effects in terms of income, health, and other measures of well-being, both in Chicago and nationally].
117. Now, I think it would be cool for them to be Trump factories, because he’s a master of industry.
[Throughout his career, real estate mogul Donald Trump has engaged in, or a least leased his name to, a wide variety of business ventures, from education to golf courses to steaks. Given the mixed success of these ventures, the label “master of industry” is debatable.]
118. He’s a builder.
[In addition to the sometimes rambling nature of his remarks, Kanye West was criticized for the fawning nature of his comments about President Trump; Don Lemon compared it to a minstrel show. If West’s past statements are to be trusted, however, the excessive flattery might be strategic. When asked in an earlier interview about Donald Trump’s relationship with the black community and against asked whether he believes Trump cares about black people, West hesitated but eventually answered:
I feel that he cares about the way black people feel about him, and he would like for black people to like him like they did when he was cool in the rap songs and all this, and he will do the things that are necessary to make that happen because he’s got an ego like all the rest of us, and he wants to be the greatest president, and he knows that he can’t be the greatest president without the acceptance of the black community, so it’s something he’s gonna work towards, but we’re gonna have to speak to him.
Whether or not this strategy is effective, justifiable or palatable, it does seem to be intentional. At the end of a very contentious appearance on TMZ Live, West stated “I know I disappointed you, brother, and I know I disappointed the black community when I wore the [Make America Great Again] hat, and I’m sorry I disappointed you, but…it’s a bigger plan, and I’m just doing what the universe told me.”]
119. And I think it would be cool to have Yeezy ideation centers, which would be a mix of education that empowers people and gives them modern information like – sometimes people say, “This kid has ADD, this kid has ADD.”
120. He don’t have ADD.
[There is now substantial evidence that ADHD is over-diagnosed among American youth.]
121. School is boring, it was boring, it’s not as exciting as this.
122. We have to make it more exciting.
123. We have to mix curriculums.
124. You play basketball while you’re doing math.
[Khalil Fuller, founder of NBA Math Hoops, advocates using basketball to get students interested in math.]
125. You learn about music while you meditate in the morning.
126. We have to instate mental health and art programs back into the city.
[Fellow artist and Chicagoan Chance the Rapper has been pumping millions of dollars into Chicago to do just that.]
127.So those are –And also, Larry Hoover is an example of a man that was turning his life around, and as soon as he tried to turn his life around, they hit him with six life sentences.
128. So I believe he’s – you say don’t tear down the statues?
[This is a reference to the debate over removing Confederate statues that led to significant controversy and violence, most notably in Charlottesville, Virginia. President Trump’s infamous response to the car assault on counter-protestors who opposed the United the Right rally – an attack that killed Heather Heyes and injured 28 others, was to blame “both sides” and to argue that there were some “very fine people” among the white nationalist protestors.
129. Larry Hoover is a living statue.
[Hoover’s organization had gained significant social and political influence in Chicago at the time of his 1995 indictment, and Hoover himself had gained living legend status for wielding his influence even from prison.]
130. He’s a beacon for us that needs to see his family; that needs to go out and represent.
131. When you have a block leader on every single block, they can own the block as their own.
132. That’s something I learned from Jim Brown, from “Amer-I-Can.”
133. We need to put curriculums for people who really came from the streets, not people who were just trying to set us up to go into a work system or prison system that applies to what people are really going through, which Jim Brown has created.
What about gun violence? With all the debate about the Second Amendment going on, how do you fix that?
134. The problem is illegal guns.
135. Illegal guns is the problem, not legal guns.
[Most gun crime is likely committed by people who illegally possess the guns they use, although data is incomplete. However, for mass shootings, which have driven the gun control debate in recent years, Mother Jones has compiled a database going back to 1982 that shows that 80% of these crimes were committed with legally obtained firearms.]
136. We have the right to bear arms.
[Vox.com has some interesting pieces detailing how the idea that the Second Amendment guarantees an inalienable individual right to bear arms is a relatively recent interpretation and one that largely resulted from NRA lobbying and activism.]
President Trump has said that he favors “stop and frisk.” Are guys going to be discussing that? Do you think you can change his mind?
137. Yeah, we’re going to discuss that.
[Just days earlier, President Trump had been advocating for “stop and frisk” during a speech to police chiefs from across the nation.]
138. I didn’t mean to put you on blast like that, bro, but –
[Others had already criticized the President’s stance, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who called Trump “clueless” for advocating a return to “stop and frisk.”
No, no. It’s OK. (Laughter.)
But this is definitely a –
Hey, I’m open-minded. I’m here. I am open-minded.
Mr. President, would you like him to speak at one of your rallies?
He can speak for me anytime he wants He’s been a great guy. He’s a smart cookie. Smart. He gets it. These two guys – Jim Brown. He’s been doing this for a long time.
Is this a future presidential candidate?
Could very well be.
139. Only after him.
140. It’ll be 2024.
Could very well be. That’s good. I’m glad to hear that.
141. We have a good – and the thing is, let’s stop worrying about the future.
142. All we really have is today; we just have today.
[These are kind of different, if not contradictory, concepts: one involves infinite repetition, while the other involves progress (at least within the hero’s story), although, to be fair, the hero’s journey could itself be the set of events that is infinitely repeated.
144. And Trump is on his hero’s journey right now.
[President Trump being on a hero’s journey implies that he will not only emerge victorious, but also that he will be changed or transformed by the experience, gaining wisdom or insight that he can then share with others for their benefit. West seems to think Trump capable of such change, as evidenced by West’s attempt to engage the president and urging for others do to likewise. Trump, meanwhile , seems to be adamantly opposed to such growth, seeing the requisite acknowledgement that he was wrong or lacked some important knowledge as a sign of weakness, as presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin argues
145. And he might not have expected to have a crazy (expletive) like Kanye West run up and support, but best believe we are going to make America great.
145. Now, the thing is my – another thing is black people have an issue with the word “again.”
[The phrase “Make America Great Again” implies a return to some, unspecified, moment or era in the country’s past, and since nearly all of that past has featured restrictions on black rights and freedom, there is understandable skepticism of the slogan and a belief that it is, at least in part, coded language or perhaps racial dog whistling]
146. And I believe – my feeling from that is because I’m going to throw – I’m going to go all the way, (inaudible), because time is a myth.
[Various philosophers and scientists have and continue to debate whether “time” is an objective feature of the universe or a mental construct used by humans to make sense of the world around them. The debate is fairly esoteric.]
147. All we have is now, all we have is today.
[West’s emphasis of this point both speaks to a desire to “stop worrying about the future,” as he urged earlier, and to not look too deeply at the past, as he seems to imply in the next statement.
148. So the word “again” – it doesn’t hurt us because the idea of racism and slavery, different things; it hurts us because we need to focus on who we are now, today, I believe.
[West’s assertion here ignores, or at least sidesteps, the idea that America has, purposely if not consciously, never had an honest conversation about slavery and its legacy since blacks were freed after the Civil War.]
149. So I actually brought some hats in that have a bit of a transition.
150. I’m not trying to put you – (inaudible) in the spot a little bit.
151. I made a hat that says “Make America Great,” just that.
152. But I would love to see, at the Super Bowl, Trump wearing the “Make America Great” hat; Colin (Kaepernick) making – wearing the “Make America Great,” and showing that we can bend a bit on this side, we can bend a bit on this side, and we can learn how to be malleable in the infinite universe that we are and the loving beings that we are, that we don’t have to stick to our own traditions, and we aren’t a side.
Such an event would be monumental, but would have to overcome a fair amount of animosity. Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized Kaepernick by name and other NFL players for their protests (and the league for not stopping them). Trump’s public pressure on the NFL to crack down on protests led to Kaepernick’s legal team seeking to depose the President as part of Kaepernick’s lawsuit against the NFL for allegedly blackballing him from the league.
Kaepernick, for his part, dismissed both 2016 presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as “proven liars,” and specifically said of Trumps MAGA slogan: “He always says, ‘Make America great again.’ Well, America has never been great for people of color, and that’s something that needs to be addressed. Let’s make America great for the first time.”
155. We might have been here before, but right now we’re here together, and our greatest value that people have are other people.
[West returns to the idea of the eternal return, or of history repeating itself.]
Sir, what do you want this meeting to lead to in terms of prison reform?
Honestly, from our standpoint, this was just set up to be a lunch of two people that I like. And I guess they like me. And we’re going to have lunch. We’re going to talk.
157. You said — you said, I guess, you know I love you.
Did I —
But I don’t want to take — I don’t want to put you in that spot, but —
158. No, I’m standing in that spot.
[West has of late been taking a stand – figuratively and literally – for people he admires and/or feels are being unfairly attacked.]
159. I love this guy right here.
160. Let me give this guy a hug right here. (Laughter.) I love this guy right here.
And there we have it. I think I need a break – perhaps I’ll dust off College Dropout to get a dose of “that old Kanye.”