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Clarence Page: As the former Kanye West sows, so may Ye reap

Adidas ended its partnership, followed by Gap, Foot Locker and other brands totaling $2 billion worth of business. "Adidas does not tolerate antisemitism and any other sort of hate speech," the company said.

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Kanye West, center, attends the Givenchy Spring-Summer 2023 fashion show during the Paris Womenswear Fashion Week on Oct. 2, 2022, in Paris.
Julien De Rosa/AFP/Getty Images/TNS
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Again, I'm hearing the exasperated buzz in the air over a long-nagging question: What are we to do about Kanye?

Except recently the question has changed in tune with the new name that Chicago-born hip-hop and fashion superstar Kanye West has legally adopted, Ye.

What are we to do about Ye?

Teen Vogue Editor in Chief Versha Sharma responded to that question in an early October op-ed directed to the fashion media: Stop covering Ye without criticism.

"I know I'm not alone in feeling like the not-so-new Kanye is, in many ways, a betrayal of the old Kanye," she said as an admitted longtime fan, "something even he has acknowledged."

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I'm way older than Sharma, but you don't have to have grown up with Ye's music to feel the loss.

The question was hardly a new one for journalists covering a performer as eccentric and headline-hungry as Ye. Remember how many people were upset by his breaking away during a live TV fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Katrina to ad-lib, "(George) Bush doesn't care about black people."

Not nice, I noted at the time. Even if you didn't like all of Bush's policies -- and I didn't -- Ye's little protest struck me as whiny and ill-timed.

But Ye's strange outrages had only begun.

For example, there was his interview with Forbes in 2020, in which he warned against the coronavirus vaccine, citing the bogus conspiracy theory that it could be used to implant microchips.

Later, Ye was sued for $250 million by the family of George Floyd for saying he died of a drug overdose rather than murder by cop.

But last month, his assaults against public sensibilities picked up steam. During Paris Fashion Week, he showed up wearing a "White Lives Matter" shirt in his runway show.

What's wrong with that, you may ask? Nothing, if you've been vacationing on the moon for the past couple of years. But on this planet, the message came off as a clear attack ridiculing the movement to improve policing practices. Even the simpler message "All Lives Matter" sounds less like a poke in the eye of the liberal establishment, although that's probably what Ye had in mind, too.

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By contrast, it's not really clear what Ye had in mind with his more recent outbursts of bigoted and rambling rants on social media, in which he said he intended to go "death con 3 (sic) On JEWISH PEOPLE," and during interviews on podcasts and with Fox News' Tucker Carlson.

Those are worse than simply hurtful comments, particularly at a time when hate crimes are on the rise in Chicago and nationally. We need more clarity in our language about race, religion and ethnicity, not just reckless rants.

Nationally, the FBI reports that Jews, who constitute about 2.4% of the total adult population in the United States, were victims of 54.9% of all religiously motivated hate crimes, particularly for Orthodox Jews wearing visible symbols of their religions.

I take some encouragement from the erase-the-hate-style backlash that has begun to emerge, as modest as the famously cheeky marquee of the Wiener's Circle hot dog stand on Chicago's North Clark Street. With more hot peppers than a fully dressed Chicago-style wiener, it said: "Kanye can suck our kosher dogs."

To paraphrase the Temptations, I second that emotion.

What about his mental illness, many ask? Ye has been quite public in the past about his bipolar condition. Indeed, he looks and sounds like his mind is somewhere else in his offensive rants. But that's not an excuse. It's a plea for help. I hope he gets it.

Meanwhile, closer to Ye's wallet, so many of his partnerships for Yeezy brand sneakers and other products fled that he lost his billionaire status, according to Forbes. Adidas ended its partnership, followed by Gap, Foot Locker and other brands totaling $2 billion worth of business. "Adidas does not tolerate antisemitism and any other sort of hate speech," the company said.

Sure, it's easy to shrug off such decisions as "PR moves" or, as the far-right would say, "woke" gestures.

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But if respect for human rights and decency are good for business, that's a good reason to have more of it.

E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.

©2021 Clarence Page. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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