Kanye West’s “White Lives Matter” shirt controversy

No one could have foreseen the chaos that unfolded on Yee (formerly Kanye West) on October 3rd of Yeezy Season 9. A day after opening the Balenciaga show in safety gear, the rapper-turned-fashion designer hosted a surprise runway event during Paris Fashion Week, welcoming celebrities and industry influencers on the front row, including Jaden Smith, Anna Wintour and John Galliano. Similar to his previous events, Ye incorporated a performance aspect with a children’s choir and debuted an upcoming track created with James Blake, but the real shock came when Selah Marley, Lauryn Hill’s daughter, dressed in an oversized black shirt with the Inscription “White Lives Matter” in the background.

In counterpoint to the Black Lives Matter movement, which was launched in response to police brutality and the senseless killings of black people in America, “White Lives Matter” was proclaimed a slogan of white supremacy League Against Defamation. The same catchphrase was plastered on the back of Yes Hoodie as he kicked off the experience with a speech saying, “You can’t manage me. This is an uncontrollable situation.”

Wearing his White Lives Matter shirt, he held a microphone to the fanatics who are already living by the slogan and created a shock of no value.

From wearing Donald Trump’s “Make American Great Again” hat to saying “slavery was a choice” or “Harriet Tubman never freed slaves,” West has made many questionable decisions over the years that have provoked anti- are rooted in blackness. Sending that message down the runway could be his most damaging act yet. And various celebrities, industry trendsetters and social media users have their say.

Award-winning fashion editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson described the design as “deeply offensive, violent and dangerous”. Van Lathan Jr Explained it succinctly on Instagram, writing: “We don’t need a reminder of the value of white lives. America is a shrine to the worth of white people. This message is reactionary to a message that affirms the value of black lives have never been worth anything in America. In its intent, it’s a white supremacist notion because it posits that we can’t have a conversation about black worth without having a conversation about white worth, which is fucking crazy. The idea that it ALWAYS has to be about white people in America is incredibly frustrating, emotionally draining and the whole problem. But here’s Kanye seeming to center on that notion.”

Jaden Smith left the show after seeing West’s White Lives Matter shirt, and he wasn’t the only one. “I had to dip” he tweeted. “I don’t care who it is if I don’t feel the message that I’m out.”

Following the backlash, West responded with an Instagram story attacking the movement against police brutality. “Everyone knows Black Lives Matter was a scam. Now it’s over. You’re welcome,” he said. He then targeted Karefa-Johnson in a series of inflammatory posts, attacking her wardrobe and declaring that despite her years of experience, acclaimed personal style and award-winning work as a stylist and editor, she is not a fashion person.

Karefa-Johnson’s message, echoed by several others, still resonated despite Ye’s personal attacks. There is nothing revolutionary about his shirt or his appropriation of white supremacist language. He held a microphone to the fanatics who are already living by that very slogan and created a shock of no value.

When someone his stature does something so problematic, so deeply annoying, there’s always the question of whether or not to give them airtime. By continuing to engage with his work, reporters, celebrities and social media users reinforce his message even as they denounce it. That attention might better serve color designers featured during fashion week than twirling around Ye and allowing his unsustainable behavior.

His show contained all the elements of a clickbait outrage culture production, and he successfully made himself the center of conversation. Ye identified himself as a leader during his speech, but his online bullying tactics and white supremacist message are clearly misleading.

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