Does Bipolar Disorder Excuse Kanye West’s Anti-Semitic Rants? I Ask My Rapper Son

(12-8-22) How should we react to Kanye West, now known as Ye, and his histrionically antisemitic remarks?

When individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder and other serious mental illnesses say something offensive, we often remind ourselves that it is the illness speaking, not them. We ask others to consider this.

Is this the same situation now with Ye?

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Writing in New York Magazine, Columnist Eric Levitz describes the debate:

The columnist Hadley Freeman, who in her youth received treatment for anorexia nervosa at multiple psychiatric facilities, argues that his behavior is an unmistakable sign of mental-health issues…In her view, the will to deny that mental-health issues sometimes manifest in hateful ravings is indicative of our culture’s fetishization of psychological disorder. We like to imagine those suffering as “sexily impetuous” or “soulfully sensitive.” But mental illness can take ugly and frightening forms. And those suffering from “Bad Mental Illness” are no less deserving of understanding than those with “Good Mental Illness,” as she puts it. Therefore, he “doesn’t need punishment — he needs help.”

Levitz also presents the flip side:

The impulsiveness and egotism of West’s recent behavior is consistent with the symptoms of a manic episode, and West has previously spoken about his struggles with bipolar disorder. Still, many insist on drawing a sharp line between his disordered mental state and his odious ideological pronouncements. They argue, quite rightly, that neither bigotry nor antisemitism are characteristic symptoms of bipolar disorder. People with mental disorders are no more prone to hatefulness than those without. To suggest otherwise — by baselessly attributing West’s antisemitism to his psychiatric affliction — is both to promote stigma against people suffering from mental illness and to excuse his hateful diatribes as helpless spasms, if not “harmless amusements.

If you are unaware of Ye’s most recent outbreaks, here are a few representative snippets.

Ye tweeted that he was “going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE,” who he said try to “black ball anyone who opposes your agenda.”

As reported in The Washington Post: Ye praised Adolf Hitler and Nazis in an interview Thursday with far-right provocateur Alex Jones, drawing a fresh round of condemnation for his incendiary antisemitism a week after he dined with former president Donald Trump alongside white nationalist Nick Fuentes. “I like Hitler,” a fully masked Ye told Jones. Minutes later, the rapper said, “I love Jewish people, but I also love Nazis.”

My son, Kevin, follows the hip hop scene, having written and released more than 20 of his own albums. He also lives with bipolar disease so I asked him if he felt Ye should be given a free pass.

In short, he didn’t.

My thoughts on Ye.  Guest Blog By Kevin Earley.

As someone who lives with a serious mental illness and is a rapper/producer, I might have personally rooted for Ye longer than some others.  I might have downplayed some of his psychologically abusive actions towards his ex-wife, or some of his statements on slavery, because of my hoping that he would be a better person than he was.  In the past, I personally related and rooted for him because of his music and mental health struggles.  I have what I consider a strong support system, and I saw myself in Ye.  I have friends who have related that seeing him breakdown on the campaign trail reminded them of my story before I got treatment.

If I was rich and famous, I probably wouldn’t have that strong support system, I might be surrounded by “yes” people.  I might be a cautionary tale, a public trainwreck.  I might have ended up dead if I was in his shoes.

Often times, I defended some of his odd behaviors in the past.  I believe in redemption, in second, third, even fourth chances and I wanted to see him win, because I believe there is a part of him that could have been a great advocate and leader.  I’ve watched him throw it all away recently.  I don’t think a path for redemption is in his future.  He would have to do some serious work and accountability, things that I do not think are in his current capacity.

It has been like a train wreck watching him implode.

Bad news makes headlines, people love to watch someone famous, rich and powerful fall from grace.  Ye being medicated, keeping his head down, being positive and not saying provocative things, doesn’t make headlines.  We enjoy the train wreck.  We are complicit.  We enjoy the drama, the trauma and the gossip.  We can’t look away. I think even Alex Jones had some number of millions tuning in to his show yesterday to see the trainwreck.  When Alex Jones is the voice of reason, you know you have reached a stark tipping point in the conversation.

Americans even love redemption stories, people like Louis C.K. and Mel Gibson have gone on to continue working, even after navigating severe “cancellations”.  I think it is an interesting dialogue to discuss what it means to “cancel” someone, to discuss what it means to have boundaries and who is worthy of love, redemption and a comeback story.  Humans, by our nature are not built to be as forgiving as God, we are petty, vindictive and trivial.

I believe in a God that is all loving, I believe in their unconditional love and grace for redemption.  I have learned to forgive myself for things I have done that are bad, and I have forgiven others who have done things that are bad, but as a human, it is necessary to enforce social norms and boundaries.  I think it is important to be mindful of redemption and its power to transform lives, but also hold that there are limits to everything in life, and that means there are thresholds that can be crossed that are difficult for the love of humans to redeem.  As Rick Ross has stated, “God forgives, I don’t”.

Human love is different than God’s unconditional and redemptive love.

Personally, we must all decide where we draw the line.  I cannot abide by someone embracing Nazi ideology.

 I don’t know what sort of edgelord, juvenile and desperate to be provocative mindset he is in, but it isn’t justifiable.  The atrocities of the Nazis are innumerable and well documented.  Some people are unredeemable to others in the human race because of the account of their actions.  Maybe an all-loving God will find a way to forgive and love and heal, but as humans, we must work to ensure that dangerous people do not have platforms to spread their pernicious ideologies.  We can’t approach Nazism with kid gloves.

We have to have boundaries and reasonable participation in our society means adhering to some things that are settled, conventional wisdom and not up for debate.  We can’t “revisit” Nazism and find aspects of it that our ancestors might have missed. They didn’t miss anything.  Nazism is bad, it is evil.  Nazism is one of those things that you must denounce if you want to participate in civilized adult society, if you want to remain platformed, you should know this inherently, Nazis are people that have crossed the threshold to being allowed to participate in civilized society.

I am not a perfect person, I have done dumb, juvenile and embarrassing things in my past.  However, I have outgrown the need to be provocative, and I have held myself to account, dove deep into healing myself, looked at why I was hurting and how what I have done has hurt others and done the inner work necessary to emerge as a different person.  Not everybody has to give me grace or look at me as a changed person, some people never will and that is their right, but I have to forgive myself.  To me, this means taking medication, going to therapy, thinking about how my actions and what I say relates to others in the world.

I have treated my bi-polar illness.  Doctor says it is in remission.  I now know better than to say provocative things to get a rise out of people.  I know my words can heal or hurt.  I try my best every day to heal, to lead with LOVE, and to be like the unconditional love of God, but there are limits to me too.

I think Ye thinks he is pushing some sort of boundary by testing limits of “free speech” or “love” or whatever, but there is a reason Nazism is universally derided and denounced.  Millions of people died because of this sick ideology.  It isn’t funny, ironic or something to be trifled with.  It is all very well documented.

“Love everyone” is a noble goal, and even if he is trying to be like Christ and love those who are considered unredeemable or unlovable as a concept, like Hitler, flirting with Nazism is a serious slope that can often lead to real world ramifications, such as violence and hate crimes when people feel emboldened by rhetoric of famous people. There will probably be upticks in violence because of his actions. It is a reason we have boundaries in society.

Part of loving people is being aware of their faults and holding them accountable of their actions.  

There is a reason why someone like Hitler is considered unredeemable.  His actions proved that he did not want to abide by society’s agreed upon frameworks, and he has been derided because of his actions.

I believe in the healing and redemptive power of love, and it may be up to God, whom I believe is merciful, unconditional in his love and always open to extending grace to forgive people, all people, but us humans aren’t under the obligations of God to do that.  We can choose who we want to redeem and give grace to, but we are not under the same obligations of a mysterious and all powerful source.  For our own survival, and the survival or civilized society, we must denounce and stomp out all forms of Nazism. It is not to be trifled with.  It is serious.

We live in a society where everything can be made fun of, nothing is sacred and everything is up for debate.  People love to troll and be “edgy”.  But there are some things that are fundamentally wrong, fundamentally evil and must be addressed as so.  I personally don’t see Ye rebounding from this, and that is a real tragedy.  He could have been a powerful change agent, and he squandered what goodwill he had because he refused to admit that he was in the wrong.

Let that be a lesson to all of us.  A cautionary tale, a wasted talent, a real tragedy.

About the Author: Kevin “Earleybird” Earley is an artist and musician based out of Northern Virginia.  He is a graduate of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York where he studied fine art, and Virginia Commonwealth University, where he has earned his Master’s in Social Work.

His love for hip-hop goes back decades, as he wrote and performed his first raps in elementary school at the age of seven years old.  His rap name was given to him by a childhood friend, a pun based on his last name.
His writings and songs deal with mental health, race, privilege and resilience through adversity.  He speaks to inspire and resolve stigma through art.  He currently works with youth who live with mental health issues and helps mentor them to recover from their respective challenges.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.