The purpose of an apology is to demonstrate accountability and acknowledgement for your actions or words that harmed another person. An apology is often the first step in any restoration process. What Kanye West did this week on the Chicago radio station 107.5 WGCI was not an apology.
During his interview, which ultimately went viral, West said: “I don’t know if I properly apologized for how the slavery comment made people feel… I’m sorry for people that felt let down by that moment.” He expressed his understanding of how his words, coupled with his professed support for President Donald Trump, shocked and hurt members of the black community who love and support him.
Yet he never actually directly apologized for saying slavery was a choice ― nor did he withdraw his support of an openly racist president.
If West seeks to repair his relationship with his fans and the black community, he would first need to apologize for what he said, not for how people felt about it.
West’s comments about slavery were arguably more hurtful than his support of Trump ― which is why many people are still angry with him. In the initial TMZ video that sparked the outrage, writer Van Lathan perfectly summed up the feelings that erupted all over social media:
There are real-world, real-life consequence behind everything that you just said. And while you are making music and being an artist and living the life that you’ve earned by being a genius, the rest of us in society have to deal with these threats to our lives… We have to deal with the marginalization that has come from the 400 years of slavery that you said, for our people, was a choice. Frankly, I’m disappointed, I’m appalled and, brother, I am unbelievably hurt by the fact that you have morphed into something, to me, that’s not real.
West’s “apology” this week was also not real. His fans, myself included, are still disappointed, appalled, unbelievably hurt and, now, feeling manipulated.
In his non-apology, West said: “I appreciate you guys holding on to me as a family… Sometimes I don’t think people feel the love.”
Well, the best way to receive love is to show love. How is West showing love to the black community? Certainly not by aligning himself with the man who calls Mexicans rapists, seeks to ban Muslims, keeps children in cages and encourages a neo-Nazi movement. Certainly not by tugging on the black community’s heartstrings and turning the tables on us for not being there for him when in fact he was the one who abandoned us.
Attempting to manipulate our loyalty and support is not new, or exclusive to West. The loyalty of the black community, as many politicians (specifically Democrats) have shown, is often taken for granted and exploited. Our loyalty and support are expected to be given without question and maintained without reciprocity.
After West’s quasi-apology, Kendra G, the DJ interviewing West, tearfully told him: “Your voice is so powerful, you have the ability to make true changes that can affect the African-American community.”
Sure, West isn’t required to be the designated voice for the community. Black people are not a monolith, and the pressure to try to speak for an entire race is unrealistic. However, this doesn’t mitigate the real pain he caused with his words ― a pain that in his “apology” he merely addressed. Seeking forgiveness for an offense without offering an actual apology, or a plan for restoration, places the responsibility to repair the harm on the offended party. Maybe West is truly interested in trying to repair some of the harm he caused, but he skipped a few steps.
If West seeks to repair his relationship with his fans and the black community, he would first need to apologize for what he said, and not how people felt about it. And West knows something about how to issue a suitable apology that indicates clear responsibility. He demonstrated he is capable of this during his apology to the artist Beck following the 2015 Grammy Awards. In fact, West has a long history of managing to offer direct apologies when money and relationships are at stake.
It also wouldn’t hurt for West to publicly revoke his support for Trump. His endorsement of the president was loud and deliberate, and his effort at repairing the harm should mirror his actions. West should make a greater effort to understand how this administration’s policies affect members of marginalized communities, including the community he comes from.
I want to believe that the same Kanye who once declared on live television that a sitting president did not care about black people is still in there.
My love for Kanye makes me want to believe that the same young man from the “Chi” who once declared on live television that a sitting president did not care about black people is still in there. Maybe he just needs to be better informed. Maybe that information will bring revelation. And I hope that revelation will cause activation, and he will begin to amplify groups that are working to prevent and undo racist policies enacted by the Trump administration. Maybe he will use his voice to once again unapologetically call out injustice where he sees it (be it on a VMA stage or in response to a president’s inaction), instead of endorsing Trump’s reign of terror.
Yeezy ended the interview by thanking his fans for riding with him and promising that we’d see “a new Ye.” But what would a new Kanye actually look like? If he decides to dedicate himself to this level of self-education, impose clear action steps, and offer an actual apology, perhaps it will be easier to fully give West what he’s asked for: continued love and support from his community.
I cannot state with certainty that any of these actions will completely redeem the hurt he caused. But I do know that a true apology entails more than vague wordplay. It requires action, and it is devoid of manipulation.
History shows how many people have tried to manipulate the loyalty of the black community to further political and personal agendas. Time will tell if the same can be said of West’s “apology.” Until then, I hope he surrounds himself with some real friends who will protect him when it all falls down, and help him remember that old college dropout dude. And if he does, I will celebrate his homecoming.