AbleismAccessibilityIntersectional IssuesSkepticism

Kanye West and Fake Disability Activists

In case you haven’t heard, at a recent concert, Kanye West told everyone in the crowd to stand up, “unless you got a handicap pass and you get special parking and shit.” He spotted two people who remained sitting, and one raised a prosthetic limb in the air, to which Kanye said he was fine. He then sent his bodyguard out into the crowd, who confirmed that the person who remained sitting was in a wheelchair, at which point Kanye said that person was fine and then immediately started his song.

Kanye West, performing at a music festivalI want to unequivocally state this: what Kanye did was wrong. It is humiliating and degrading to have to “prove” a disability, and requiring a visual cue to show disability ignores the wide range of invisible disabilities. For example, I rarely go to concerts, but when I do, I find a place to sit because I cannot stand (especially in a hot, crowded room) for more than a few minutes at a time. However, I do not use an assistive device, so there’s no way I could “prove” my disability. I hope he refrains from doing this at concerts in the future (though I doubt he will, because really, what’s a mob to a king?*). So, just to reiterate: what Kanye did at this concert was wrong.

However.

I have seen a litany of cries against Kanye, most of them being something along the lines of “I already hated Kanye, but this makes me hate him more!” Which, quite honestly, makes me really question your concern for disability rights. From what I’ve seen of most people who are criticizing Kanye, it really comes across as if you’re just using a disabled person as your excuse for continuing to hate Kanye. Which, in case you didn’t know, is really fucked up.

Disabled people do not exist to be a bolster to your anti-Kanye argument. I’ll admit: a few years ago, I, too, was on the anti-Kanye bandwagon. I mean, who wasn’t? He interrupted poor Taylor Swift at the VMA’s! (I mean, ignoring the fact that Taylor’s video is pretty clearly just a sexist remake of She’s All Thatwhereas Single Ladies is a feminist, artistic vision that’s only been topped by the unparalleled success of the visual album Beyoncé released last year. But I digress.) After years of hating Kanye for “being a jerk,” I finally started to really look into what he was doing and started to critically think about my preconceived notions of him. That’s when I realized a lot of what the media was saying about Kanye (and my previous ideas of him) were rooted in racism. Surprise! Racism’s still alive, they just be concealing it.**

Now, if you’re a disabled person, or a disability rights activist, or someone who truly and genuinely cares about disability issues, then please, feel free to criticize him. But if you’re just hopping on this bandwagon–without really knowing anything about disability issues– to criticize an outspoken black man, then please step down. In case you’re not sure which group you’re in, let me break this down for you:

  • If you’ve ever said, “Well, it’s really expensive to add wheelchair ramps” as an excuse for why buildings should be allowed to not have wheelchair ramps, you don’t get to criticize Kanye!
  • If you’ve ever said that people on disability are “moochers” or a drain on society, you don’t get to criticize Kanye!
  • If you think people should have to “prove” their disability to you, you don’t get to criticize Kanye!
  • If you shared George Takei’s disability meme, you don’t get to criticize Kanye! (You should really read that link, there are some horrifying stories of strangers “disability policing” the author.)
  • If you don’t care about discrimination in healthcare decisions against disabled people, you don’t get to criticize Kanye!
  • If you don’t mind that almost all portrayals of disabled people on screen are by able-bodied actors, you don’t get to criticize Kanye!
  • If you think it’s okay that disabled people are paid less than minimum wage, you don’t get to criticize Kanye! (Before you ask me to go get a job today, can I at least get a raise on a minimum wage?***)

 

I’m not trying to say that if you aren’t up-to-date on every issue facing the disabled community, you’re not a good ally. What I’m trying to say is that 1) Kanye is not significantly worse than the average American in regards to ableism, and 2) if you’re using a disabled person’s discomfort as a way to further your racist agenda against Kanye, then you’re even worse than him. Disabled people don’t need your fake concern.

Asterisk’d lines are quotes from the following Kanye West songs:

*No Church in the Wild
**Never Let Me Down
***Heard ‘Em Say

(Featured image via rodrigoferrari, insert photo by Dell Inc.

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Sarah

Sarah

Sarah is a feminist, atheist vegan with Crohn’s Disease, and she won’t shut up about any of those things. You really need to follow her on Twitter (and probably Google+, just to be safe).

1 Comment

  1. September 21, 2014 at 8:10 pm —

    This makes me really uncomfortable. I’m sure that a lot of the criticism directed towards Kanye West has something to do with racism – he’s American, and America is a very racist place. However, I am also quite sure that a lot of that criticism is valid.

    I don’t know nearly as much as you do about disability issues. I cannot claim to be a disability-rights activist. And I haven’t criticized Kanye much in the past because I am generally unaware of what’s going on in pop culture. However, that doesn’t mean that I must step down from criticizing this “outspoken black man” who, in addition to being outspoken, also happens to be a complete and total asshole.

    I don’t think it’s okay that disabled people are paid less than minimum wage, because the legality of such a system implies that they are inherently inferior and need to be coddled by the charitable employers who allow them to work. Similarly, I don’t think it’s right to just call such a huge asshole “outspoken” and wave away one of the only two instances of his assholery that you mention (Taylor Swift is not as feminist as Beyoncé!), because this is a well-educated, intelligent, talented, self-appointed member of the cultural vanguard we’re talking about. When you write about the people who despise him, and neglect to mention many of their reasons for despising him while simultaneously focusing on his race, you wrongly imply that the main motivation for non-disability-activists to despise him is his race. And that simply is not true.

    By giving such a woefully incomplete account of his pattern of behavior and focusing on his skin color, you are holding him to an insultingly low standard because of his race – just like those voters who hold disabled people to an insultingly low standard because of their disabilities.

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