It’s early in the morning and Twitter is ablaze after a far-right political tweet storm with intentions to “make America great again” went viral. But this time, the hands firing off tweets aren’t orange — they’re black.
“The hat, then the flame emojis?” Kanye West says to me, as if anything I say to him would ever convince him to stop; I’ve seen several close family members try to no avail, and the thought of a music journalist with nothing more than a WiFi connection and a drive to expose the truth doing the trick now seems unlikely. “‘Aight, sent.”
We’re inside the 21-time Grammy-winning bloggers’ luxurious, hi-tech home studio when he asks this question. A few hip-hop icons have filtered in and out of the studio for features today, but West made me promise to not note their names in this piece. I’ve been granted access through a publicist with his label, and although he is not particularly happy to have a no-nonsense reporter in his creative space, he also doesn’t seem to mind having an extra sounding board.
But before long, West announces that it’s time to go get some food, and offers to drive me.
Last year, a rally organized by the alt-right in Charlottesville, Virginia turned deadly when James Fields drove his car into a group of people peacefully protesting against white supremacist efforts to keep up a statue of a Confederate general and “unite the right.”
I try to get in some questions on the ride over, but West’s phone rings almost all day — and he always picks up. It’s hard to not notice that in conversations with friends, he uses the N-word frequently. His Twitter is also littered with the slur — along with tone-deaf praise for President Trump, whom the alt-right refers to as “God Emperor Trump.”
Unannounced to me, we’re meeting up with West’s wife, celebrity Kim Kardashian, for dinner. Her connections to the alt-right and fascism aren’t immediately clear. The couple wanted to try a new restaurant they heard about through an online community of theirs.
It’s Russian food.
The intelligence community has long believed the Kremlin organized a concerted and sophisticated effort to fan flames of political polarization in the U.S. According to the FBI, the Russians used fake social media accounts to promote #MAGA and other messages similar to the ones Kanye West and alt-right darling Milo Yiannopoulos have used online.
“Hey, baby. How are you?” Kardashian softballed to West, sidestepping his far-right Russian Twitter propaganda and what is, now obviously, internalized racism. They embrace.
“Good. Long day, though. Great to see my girl,” he responds. “How did North do today?”
West was referencing the couple’s daughter and an afterschool program she’s struggled to adjust to, but the daily catch-up between the two busy parents is cut short by a waiter approaching the table.
The waiter’s name is Richard.
Richard Spencer coined the term “alt-right” in 2010 while writing for the proto-fascist magazine radixjournal. Soon after, he went full blown white nationalist and teamed up with neo-nazis. The Southern Poverty Law Center says he is one of the leading figures of modern day racism.
The dinner is nice, but before I get any questions in West offers me a ride home.
When a white, alt-right cis male drove a van into a crowd in Toronto, he did so in the name of misogyny — something West’s lyrics spout nonstop. It’s hard to say whether West was indirectly influential in the culture that led to such an attack… or perhaps even directly responsible, due to what I can only assume is his likely participation in dark web communities of alt-right and Russian trolls.
But one thing is clear: There will sadly always be a market for people of color unwilling to speak the words I want them to. And it’s up to journalists like me to call them on it when I see it.