The rapper and entrepreneur wore a T-shirt with the words ‘White Lives Matter’ on the back to his Yeezy show in Paris, causing Black activists and concerned citizens to criticise the “racist” undertones of his fashion statement.
“I Don’t Care Who’s It Is If I Don’t Feel The Message I’m Out,” tweeted Jaden Smith, as he walked out of Kanye West’s fashion show in Paris on October 3, 2022, before adding “Black Lives Matter.”
Rapper, singer, actor and the son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, Jaden was reacting to West’s controversial choice of wear, a long-sleeved T-shirt with the words “White Lives Matter” emblazoned on its back.
West was in France to promote his Yeezy Season 9 clothing designs at Paris Fashion Week. He and conservative commentator Candace Owens wore the same design, on different coloured shirts.
Kanye’s T-shirt evoked negative reactions in many people, especially because it was seen as the antithesis of the Black Lives Matter movement which aims to highlight and put an end to everyday racism against Blacks.
New York-based anti-hate organisation Anti-Defamation League calls “White Lives Matter” a white supremacist phase “that originated in early 2015 as a racist response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which arose to protest against police brutality against African-Americans and garnered considerable publicity in 2014 for protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting death of Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson police officer.”
According to ADL, “Since 2015, white supremacists in several states … have promoted the slogan ‘White Lives Matter’ with flyers and protests, forming a loose campaign to popularize the phrase,” while “By 2016 other white supremacist groups, including Ku Klux Klan groups, were also using the slogan.”
So why did Kanye West use such a divisive and racist slogan? Nobody knows, but people hypothesised that the rapper and entrepreneur wants to stay newsworthy and sell some clothes in the process.
West’s T-shirt had the image of Pope John Paul II, while Owens’ had Pope John Paul I. Both T-shirts had the words “Juan Pablo” at the bottom the Spanish words “Seguiremos Tu Ejemplo”: “We will follow your example,” the LA Times reported.
Jemele Hill, a Black writer who is a contributor to the Atlantic magazine has tweeted that even if Kanye’s T-shirt were a marketing stunt, it is “a dangerously dumb message” for someone with as many followers as he has.
So many folks are trying to excuse Kanye wearing a white lives matter t-shirt as just a troll move or marketing. Maybe it is. But it’s a dangerously dumb message to send for someone with his massive platform. I been off dude. But y’all go ahead labeling his foolishness as genius.— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) October 3, 2022
Kanye West on October 4 posted then later deleted a story on Instagram accusing the BLM movement: “EVERYONE KNOWS THAT BLACK LIVES MATTER WAS A SCAM NOW ITS OVER YOU’RE WELCOME.”
According to Hip Hop DX website, West was referencing the multi-million dollar financial scandals that have plagued the organisation.
Writing for the Independent, Ahmed Baba pointed out that “West attacking the BLM nonprofit doesn’t excuse him from choosing to wear a symbol of white supremacy.”
The organisation Black Lives Matter Grassroots has released a statement to US media outlet TMZ, noting that “Kanye West and Candace Owens sent a performative dog whistle to millions. Kanye knows very well that ‘white lives’ have never been targeted for oppression.
“Black folks, in contrast, are at the bottom of virtually every economic, social, and political measure because of centuries of individual and institutional racism.
"Building a world of Black freedom means upending systems that harm and building new systems of care. Ultimately this benefits everyone. When Black people get free, everybody gets free.”