Are criticisms of Kanye West motivated by white supremacy?

February 12, 2015 Pop Culture Comments (62) 6641

By now you’ve already seen it, or at least you know the story: At the 2015 Grammy Awards, Kanye West responded to Beck winning the year’s best album award by intruding onto the stage, apparently ready to relive his infamous 2009 moment with Taylor Swift before reconsidering and returning to his seat. Afterward, Kanye was quoted as saying Beck “needed to respect artistry” and give his award to Beyonce.

If you didn’t see the little drama play out live (if, like me, you ignore the Grammys as one more among a slew of bloated, masturbatory and irrelevant award shows) then you probably learned about Kanye and Beck from the ensuing controversy, pre-packaged and ready-made for social networks. By reversing course and not taking the mic, Kanye even kept his intrusion brief enough to fit in a Vine. At last count it had just over 3.2 million loops, and I bet only 100,000 of those are from Kanye watching himself. Shirley Manson of Garbage delivered a carefully worded skewering, and millions of everyday viewers have either chided or cheered Kanye.

…and this is where I get a little uncomfortable. The image above was among the many memes and responses trending on Facebook and other social networks. Any pop culture controversy, especially one involving Kanye West, is going to wake up Racist Twitter, but something about this image felt subtle and coded. I didn’t recognize the man in the picture (first mistaking him for Metallica frontman James Hetfield) but it turns out this is Zakk Wylde, former guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne and founder of the heavy metal band Black Label Society.

Now, to be clear I’m not accusing Wylde of racism–but he’s almost certainly not the one who created this meme, and heavy metal has long been a favorite of the white supremacist movement. With his beard and long hair, the leather wraps and gothic font, he becomes is a nordic warrior, his chosen weapon on a studded leather strap, standing atop a mountain and promising implied harm to his interrupting foe. Continue Reading

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