By Sofie Kagan
Content Warning: anti-semitism
I came up with the idea for this piece last Friday when I heard Ye, formally Kanye West, play on Harbord’s morning announcement system. I suddenly realized how pervasive Ye’s influence is and how critical this topic is having just read the powerful book, Maus, by Art Spiegelman and felt moved to write about it.
This year in my Grade 10 English class at Harbord with Ms. Barker we read the compelling Holocaust-themed graphic novel, Maus, and it couldn't have been better timed. It was one of the most impactful books about the Holocaust I have ever read. In my opinion, everyone needs to be reminded about this extremely disturbing, yet hugely educational chapter in world history. If you haven’t already read Maus, I highly recommend you do. We need to discuss rather than remain silent, stand up against rather than run away from, and name rather than erase these issues, so the trauma and horrific mistakes of the past are never repeated again.
Using effective graphic images, Maus revolves around the story of Polish Jews: Vladek Spiegleman, a Holocaust survivor, and his son Art, the narrator. The book features a forward-backwards storytelling technique which really helps showcase the intergenerational trauma the Holocaust inflicted and continues to inflict on survivors and their families. Prior to the Holocaust, Vladek led a relatively charmed life with his loving wife Anja, but all that changed dramatically, as he was left highly damaged by his experiences and struggled to relearn how to express love and sustain relationships in the aftermath. Talking about these atrocities and their effects on subsequent generations is hard and uncomfortable, but necessary. While many people, including some educators, think it is no longer relevant to teach about, and openly discuss, long-past events like the Holocaust, instead preferring to just move on from these dark, shameful parts of our history. I think it's really important to continue to revisit and speak out about these events. The critical lessons they contain are just as valid today as ever, and it is imperative that they not go unlearned or, worse yet, be misunderstood.
The relevancy of Maus couldn’t be more obvious in the face of the recent ongoing controversy with former billionaire pop rap icon Ye. Not unlike Nazi brainwashing during WWII, Ye has repeatedly, unapologetically spoken out publicly against Jewish people as a group. He has long been known as a controversial figure, but this recent spate of lies and misinformation has taken things to a new more alarming level. In a recent interview with Chris Cuomo, Ye angrily referred to an alleged “Jewish underground media mafia”, whom he suggested controls everything and exploits celebrities for power and profit. As someone in his position with twice as many followers on Twitter as there are Jewish people in the world, Ye’s perpetuation of harmful stereotypes, debunking conspiracy theories, and promoting gross generalizations about an entire group is extremely dangerous. Ye is known to struggle with his mental health and also claims a Jewish psychiatrist misdiagnosed him as bipolar. However he justifies his outrage, there is no excusing his Twitter post alarmingly announcing that he plans to go “death con 3 on Jewish People.” Words have far too often been trivialized and acted as a stepping stone to far worse acts of violence and aggression. In the Holocaust, Nazis first spread lies and hate, blamed the Jews for everything wrong, then burned Jewish books, before literally burning Jewish bodies.
In a time of increasing economic troubles, with white supremacy and hate crimes yet again on the rise, it is great to see numerous celebrities, including his ex-wife Kim Kardashian, speak out against Ye’s hate speech. Further, he has now lost his agent and blown up his billion-dollar contracts and status with big companies like Adidas and The Gap no longer supporting him. Thankfully, hashtags like #cancelkanye or #cancelye have started to populate social media. While cancel culture is sometimes viewed as a questionable practice, over-reactive and unfairly penalizing people to the point of doing more harm than good, in this case, it seems very helpful. Ye has had a long track record of problematic views and speech including blatant anti-semitism, attacks on women’s reproductive rights, suggesting slavery was “a choice,” and even wearing a “White lives matter” T-shirt at Paris fashion week this year.
Unfortunately, Ye is just one of many trying to undo the social progress we’ve achieved waking up to the numerous too often overlooked injustices and inequities in our society. This anti-woke trend is gaining steam and those of us who appreciate and value true freedom and equal opportunity for all regardless of their background need to educate ourselves. Given the increase in racial tensions and hate crimes in North America, novels like Maus need to be on everyone’s must-read list. Stand up against prejudice, intolerance, hatred, and discrimination. Choose love, not hate, peace, not conflict, and let’s all make sure that “Never again” is not just another empty slogan!