Kanye West Apologizes For His Slavery Comments & Breaks Down In Tears (Video)
For well over a decade, Kanye West has been one of the most polarizing figures in pop culture. From stating on live TV that then President George W. Bush did not care about Black people, to storming the stage at the 2009 VMAs in protest of Taylor Swift, Kanye has not shied away from making his feelings known, no matter what the stage.
In the early stages of these episodes, West’s actions seemed to be that of a person passionate for justice, whether that be for the disenfranchised residents of the 9th ward of New Orleans or for what he saw as true artistic excellence. As time went by, however, there was a shift in his tone and the substance of his grievances. His rants, particularly on stage, began to become more insular and narcissistic. He lashed out at people who questioned his inability to realize his dreams in fashion, and he ranted about feeling abandoned by people close to him, like JAY-Z and Beyoncé. The behavior eventually led to a well-publicized breakdown, which saw West hospitalized in 2016 and treated for what was later revealed to be bipolar disorder.
Since that ordeal, the Kanye West that emerged has been similarly passionate and vocal, but the causes he has championed have become unrecognizable to those who supported him for much of his career. Despite the overtly racist and sexist ideas espoused by Donald Trump in his candidacy for President and after his election, West stated an affinity for Trump, meeting with him, posing for photos and frequently sporting a hat with Trump’s divisive “Make America Great Again” slogan. Despite the constant entreatments by friends and fans, alike, West refused to waiver in his support of Donald Trump the man, even if he might not share all of his political beliefs.
That behavior waned in comparison, however, to the remarks that Kanye made on May 1, 2018, during a live interview with TMZ, where he said “When you hear about slavery for 400 years…For 400 years?? That sounds like a choice. Like, you was there for 400 years, and it’s all of y’all??” Slavery was a choice. With those 4 words, West set off a virtual explosion across media in every form, and unleashed a level of outrage and hurt that stood out, even in a world numbed by unpunished police killings of unarmed people, record-setting temperatures, and an unceasingly oppressive Trump news cycle. In fact, for nearly a week, Kanye West actually commanded as much attention as Trump, himself, in many sectors.
Since those comments, West has addressed his words, claiming to the New York Times that he never said “slavery was a choice.” When asked if he thought slavery in this country was a choice, West responded “Well, I never said that.” He then followed up with “I wouldn’t frame a one-liner or a headline. What I would say is actually it’s literally like I feel like I’m in court having to justify a robbery that I didn’t actually commit, where I’m having to somehow reframe something that I never said. I feel stupid to have to say out loud that I know that being put on the boat was — but also I’m not backing down, bro. What I will do is I’ll take responsibility for the fact that I allowed my voice to be used back to back in ways that were not protective of it when my voice means too much.” If people were looking for an apology, that was not it. Instead, when given the opportunity, Kanye denied, then stopped short of apologizing, before doubling down on his right to say what he wanted and blaming others for using his own words against him.
Now, nearly two months after that exchange with the Times, things have changed. When sitting face to face with radio personalities from WGCI in his hometown of Chicago, Kanye’s tone and demeanor were strikingly different when confronted about how his words have made Black people feel. “One thing is, I don’t know if I properly apologized for how that slave comment made people feel, so I want to take this moment right now to say that I’m sorry for hurting. I’m sorry for the one-two effect of the MAGA hat into the slave comment, and I’m sorry for people who felt let down by that moment.” While the apology is about how he made people feel, rather than the substance of what he said, his delivery is humble, seemingly heartfelt, and without qualification.
Moments later, host Kendra G, breaks down, having heard Kanye’s apology. “As a Black woman, that’s what we miss from you, Kanye,” she says. “I was really emotional this year with some of your actions, from a Black perspective. So, I really receive your apology and I appreciate it, because you are in a position that not everyone gets to be in. When you speak, the whole world listens. And, your voice is so powerful, that you have the ability to make true changes that can affect the African-American community, so I appreciate your apology.” As her voice cracks and tears flow, her pain is palpable. It is also clear that she is representative of millions of others who have been deeply affected by West’s words.
The impact of seeing a Black woman cry right in front of him, because of hurtful comments he has made, powerfully registers with Kanye. It is clear by the pained expression on his face as he listens to her. After asking her for a hug, he confirms as much, as he says “Thank you for letting me see and feel this because when [I’m] out on TV, on social media, [I] never get this level of a connection or this level of a feeling of what my voice could really mean.” Kanye then provides insight into that statement, revealing his self-doubt about his own significance, in the face of constant criticism. “Someone could come and say ‘Well, you only stream this much’ or ‘This didn’t sell…’ and it makes you feel like your voice is not meaningful.”
It is also at this point where Kanye sheds light on the circumstances that led up to his fateful comments to TMZ. “It’s times where I think that people act out and do things because they’re lacking the love, and lacking the feeling, and lacking the family environment. Like, the need to be around the friends and the energy.” At that moment, he specifically references Don C, a longtime trusted advisor from West’s inner circle, who at one time was West’s tour manager and an executive at West’s G.O.O.D. Music. “Don C just is not around as much and the people who were around and starting to make money just didn’t care about me as much as Don C did. Kanye West is like an entity, like a money-making machine, and you get into that situation and you don’t have people that are continuously looking out for your best interests at all costs, and making sure.”
Kanye cites the TMZ incident as an example of where he was in need of someone to look out for him, and he did not have that person. “I even had people that was with me at TMZ that could have stopped it. Who could have said ‘Yo, this is going too far.’ [The people with me were] just allowing these things to happen. So, the downfall of Kanye West is directly-related to Don C not being around.”
Rather than casting blame at others for his actions, in this moment, West is acknowledging that he is vulnerable and needs help, particularly in light of his mental illness. After revealing that he is re-assembling the team that was with him in the early days and who he knows has his best interest in mind, he says “It’s a new Kanye West that you’re going to see that’s going to be better because of this mental health situation. That’s going to be better because of this TMZ situation.” West continues, on the verge of tears, “And, Don is actually in town right now because I just told him I need him to be there for me so sh*t like this don’t happen to me.”
At this point, Kanye is truly silenced. Not like he is considering what to say next before a commercial break, but because he is literally unable continue. Kanye West, the man who says he is a god and the Walt Disney of our time, breaks down in tears because he has humbled himself before the world and acknowledged that he, like most others, is broken and needs help. He is human, with flaws, and seems to have fully grasped both the weight of his recent actions and that he needs help to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
As his body heaves from sobbing, Kendra G returns the hug that Kanye gave her just moments earlier.