"He's a jack-ass."
President Obama is speaking, in this clip from off-the-record portion of a 2009 CNBC interview that was later leaked, about singer Kanye West. It was right after West had jumped onstage at the 2009 Music Video Awards and interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptance speech for Best Female Video category, insisting that Beyonce's video in that category was "one of the best of all time."
More recently, Obama publicly called Kanye West a jack-ass in an article in The Atlantic...a talented jack-ass, but a jack-ass.
I know pretty much nothing about Kanye West (expect that he married one of the Kardashians, because it was difficult to miss that story this summer), but the Taylor Swift incident pretty much had me and just about everyone I know convinced that he's just astoundingly arrogant and really not a person in whom I'm all that interested. But even I couldn't miss the news of his apparent need to get the disability community's attention last week.
You got our attention, Kanye West. Congratulations on a job well done, jack-ass.
Setting the Scene: September 10, 2014, Melbourne, Australia
You've paid good money for a ticket to a Kanye West concert on his "Yeezus" tour. (Your guess is as good as mine.) You're wearing a cast.
When the song "Good Life" comes on, West stops the music and claims that he can't go on until everyone in the audience is standing...unless you're handicapped, and willing to pull out your "handicapped pass" right now. He walks around the stage asking seated people why they're not standing.
Since you're wearing a cast, he tells you that it's okay for you to stay seated.
But it gets worse.
Setting the Scene: September 12, 2014, Syndey, Australia
It's September 12 in Sydney, Australia. You've paid good money for a ticket to a Kanye West concert on his "Yeezus" tour. You're using a wheelchair.
Again, when the song "The Good Life" comes on, the music stops, and Kanye West demands that everyone stand...unless you “got a handicap pass” and “get special parking and s**t”. You are one of the two that he zones in on as not standing up - the other is man that uses a prosthetic, that he waves in the air as proof of not being able to stand. Despite audience members around you yelling that you're in a wheelchair and making motions like they are in a wheelchair, and despite Kanye West saying that if you're in a wheelchair, it's okay if you don't stand up, he sends a bodyguard to check to make sure that you are indeed in a wheelchair.
Onstage, West says, "This is the longest I've had to wait to do this song. This is unbelievable."
Once he's sure that the people who aren't standing up are in wheelchairs, he goes on with the song.
Washington Post Article on the Sydney Incident
Let's Talk About Kanye West and How He Treats His Disabled Fans
Now, just to start with...I really resent the idea of being told how I have to enjoy the music at a concert, just as a matter of principle. The first concert I went to, I was at the start of a stomach virus. While I managed not to throw up, I was fairly nauseous through the whole thing, and I don't remember standing up a whole lot, and I don't know how pleasant it would have been for everyone if someone had made me.
I don't know how much a ticket to a Kanye West concert goes for, but I'd imagine it's probably more money than I spend on a couple of weeks worth of groceries right now, and I'll be damned if I, as a member of the audience whose financial support even allows the performer to tour, am going to be told by said performer, "If you don't do it my way, I'm not going to play."
Whatever. It almost...almost...makes me want to buy a ticket to one of his concerts so that I can remain sitting down when he insists that I have to stand up, just because I have the right to do so. I'm really rubbed the wrong way by this.
However, there's a larger issue here, and Scott Jordan Harris sums it up quite nicely:
"Kanye West gave so little thought to disabled people that he was surprised to find two among an audience of thousands. When he did, he felt it was his right as an able-bodied person to determine whether those people met his personal standard for disability. This attitude comes from the belief that public spaces belong to the able-bodied and that disabled people can only ever trespass in them."
What did these disabled people get for daring to buy a ticket to a Kanye West concert?
- They were shamed because they couldn't stand
- They were centred out in front of an entire concert venue audience on the basis of their disabilities
- They had to "prove" that they were disabled to Kanye West before he'd continue the performance
- Because *he* needed the proof, they were made to feel like they were holding up the concert
Not only would I have left, I would have asked for my money back.
It shouldn't be a shock to anyone that Kanye West hasn't given any thought to what his behaviour says about how he views disabled people and their place in the world. The man obviously needs a separate tour bus for his ego.
What still should at least give us pause is that society doesn't think all that differently than Kanye West does:
"He can walk fine...why has he got a sticker?" I've heard people say, watching someone walk from their car parked in the disabled parking spot to a store door.
"That person's not disabled enough to get benefits. Scrounger." I don't like to think about how many people in England have heard this said over the last few years, possibly about them when they were in earshot.
"Why is he using a scooter? I've seen him walk." I've heard this a lot about disabled people in my community who end up using scooters instead of manual or electric wheelchairs.
Many non-disabled people (and sometimes even among other disabled people) seem to think that they have the right to declare, based on what they think disability should look like, whether it's "okay" for a person to do/not do certain things, act/not act in certain ways, have/not have certain supports...it doesn't always come with the arrogance of Kanye West declaring it's "okay" that you remain seated once you've proven that you can't stand up from a wheelchair, but even the more subtle manifestations are still a reminder that there's a perception out there that if disabled people expect to participate in society, we should expect to have to prove that we're "disabled enough" to the general public every now and then.
There are very few people to whom I have to prove that I'm disabled. They are service providers that need proof of disability so that I can start/keep receiving some sort of service. I'm not crazy about this, but it's part of life, it's fairly infrequent, and I deal with it.
I do not have to prove that I'm disabled to a person on the street, another disabled person, or anyone else that I don't want to. That includes Kanye West and any other jack-ass pop-singer whose ego is so fragile that he can't bear not to have every single person in the audience up and dancing during a performance.
I'm nearly 37 and I'm too old for this crap - from Kanye West and anyone else. But let's just say I have further incentive not to buy any of any Kanye West's albums.