Both Adidas and the Gap have distanced themselves from the artist formerly known as Kanye West. Both companies have cut sponsorship and collaborative deals with the rapper following anti-Semitic outbursts on social media.
“Ye’s recent comments and actions have been unacceptable, hateful, and dangerous, and they violate the company’s values of diversity and inclusion, mutual respect and fairness,” Adidas said in a statement.
The sportswear brand has previously said that its partnership with him was one of the most successful in its history and stood by him after his controversial remarks on slavery and COVID vaccines.
“I can say anti-Semitic s**t and Adidas can’t drop me,” Ye said on a recent podcast interview. Well, for a company that has tried to distance itself from its history of Nazi collaboration and use of Jewish slave labour, it appears that it can and will.
Gap has also released a similar statement, saying that “Antisemitism, racism and hate in any form are inexcusable and not tolerated in accordance with our values.”
Yeezy Gap products will be removed from Gap stores while their online site selling the items has been taken down. Gap has also said that they plan to partner with anti-discrimination organisations in the future.
Last week, Ye was removed from Instagram for suggesting that rapper Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs was being controlled by a shadowy cabal of Jewish people. He then took to Twitter, a platform he hadn’t used in years to double down on similar remarks before he was also removed from that social media site.
Since then, Ye has announced that he will be taking ownership of the far-right platform Parler while Balenciaga and talent scouts Creative Artists Agency also cut ties with him.
The financial loss is expected to be severe, with Ye standing to lose potentially north of a billion US dollars. Forbes has already removed him from their billionaires’ list.
What Did Kanye Say?
In a now-deleted tweet, Kanye wrote:
“I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up I’m going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.”
“The funny thing is I actually can’t be Anti Semitic because black people are actually Jew also You guys have toyed with me and tried to black ball anyone whoever opposes your agenda.”
“Death con” is likely a play on the US military term DEFCON, meaning ‘Defence Ready Condition’, which is an alert system used to gauge threat levels and is often used to indicate a high-level military response to a threat. Effectively, he’s using a death threat.
Twitter removed the tweets after an hour, although not before they received tens of thousands of engagements.
Ye also followed the above with another tweet seeming to imply that Jewish people are behind his “cancelling”.
Who you think created cancel culture?
— ye (@kanyewest) October 9, 2022
That tweet is still live at the time of writing.
Could Ye Be Held Legally Accountable for His Words?
While the public and commercial backlash over Ye’s comments has been punitive, the legal position is fairly clear: Ye is essentially free to say whatever he wants with virtually no legal recourse.
That’s because America, land of the free, has a little something called the First Amendment. The right to free speech is uniquely sacred in America and there are very few instances when it can be considered unlawful.
In the US, “speech is covered by the First Amendment unless it falls into some very narrowly defined categories,” Professor Adrienne Stone, Director of the Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies told The Latch.
Those categories are what are known as “low-value” types of speech. They include things like true threats, incitement to imminent illegal action, ‘fighting words’, obscenity, and defamation.
It’s not that these types of language are unprotected, only that they are given weaker legal protection under the First Amendment. Even in extreme circumstances, these categories of speech are still allowed, as Stone explains:
“The Supreme Court has held that there are certain circumstances in which cross-burning can be subject to regulation, but only circumstances where cross-burning amounts to a true threat”.
A true threat here would have to mean that the speech could immediately be followed by violence against an individual.
“As offensive and hateful as what Kanye West has said, I can’t actually see that what he said has come into those categories,” Stone said.
“If you’re not in those categories, then it is very difficult, if not impossible, to regulate speech on the grounds of its content. Any attempt, I think, to apply a law to Kanye West that would either render his speech unlawful, criminalise it, or make him liable … would probably fall foul of the First Amendment”.
If what Ye has said isn’t illegal, could he be liable for actions undertaken by others inspired by his words? Over the weekend, a far-right group was photographed standing above a bridge over a highway in Los Angeles with banners that read “Kanye was right about the Jews” and “honk if you know”. The group are also doing Nazi salutes in photos captured.
Incitement to violence is also one of these low-value speech categories, however, you would have to show that the speech was likely to cause an imminent, violent response.
“It’s not enough to say, ‘well, you’re putting something out there that somebody may or may not respond to it’. And it’s not enough to say this just increases hate and increases bigotry and makes Jewish people more likely to experience discrimination and violence.
“I just don’t think [what Kanye said] rises to that level. Which is not to say that this speech isn’t harmful. It’s very harmful. It’s just not a harm that US law allows to be addressed.”
America is exceptional in this regard. No other country takes the right to free speech to such extremes. While Australia doesn’t have a general right to free speech enshrined in the constitution, like America does, we do have freedom of opinion and expression.
However, those rights are restricted if the speech in question is discriminatory, offensive, or inciting violence. The Commonwealth Criminal Code prescribes a maximum penalty of seven years in prison for urging violence against members of a racial, religious, ethnic, or political group.
Based on this, and a number of other criminal codes at the federal and state level, it’s likely that Kanye wouldn’t be allowed to get away with what he said here in Aus.