You don’t need us to tell you that Kanye West, the artist now known as Ye, has been on a roll lately—an ugly, dangerous roll, in which he has spewed hateful, antisemitic ideas and thoughts on podcasts, social media, and even as a guest on Tucker Carlson’s infotainment television show (though the comments were edited out before airing) in mid-October. The public outcry and condemnations came quickly. But it took a little longer for some brands to decide to drop their lucrative partnership with the musician, clothing entrepreneur, and former spouse of Kim Kardashian.

Ye’s collaborations have stretched across the sartorial universe. He has been the celebrity face, and partner, of the Gap, Adidas, Nike, A.P.C., Louis Vuitton, and Balenciaga. Some of these were no longer active partnerships when his antisemitic screeds emerged. But others very much were active. All these companies scrambled to decide what to do next though, and some of them took their sweet time to figure it out.

Fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on your perspective—there is something of a roadmap for these situations. In 2020, for example, the television host, actor, rapper, and comedian Nick Cannon was fired by ViacomCBS for making antisemitic remarks on his podcast. The comments were made during a chat with Professor Griff, a former member of Public Enemy, who himself had been fired from that hip hop group in 1989 for making antisemitic remarks during a newspaper interview. In 2021, the actress Gina Carano was fired from the Star Wars television series The Mandalorian after posting antisemitic remarks to social media.

Back a decade before that, in the fashion world, the designer John Galliano was fired from Christian Dior, where he’d been creative director for 15 years, after he was accused of drunkenly making antisemitic and racist remarks toward a couple at a Paris bar. Galliano initially denied making the remarks—and then disgusting videos emerged of him saying “I love Hitler” and telling two women that their parents “would have been gassed.”

If it seems obvious that a celebrity should get the boot after such incidents, consider that Nick Cannon did not lose, and has not lost, his gig hosting The Masked Singer television show on Fox. Furthermore, no one really seems to be talking about his offensive comments anymore. Perhaps the companies Ye is associated with hoped that they, too, could simply wait for any public outcry to blow over. After all, as the Jewish-oriented publication the Forward points out, Ye has been saying antisemitic things for a decade already, without facing any real consequences. Furthermore, Ye clearly must have anticipate some immunity, based on his podcast assertion that “I can say antisemitic shit, and Adidas can’t drop me.”

This time, the public did not lose interest so quickly though. Thus, the severing of ties began. On October 21, Balenciaga ended its relationship with Ye. Adidas followed suit on October 25, saying in a statement that the company “does not tolerate antisemitism and any other sort of hate speech.” It would be difficult to argue with such a position, yet it is also almost possible to see why Adidas might have hesitated: It is facing a projected fourth quarter loss of $246 million.

His partnership with the Gap, it turned out, and to many people’s surprise, actually had been canceled a month before the remarks. Ye terminated that relationship, claiming breach of contract by the Gap for putting insufficient support into selling the jackets and hoodies produced through their collaboration. The Gap still issued a statement condemning the remarks—as have some brands Ye never even worked with, like the shoe company Skechers.

In addition, the penalty and damage to Yet have not been trivial. He lost at least $1.5 billion of his net worth, leaving Ye with a mere $400 million in the bank, as he thinks about what he’s done.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Did these companies respond quickly enough to Kanye West’s antisemitism?
  2. What is the appropriate response from a business perspective, when a celebrity makes racist or antisemitic comments?
  3. What do you think would have to happen, for a company to partner with Ye, or another celebrity fired for similar remarks, in the future?

Sources: Vanessa Friedman, “Can Balenciaga Break with Kanye?” The New York Times, October 14, 2022; Kim Willsher, “John Galliano Sacked by Christian Dior over Alleged Antisemitic Rant,” The Guardian, March 1, 2011; Jon Blistein, “Nick Cannon Dropped by ViacomCBS over Anti-Semitic Comments,” Rolling Stone, July 15, 2020; “Gina Carano Fired from ‘Mandalorian’ after Anti-Semitic Social Media Post,” Chicago Sun-Times, February 11, 2021; Ramishah Maruf, “Kanye West Dropped by Balenciaga,” CNN, October 21, 2022; Ted Johnson, “Kanye West Made Anti-Semitic Remarks, Other Incendiary Claims in Clips Left out of Tucker Carlson’s Fox News Interview,” Deadline, October 11, 2022; Zoe Guy, “Every Company That’s Dropped Kanye West,” Vulture, October 30, 2022; Jordyn Holman and Vanessa Friedman, “Hip-Hop Mogul and Gap Officially End Their Partnership,” The New York Times, September 15, 2022; Mira Fox, “Every Antisemitic Thing Kanye West Has Said (so Far),Forward, November 1, 2022; Lisette Voytko, “Billionaire No More: Kanye West’s Antisemitism Obliterates His Net Worth as Adidas Cuts Ties,” Forbes, October 25, 2022