The family of Ahmaud Arbery – a 25-year-old Black man who was murdered by three white neighbours in the United States in 2020 in a racially motivated hate crime – say Kanye West promoting the phrase “White Lives Matter” and disparaging the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this week has helped to “legitimize extremist behavior”.

On Monday (October 3), while introducing his latest Yeezy line with a show at Paris Fashion Week, West (legally known as Ye) wore a shirt with the words “White Lives Matter” on the back. The phrase – an appropriation of the Black Lives Matter slogan used to protest racial injustice, discrimination and police brutality – has been categorised by the Anti-Defamation League as a hate slogan.

West was also photographed at the event alongside conservative Black commentator Candace Owens wearing a matching shirt. The rapper faced prompt backlash from his peers in the music and fashion worlds for the stunt. Jaden Smith, who was in attendance, walked out of the event, while Boosie Badazz decried West on Twitter.

Supreme creative director Tremaine Emory, Vogue stylist and fashion editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson and Dazed fashion writer Lynette Nylander are among others who took issue with West. Ye doubled down in response to the criticism, writing on Instagram that the Black Lives Matter movement was a “scam”.

Wanda Cooper-Jones, the mother of the late Ahmaud Arbery, has come forward to express “extreme disappointment” with West’s actions. Back in 2020, at the peak of the Black Lives Matter protests, West’s team said the rapper had donated $2million to the families of Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Cooper-Jones expressed “extreme disappointment” with West’s actions through her attorney Lee Merritt.”As a result of his display ‘White Lives Matter’ started trending in the U.S., which would direct support and legitimize extremist behavior, [much] like the behavior that took the life of her son,” Merritt told Rolling Stone. “That is the thing that Wanda and families like hers continue to fight against.

“This mockery of the Black Lives Matter movement and his now denunciation of the movement as some sort of hoax flies directly in the face [of what he’s said,]” the statement added. “It’s confusing for her, it’s confusing for the families to receive his support privately, but publicly to set us all back.”

The organisation Black Lives Matter Grassroots has also criticised West’s actions, telling TMZ that the Paris Fashion Week stunt was a “clear affront to Black Lives Matter”, and that he and Owens had “sent a performative dog whistle to millions”.

“‘All Lives Matter’ and ‘White Lives Matter’ have long served as violent retorts to the Black Lives Matter movement, used by white supremacists and hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan,” the statement continued. “In a follow-up statement, Kanye was clear that he intended to kill the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Black Lives Matter Grassroots said it saw West’s actions and their fallout as a “teachable moment”, pointing out that West and Owens’ stunt “harms thousands of families fighting for justice for their loved ones killed by state-sanctioned violence” and could “spread toxic confusion and be used to legitimize violent assaults on Black people”.

“Battling misinformation while continuing to do the hard work that liberation requires is nothing new for us,” it continued. “Kanye knows very well that ‘white lives’ have never been targeted for oppression. Black folks, in contrast, are at the bottom of virtually every economic, social, and political measure because of centuries of individual and institutional racism.

“Building a world of Black freedom means upending systems that harm and building new systems of care. Ultimately this benefits everyone. When Black people get free, everybody gets free.”

West has a long history of making controversial statements when it comes to politics and race in recent years, particularly in 2018. That year, he voiced his support for Donald Trump (publicly wearing the campaign’s red ‘Make America Great Again’ hat on several occasions) and endorsed Owens on Twitter.

West also drew backlash in April 2018 when he claimed, “When you hear about slavery for 400 years… for 400 years? That sounds like a choice.” A few months later, in August of that year, West apologised for both his comments around slavery and his choice to wear the MAGA hat.

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