ART & CONVERSATION
What is one thing that Kanye West and Natalie Portman have in common?
Besides that they are both passionate and respected artists, they are both also under a lot of heat for voicing their respective opinions, risking their careers and even lives to stand up for something they sincerely believe in. Something that might potentially reduce both political and racial tensions, if, people would just listen.
Written by Linda Ferrer
It’s easy to become offended by a disagreeable statement. It’s easy to turn off and make assumptions about another person when they think differently than us. But when we practice active listening, instead, it forces us to grow, bettering ourselves and our everyday interactions. I’m not talking about hearing the other person and drawing conclusions on what might appear to be the case. This is the opposite of listening. Real listening, active listening, is the ability to hear the ‘other’ side and trying your hardest to make sense of it; to understand where the other person is coming from to the best of your ability and work, yes, work towards finding common ground. This is one of the greatest things I took away from my graduate Mediation courses taught by Dr. Theodore Johnson at the Heller School for Social Policy & Management at Brandeis University, as well as the Inter-Religious Dialogue Seminar taught by Dr. Ron Rabinowitz.
But let’s rewind back to West and Portman’s recent actions and what is being said about each.
It’s come as quite a shock to the Black/African American community and everyone overall when West posted a photo of himself sporting a “Make America Great Again” cap and publicly expressing his support for President Trump. In the last week or so, Kanye has been accused of being a “white supremacist,” has been called an ‘Uncle Tom,’ and a traitor to his own people. The amount of backlash on West’s statements are grounded on a fear of possibility. But I will go into this later.
Portman has also been similarly threatened and accused of betrayal by her own Jewish and Zionist communities. As a dual-citizen of both the United States and Israel, Portman was recently announced to be the recipient of the Genesis Award
which is the Jewish equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize. This award commemorates Jews for their merits and accomplishments, and “honors extraordinary individuals who serve as an inspiration to the next generation of Jews through their outstanding professional achievement and commitment to the Jewish people and Jewish values, such as social justice, tolerance and charity."
Portman declined to attend, stating her disapproval—not of Israel, but of Israel’s leadership, specifically criticizing Prime Minister Netanyahu because of current acts against African refugees seeking asylum and perhaps other acts of military corruption against unarmed men in the Gaza Strip (citation needed). The open letters and public statements I’ve read from Jewish celebrities such as Howard Stern and Roseanne Barr have left me speechless of how quickly they have turned on her for declining to attend the event. From the Israeli government threatening to strip away her Israeli citizenship to demanding that Jews worldwide boycott her films, it’s important now more than ever to emphasize that this is not the answer.
Revenge is never the answer. Bullying is never the answer. Media has portrayed West and Portman in such a way that people feel justified in their cyber bullying.
How is it that we can’t accept a difference of opinion? How did we get to this point? It’s important to remember that we all want the same things—love, respect, humanity. We can only get there by listening. Without freedom of speech or free thought, we rob ourselves of that opportunity.
It is neither correct nor accurate for people to call Kanye West a traitor and a white supremacist. It is neither correct nor accurate to call Natalie Portman a traitor and an Anti-Semite. There seems to be no room for disagreement or public debate because of how media has painted these pictures. Collectively, we are making it dangerous for anyone to express a difference of opinion.
Let’s take a moment to listen- really listen to what these artists have to say. People are not listening to their words, they’re being told by the media what and how to think about these ideas and individuals, which is exactly West’s point. Is it possible that what their saying can change the world? Maybe. If we start listening...
West, discussing ‘mental-slavery’ during TMZ interview:
“...We are drugged out...We are following other people’s opinions. We are controlled by the media... We need to think how to think free, we need to be freethinkers, then we need to learn how to feel free, people say ‘feel free’ but we don’t even know how to feel free or think free…” “This reality has been forced upon us. It is a choice, just like when I said slavery was a choice… We can make our own reality. We can talk about history but not too long. We need to talk about our ‘now’, because we can fix and start loving each other now…”
Portman, explaining her actions:
“I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony. Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation. I treasure my Israeli friends and family, Israeli food, books, art, cinema, and dance.”
“Israel was created exactly 70 years ago as a haven for refugees from the Holocaust,” she said. “But the mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values. Because I care about Israel, I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality, and abuse of power.”
ART IN SUBURBIA endorses free speech, conversation, and coexistence. If these individuals have both explicitly stated that their views promote free thought (West) and toleration (Portman), it’s worth listening to. From there, we should extrapolate only what is actually being said.
We simply cannot afford to lose our freedom of speech because it is essential for any type of real progress. Critical thinking and conversation are the wheels of social movement and improvement, regardless of the disent it may initially draw. We need to hear things we don’t like sometimes. It’s important to question our truths and our belief structures in order to possibly, maybe, create a better future. This is what we have been fighting for.
I challenge you to come out of yourself, just for a moment, and really listen to what has been said. Remember that you are, first and foremost, human, and we should treat others the way we wish to be treated. Remember, the ability to listen is the first step towards social impact and true revolutionary change.