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After Kanye West calls slavery a choice, TMZ's Van Lathan gives a forceful rebuke

FILE -- President-elect Donald Trump and Kanye West on Dec. 13, 2016 in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan. Trump and West share a history of unpredictable behavior -- and a delight in freaking out and, perhaps, dividing an already divided public. (Sam Hodgson/The New York Times/Copyright 2018)

Kanye West caused a stir during his appearance Tuesday on "TMZ Live" - but it's perhaps a lesser-known show employee, Van Lathan, who dropped the mic.

West, the rapper and entertainer who brought renewed attention to himself over the past week with his controversial tweets - which included his feelings on President Donald Trump - surprised TMZ employees with a particularly polarizing thought: that American slavery was a "choice."

"When you hear about slavery for 400 years - for 400 years?" West said. "That sounds like a choice. Like, you was there for 400 years and it's all of y'all? It's like we're mentally in prison."

"Do you feel like I'm thinking free and feeling free?" West later asked TMZ employees.

That's when Van Lathan fired back with an answer that embodied what many confused and disappointed fans have been thinking in the days since West returned to Twitter, where he's posted a nearly constant stream of abstract musings, many outlining his support for Trump, whom the rapper called his "brother."

"I actually don't think you're thinking anything," Lathan said.

"I think what you're doing right now is actually the absence of thought. And the reason why I feel like that is because, Kanye, you're entitled to your opinion. You're entitled to believe whatever you want," he said.

Lathan continued: "But there is fact, and real-world, real-life consequence behind everything that you just said. And while you are making music and being an artist and living the life that you've earned by being a genius, the rest of us in society have to deal with these threats to our lives. We have to deal with the marginalization that has come from the 400 years of slavery that you said, for our people, was a choice.

"Frankly, I'm disappointed, I'm appalled and, brother, I am unbelievably hurt by the fact that you have morphed into something, to me, that's not real."

Lathan was applauded on social media as many attacked West's comments.

"Kanye is a dangerous caricature of a 'freethinking' black person in America," tweeted Symone D. Sanders, a CNN contributor who served as national spokeswoman for Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign. "Frankly, I am disgusted and I'm over it. Also (I can't believe I have to say this): Slavery was far from a choice."

Feminist writer Roxane Gay tweeted, "I don't have the energy for nonsense but Kanye saying slavery was a choice reiterates my previous statements about how dangerous his trite, shallow ramblings are. He is not a free thinker. He is a free moron who doesn't read."

After his TMZ appearance, West took to Twitter to defend himself.

"Of course I know that slaves did not get shackled and put on a boat by free will," he tweeted. "My point is for us to have stayed in that position even though the numbers were on our side means that we were mentally enslaved."

"They cut our tongues so we couldn't communicate to each other," he added. "I will not allow my tongue to be cut."

West had made a taped appearance at TMZ's headquarters after Tuesday's release of an almost two-hour-long interview with The Breakfast Club's Charlamagne Tha God, conducted at West's California home last month. West talked to TMZ about some of the subjects the interview focused on, including his opioid addiction, which began after doctors prescribed him painkillers after a liposuction surgery in 2016.

He was hospitalized for a week, he said in his interview with Charlamagne Tha God, which led to a "breakthrough" and his recovery.

West also reaffirmed his "love" for Trump to TMZ, saying the president is "one of rap's favorite people." His comments supporting Trump came after a series of similar tweets last week, during which West posted a picture of a red "Make America Great Again" hat signed by Trump.

"We are both dragon energy," West wrote on Wednesday. "He is my brother. I love everyone. I don't agree with everything anyone does. That's what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought."

The president quote-tweeted West, saying the tweet was "very cool!"

Author information: Marwa Eltagouri is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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