Kanye West’s Bold Statement About George Bush Still Matters 10 Years Later
Ten years ago, Kanye West made a statement that shocked the nation. "George Bush doesn't care about black people," the rapper said during A Concert for Hurricane Relief, a celebrity-driven benefit concert that was broadcast live for the world to see.
Sept. 2, 2005 will forever be known as one of the most important days in not only hip-hop, but American history and its impact still resonates to this day. However, the previous week leading up to that date is even more historically significant as it was one of the biggest tragedies this country had seen in decades. Hurricane Katrina, a tropical storm that originated in the Bahamas on Aug. 23, 2005, would prove to be an insurmountable opponent as it ravaged the Gulf Coast, impacting numerous states including Florida, Mississippi, Texas and most importantly, New Orleans. NOLA was severely affected after the city's levee system failed, leading to 80 percent of the city flooded.
Death would fill the aquarium that the Crescent City had turned into, with many dying from thirst, exhaustion and violence, particularly among the low-income areas of the city. The people were all but left to fend for themselves. The media coverage of the hurricane focused on victims of the natural disaster -- a majority of which were African-American -- as "looters" and "refugees." The anger was certainly felt across the country, which lead to Kanye West's bold statement on live TV. Allegations of classism and racial undertones were thrown at the government and media alike, complicating the situation even further.
Officials like Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice may have been more concerned with vacations and designer shoes than the plight of those that were abandoned and left for dead, but there was one person whose heart the situation weighed heavy on and that was certainly Kanye West.
Life was great for Kanye, who seemed to do no wrong in the eyes of the public at the time. Six months prior to Hurricane Katrina, he had just won Best Rap Album at the 2005 Grammy Awards for his debut LP, The College Dropout. But there was also an unpredictable side to the Chicago native, as was evident by his tizzy fit at the 2004 American Music Awards, in which he stormed out of the building after losing the New Artist of the Year award to Gretchen Wilson (who?). This proved the producer-turned-rapper had a flair for the dramatic. So were we really surprised when he made one of the more powerful statements of the new millennium during A Concert for Hurricane Relief? Yes, because he said what many people had already been thinking.
Days removed from the release of his sophomore album, Late Registration, Kanye appeared as the lone rapper on the telethon and one of the few African-American artists, which may have also played a factor in his thought process on that fateful September night. He stood alongside actor Mike Myers, who read off a teleprompter before it was Mr. West's turn to speak. He did not mince words.
"I hate the way they portray us in the media," he said, deviating from the prepared script on the teleprompter. "If you see a black family, it says they're looting. You see a white family, it says they are looking for food and you know it's been five days [without relief] because most of the people are black."
Visibly shocked, Myers continued with the prepared dialogue before Yeezy lost all chill and ended the segment by saying, "George Bush doesn't care about black people," much to the surprise of everyone watching as well as those at the event.
The impact of that strong statement was akin to an atomic bomb, as the telethon was watched by approximately 8.5 million viewers, leading Ye's words to be the equivalent of a No. 1 Trending Topic before the days of Twitter. It seemed as if most African-Americans agreed with the rapper's assessment of Bush. His actions were already being scrutinized by the black community for the majority of his presidential term. West's statement soon became a slogan of sorts for those fed up with Bush's antics and apparent lack of regard for the concerns of black people. However, when asked about his comments in a February 2006 interview with Rolling Stone, West seemed to shy away from reliving the moment.
"You don't know how many people have asked me about that," he stated. "It's like my gift and my curse. I threw more jabs at myself that night. Does anybody remember the whole 30 seconds I spent talking about how I turned away from the television set, how I went shopping? No, all anyone remembers is 'George Bush doesn't care about black people.'" When you diss the president of the United States, the beef is real.
The vitriol was certainly alive and well on President Bush's end. He didn't take too kindly to Kanye's critique and called the rapper out in a 2010 interview with NBC News' Matt Lauer, as well as in his memoir, Decision Points. "He called me a racist," Bush stated. "I didn't appreciate it then and I don't appreciate it now. It's one thing to say I don't appreciate the way he's handling his business, it's another thing to say this man's a racist. I resent it, it's not true and it's one of the most disgusting moments of my presidency."
While many championed Kanye's now infamous statement and use it as a condemnation of Bush as a person and politician, he apparently had a change of heart with the passage of time, going as far as to publicly apologize to the former president during a 2010 appearance on Good Morning America.
"I would tell George Bush in my moment of frustration, I didn't have any grounds to call him a racist," Yeezy admitted. "But I believe that in a situation of high emotion like that, we, as human beings, don't always choose the right words."
After hearing Kanye's statement during a subsequent appearance on the morning show, Bush seemed forgiving and willing to let bygones be bygones, in part crediting his Christian faith in allowing him to forgive. "I'm not a hater, I don't hate Kanye West," Bush explains. "But I was talking about an environment in which people are willing to say things that hurt. And nobody wants to be called a racist if in your heart you believe in equality of race."
Kanye's beef with Bush may have been squashed, but it would be under the administration of Bush's successor, Barack Obama, that would prove not much had really changed in the world of politics since September of 2005.
The first instance in which Kanye's words would become relevant again was in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman trial. Zimmerman was found not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old he gunned down in what was determined to be self-defense. The acquittal was widely scrutinized and seen as a failure of the justice system, but many also noted President Obama, an African-American himself, was hesitant to speak publicly on the situation.
This was one of the first notable signs of backlash from his own people during his tenure in the Oval Office. While the Zimmerman trial was widely publicized and discussed, it would only serve as the calm before the storm, as the following years would prove to be racially intensified and become a growing divide between law enforcement, government and the African-American community.
Ferguson, Mo. was the next place of unrest following the murder of Mike Brown at the hands of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. The officer, like Zimmerman, would be cleared of any wrongdoing. He was allowed to go on with his life while another black life was ended, leading to a sense of despair not seen among the black community since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Riots took place locally and nationally, making for one of the biggest stories of 2014. In response to the protests, the local police department was militarized, further sparking tensions between the predominantly white police department and the largely African-American community of Ferguson. Soon, footage of tanks and tear gas being thrust upon the modest neighborhood was on display for the world to see. Barack Obama was nowhere to be found, remaining quiet on the front.
The president was scrutinized for his haste in responding yet again and took another hit in the court of public opinion, with some comparing his lack of urgency with that of President Bush's, albeit on a smaller scale. Furthermore, these occurrences prompted some to wonder if Obama, the man who promised us "hope" and "change" during his initial campaign, truly "cared about black people."
The Baltimore riots in April, which occurred after the wrongful death of Freddie Gray, also served as the apex of the Black Lives Matter movement, started in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial. This was another stain on racial relations in America, proving another black life to be devalued.
West has continued to make bold statements throughout his career since that Bush line, but none compare to the one he made 10 years ago, which served as somewhat of the basis to the Black Lives Matter movement. His words could also give him a big edge in getting votes among the minority community. He recently announced at the MTV Video Music Awards that he plans on running for president in 2020, much to the delight of his fans of all creeds and colors.
His diatribe may have gotten him in hot water with political pundits years ago, but he certainly is looking out for the very people who have helped him get into the position he's in. Instead of feeling like he's far removed from a situation of racial turmoil, we believe Kanye West would be more likely to put the political double-speak to rest and tell the public the cold, hard truth in office.
Yeezus wouldn't neglect the cries for help coming from his people and would make it his duty to keep a watchful eye on social injustice. He'd surely do all he could within his power to crush anyone attempting to strike fear and turmoil in the hearts of the community he cares for. For instance, take his words during his MTV Video Vanguard Award speech.
"Listen to the kids, bruh," he shouted. Much like Wu-Tang Clan, Kanye is for the children and believes they are the future. Youth initiatives would be abundant during the Yeezy administration, specifically based around the arts, which have been all but taken away in low-income neighborhoods across the country. He's aware that brands are controlling the kids these days but that's where a bit of the problem lies. He's also part of the mix, with his Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 sneaker continuing to be used as an overpriced barometer of cool for the youth. But when you're president, change is inevitable and his focus could stray from that to what's more important: helping the people.
And with the support of the hip-hop nation, the Kardashian nation and not to mention having Jay Z and Beyonce in his corner, it's safe to say that his constituency would be the epitome of a Grammy family with more than enough star power to persuade all nations to unite in the sake of world peace.
With Yeezus in office, we hope no one could ever use his words against him to say he doesn't care about the community he once went to bat for in a big way. Love him or hate him, what can not be debated is the impact of Kanye West's unfiltered words about George Bush 10 years ago. His statement solidified him as an icon outside of the confines of music for good reason. He never lost sight of the people despite his riches. Like his trusty friend Big Sean proclaims, one man can change the world. In Mr. West's case, it's through his words.
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