Op-ed submission by Project 21
It may be too little and too late, but Kanye West is finally apologizing for calling George W. Bush a racist. Nonetheless, his realization could be a lesson for us all.
After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, celebrities offered their support to the affected areas with their “A Concert for Hurricane Relief” relief telethon — giving all Americans an easy way to contribute. This was a program intended to foster solidarity, but the Grammy Award-winning rapper instead used the multi-network simulcast to attack the President.
Taking his segment co-host — comedic actor Mike Myers — completely by surprise, West matter-of-factly declared that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” It was a time when Americans desperately needed to unite to heal and West’s vitriolic and divisive accusation was anything but conducive.
Five years later, West is offering an apology.
In his newly-released memoir, Decision Points, Bush calls that segment of his time in office — when he was the target of so many personal attacks similar to West’s — the worst moment in his presidency. After hearing the former president’s remarks, West sat down with Matt Lauer on “The Today Show” to reflect on what he now realizes was a mistake:
“I didn’t have the grounds to call him a racist. I believe that in a situation of high emotion like that we as human beings don’t always choose the right words.”
West says that he now empathizes with Bush. That’s because, in the interim, West himself was accused of racism:
“I definitely can understand the way he feels, to be accused of being a racist in any way, because the same thing happened to me, you know. I got accused of being a racist.”
West alludes to the intense criticism he suffered after interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. The 19-year-old apple of America’s eye was making history that night — becoming the first country music artist to take home one of MTV’s “Moonman” statuettes in the Awards’ 25-year run.
West compared the post-VMA backlash to his Bush-bashing on the Katrina telethon, saying it was an apparent absence of compassion in both situations that upset Americans and prompted the character assaults. Seeing Bush’s response to the Gulf states’ devastation as callous, and West as insensitive and arrogant in ambushing Swift’s big moment, West realized that the public reacted to both situations with similar intensity.
West wrapped up his apology by saying he’s “more open” now, “and the poetic justice that I feel, to have went through the same thing that he went [through] — and now I really more connect with him on just a humanitarian level.”
A beautiful epiphany, indeed.
Right before that insightful conclusion, however, West made a comment that few media outlets are including in their reports. West acknowledged the bigger picture: hasty and unfounded accusations of racism. But, nonetheless, I think we’re all quick to pull a race card in America.
There it is. The statement was subtle, short and easy to miss. But it was also profound and should not be glossed over. It took five years and a virtual stoning from Taylor Swift-sympathizers for West to have this revelation.
Are we to wait for each race-baiter to do something that moves the public to shout “racist!” and hope they have an epiphany? Is that really what it’s going to take?
Here’s hoping there is a better way, and that America finds it soon.
Devon Carlin is a research associate with the Project 21 black leadership network.