It has been a little over eleven years since the iconic Kanye West graced live television with an equivocally iconic comment. “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
His words on September 2nd, 2005 was in response to late August’s Hurricane Katrina. Katrina was one of the deadliest hurricanes in American history, leaving almost 2,000 people dead and millions of others homeless. The hurricane devastated New Orleans, parts of Mississippi, and other portions of the Gulf Coast.
Kanye was a very different Kanye in the early 2000s. It was a time before his fashion career, before Kim, before Yeezys or The Life of Pablo. The rapper had dropped his second studio album, Late Registration, only days before the NBC Universal’s charity telethon. It was aptly named “A Concert For Hurricane Relief.” West was scheduled to appear on air alongside comedian Mike Myers. Things went as planned until West went off script. After Myers’ bit, West began to go on a tangent. His monologue covered the portrayal of black people in the media, the Iraq War, and the slowness of disaster relief in poor areas.
“…America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off, as slow as possible,” he remarked, trying to catch his breath.
Myers looked visibly uncomfortable, but tried to finish his portion of the teleprompter. Soon after, West shot out his legendary statement, and the camera cut away.
“George Bush doesn’t care about black people” became a t-shirt slogan, a verbal meme, and an American controversy all at once. But why was Kanye West so outspoken on the politics of Katrina? Maybe it was because the Atlanta born, Chicago raised rapper saw the displacement and mistreatment of African-Americans as he grew up, and watched it continue through his own success. Even in his music, West had already made political commentary. On Late Registration, “Heard ‘Em Say” features lines like “Where I’m from the dope boys is the rock stars/But they can’t cop cars without seeing cop cars/I guess they want us all behind bars — I know it.” On the more blatant song “Crack Music,” West raps “How we stop the Black Panthers?/Ronald Reagan cooked up an answer/You hear that?/What Gil Scott was hearin’/When our heroes and heroines got hooked on heroin.”
Two years later, Kanye West was interviewed on Nightline, and was asked if he still felt the same way. “ I have a hard time believing George Bush cares about anyone, so,” West said, laughing. He later went on to apologize, and Bush forgave him.
Although some may find West’s words hilarious, true, or both, they still stick out in our minds years later. Beyonce’s stunning video for her song “Formation” used images of a flooded New Orleans, reminding us that Katrina’s impact still affects people today. More than a decade later, the disaster areas are still trying to recover. The New Orleans metro area population has dramatically decreased, while housing and businesses have never fully healed.
African-Americans and those affected by Katrina felt that the Bush Administration turned their back on the communities. However, many look back wistfully now to those days. Many wonder what would happen if Hurricane Katrina hit in 2017. We could not have predicted the Trump Administration, and cannot predict what they would do in such a catastrophe. We could not have predicted that the “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” Kanye would have announced his own 2020 run for president, or that he would publicly endorse President Trump. Of course, things change. Recently, West deleted his supportive Trump tweets, and bleached his hair platinum blonde. Yes, the Kanye of the early 2000s was a very different Kanye indeed.