A couple of days ago on the Today Show Kanye West, one of the most outspoken black men in America, was interviewed by Matt Lauer and was asked to apologize to George Bush for calling him a racist. In typical Kanye West fashion, Kanye turned the interview, which was supposed to be about racism and George Bush, into a several day news cycle about poor Kanye and how he is perennially misunderstood and is constantly persecuted by the media. This is unfortunate, as Kanye had the perfect opportunity to address an issue that has caused so much confusion, anger and distrust from black, brown and white alike – is American politics motivated by racism?
For those who don’t remember, Kanye West was on a concert benefit on NBC in 2005 and blurted out on national TV that George Bush was a racist based on his slow response to the largely black victims of Hurricane Katrina. George Bush told Matt Lauer recently in an interview that the remark by Kanye was the "lowest point in his presidency". Everyone watched the events on TV unfold in the summer of 2005 in Louisiana. Black people dying on rooftops, brothers and sisters dying in the streets, and the looting and anarchy that took over the streets of New Orleans was a an international news story. The slow response by the federal government to provide food, water and medical assistance played out before our eyes as too many black people suffered and died. These events surely brought out the many negative emotions that caused Kanye to call Bush a racist for not providing immediate aid to the largely black victims, but the honest truth is that Bush’s slow response was not a race issue, it was a class issue.
Although not focused on in the media, we all know that many people escaped Katrina unscathed. People who had cars and places to go left New Orleans before Katrina even came. In the early hours of the Katrina aftermath, paying hotel customers (black and white alike) were whisked away in helicopters to safety. Individuals and families who had the means to access federal and local public officials and services did so, and again were skirted off to safety. It was only the poor (mostly black but many white) people who had no resources or access to resources who were doomed in the wake of the storm. Bush and the response team did not act outrageously they simply did what the government, corporations, and those in power typically do – they took care of the rich and influential first and everybody else second. Bush was not being a racist, he was just doing what politicians do.
Too often we collapse "black" and "poor" as the same thing. We also subliminally collapse "rich" and "white", "Mexican" and "immigrant" and "gay" and "weak". If we as Americans stop doing this we would truly see how America works and how any individual can succeed in it. If you are black and have money you can have everything that a white man with money has. The most thugged out rapper can live in Beverly Hills if he wants – as long as he pays his mortgage. The darkest brother can influence and control a party littered with racists and homophobes, just ask Michael Steele or Alan West. A gay man can hit a baseball farther, jump higher, and run faster than 95% of people in this world – just check out, Glenn Burke, John Amaechi and Carl Lewis. Success in America is a game where money, power and influence are the pieces you need to collect to win. Racism, sexism and homophobia are blockers, but they do not determine whether you win or lose. Focus on the pieces and avoid the blockers and you can have whatever you want. Remember – everything that happens to you or people you know is not a result of racism.