“I hate the way they portray us in the media. You see a black family and they say we are looting, you see a white family and they say they are looking for food. And, you know, it’s been five days because most of the people ARE black ... We already realize a lot of the people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way. And now they’ve given them permission to go down and shoot us. George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
-- Kanye West, speaking to a nationally televised audience on NBC
The United States rendered so little aid as to be insignificant, and before long the entire incident had faded from the minds of most Americans. There were few cries of outrage over the fact that this country couldn't care less about the deaths of thousands of black people, but devotes countless hours of TV time to the latest Missing Pretty White Girl (I believe at the time it was Dru Sjodin, not Natalie Holloway). But people dying in Haiti is one thing. Americans have always found it easy to dismiss the deaths of those from other countries, especially when those countries are full of dark-skinned people. But who would think our government would allow something equally devastating to happen to people on our own soil -- to people who are full-fledged American citizens (in theory, anyway)?
Enter Kanye West. The future of hip-hop. An artist who more than compensates for his less-than-stellar skills as an emcee with his razor-sharp wit and passion for justice and equality, not to mention his bravado. It's hard to imagine any rapper since Tupac Shakur having the guts to get brolic with the Commander-in-Chief on national TV. He will undoubtedly be savaged by detractors on the right and the left for “politicizing” a fundraiser to aid the victims of the flooding. However, I have little doubt that Kanye was saying exactly what most of the black residents of New Orleans are thinking right at this moment. As Kanye said on his last album, “Racism's still alive, they've just been concealin’ it,” but it's in times of crisis such as this one that America begins to show its true colors, and “black” isn't one of them.
The truth is, Kanye West didn't “politicize” a damn thing. George W. Bush did. The hurricane became a political issue the second Bush decided there were more important priorities than shoring up the preventive measures in New Orleans; such as giving tax cuts to billionaires and launching an evil, imperialist war against the people of Iraq. Hurricane Ivan made it abundantly clear that New Orleans was unprepared to deal with such a catastrophe if one were to occur. If only Bush could be half the statesman Fidel Castro is. The Cuban government managed to evacuate over a million people, and didn't lose a single life to Hurricane Ivan.
In fact, I'd say Kanye was far too generous. Bush, as well as some of the other players in this affair, don't simply “not care about” black people. They have been proactive oppressors of African Americans for years. As Texas governor, Bush never met a death certificate he didn't like. As a result, he is personally responsible for the executions of numerous black men. Mississippi's Governor Haley Barbour warned that all “looters” would be dealt with “ruthlessly”. This is a man who has been linked to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group started from the White Citizen's Councils of the civil rights era. These were groups committed to the preservation of Jim Crow and had intimate connections and overlapping membership with the Ku Klux Klan. And the New Orleans Police Department doesn't need a “shoot to kill” order from the governor to go about attacking black folks. New Orleans consistently ranks among the top cities in the number of citizen complaints of police brutality. Just last month, a black man named Raymond Robair died after the police brought him to the hospital. Witnesses observed the cops brutally beating him, leaving him with four broken ribs and a ruptured spleen.
But don't expect the mainstream media to tell you anything negative about the New Orleans Police Department. Their time will likely be devoted to unsubstantiated stories that play into popular white fears about blacks -- stories about wild, black savages engaging in theft, murder, rape, and even cannibalism. White folks will eat it up like candy, and the ratings will soar accordingly. In a time when we are being bombarded by so many images and statements which seem designed to bring out the worst in us, it's very refreshing to see someone like Kanye West step up and call a spade a spade. Let's make sure he still has a career to go back to after the dust settles. First and foremost we should donate money to the relief efforts, but it would also be a good idea to cop Kanye's new album, Late Registration. It's a classic.
Justin Felux is a writer and activist based in San Antonio, Texas. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.
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