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Interestingly, Kanye West’s surprising (joking?) announcement during his MTV Video Music Awards acceptance speech Sunday that he plans to run for President in 2020 occurred just a few days before the 10th anniversary of his infamous “George Bush does not care about black people” comment during a famous Sept. 2, 2005 Hurricane Katrina telethon.
Days after the storm caused levees to fail and prompt massive flooding in New Orleans and surrounding areas, Kanye served as a presenter during NBC Universal’s A Concert for Hurricane Relief show.
While the event generated $50 million and featured performances from Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Aaron Neville, and Harry Connick Jr., it is mostly remembered for Kanye’s unscripted criticisms about his opinions about how black people were rescued and portrayed in the media. While comedian Mike Myers stood at his side, Kanye ignored the teleprompter and launched into an impromptu tirade about the tragedy.
“I hate the way they portray us in the media,” Kanye said during his opening. “If you see a black family it says, ‘They’re looting.’ See a white family it says, ‘They’re looking for food.’”
Kanye continued to argue that there was a racial disparity and more needed to be done to help. Even though he applauded the efforts of the Red Cross, he added that he was working to make a donation. “I’m calling my business manager right now to see what’s the biggest amount I can give.”
Although the moment was off the-cuff and very awkward for Myers, the camera stayed on Kanye. When Kanye did pause, allowing Myers to read his next cue, what followed was Kanye’s silencing statement: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
When the camera panned to comedian Chris Tucker, he too appeared surprised, and it took him a few seconds to move on with the show’s script.
In the aftermath of the statement Kanye made on the heels of releasing his sophomore album, Late Registration, and one of his biggest hits, “Gold Digger,” the rapper was both praised and criticized. In his book Decision Points, released in 2010, President George W. Bush described the attack from Kanye as a low point during his presidency. When interviewed on The Today Show, he expressed his anger regarding the matter.
“He called me racist,” Bush told Today. “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 handles his business.’ It’s another thing to say, ‘This man is a racist.’ I resent it. It’s not true. And it was one of the most disgusting moments of my presidency.”
After Bush’s reaction, Kanye admitted to Today: “I would tell George Bush in my moment of frustration that I didn’t have the grounds to call him a racist.”
Kanye added that while he may not have used the right words, his reaction to the Hurricane Katrina aftermath had come from a good place. “I’m here to man up to different mistakes that I’ve made and to speak to the moment when I pegged George Bush as a racist,” he told Today. “I did not have the information, enough information, in that situation to call him a racist. That might have been the emotion that I felt. Me being a rational, well-thought-out empathetic human being and thinking about it after the fact, I would have chosen different words. Even in these times where I was considered to have done something so wrong, my motivation was from a good place. Maybe mistimed. Maybe not the right wording. Using or realizing the power of my words and the way they would stop the Internet. But nonetheless, it’s very pure and from a good place.”