“George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” said rap artist Kanye West on Sept. 2 at NBC’s “A Concert for Hurricane Relief.” That comment concluded West’s critique of the government’s response to the hurricane, when he also said previously, with a passion that displayed his sincerity and urgency, “America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off, as slow as possible.”
According to him, during coverage of Katrina, blacks were portrayed as looters, while whites were portrayed as looking for food. West, who has been described as a socially conscious rapper is no stranger to “controversy.” So his remarks were described as controversial. In fact, so controversial that NBC decided to censor the rapper’s comments about the president on its West Coast broadcast of the event and later issued a statement that said the artist’s remarks were in no way representative of the views of the network. In this case, some ask, including myself, where’s the controversy?
Social and political activism is nothing new for artists. John Lennon practiced it in the 60s when he talked about Christianity. Sinead O’Connor made her political statement when she tore up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live in 1992. The emphasis should not be placed on why West made those remarks, but rather on the content and meaning of what he said. Perhaps, West should have better timed his comments, for the sake of not embarrassing NBC, but from his appearance, it was clear that West could not control his emotions because the subject matter affected him deeply.
If the network really looked into its own and other networks’ coverage of the disaster, they would realize that it included those biases and stereotypes that West spoke of – which included referring to Katrina’s victims as refugees (How can people be refugees in their own country?). Nonetheless, the federal government’s response to the hurricane displayed outright carelessness and neglect.
To put things into perspective, remember Sept. 11, 2001. On Sept. 14, 2001, President Bush was in New York at Ground Zero, comforting the nation. The president should have been on the ground in New Orleans, equipped with rain boots, wading through the waters like so many people did. Instead, he first surveyed the area on board Air Force One, and then when he actually arrived in Louisiana, he held a press conference, reminiscing about when he used to go to New Orleans, rather than discussing why so many of the nation’s people had to suffer for days before any form of help reached them.
Though the events are dissimilar only in form, one aspect remains clear. Both events were devastating national emergencies that required the president’s care and leadership. Why the same amount of care was not displayed for the victims of Katrina in New Orleans is the million-dollar question.
The media today is too concerned with appearing liberal than focusing on social and political issues such as racism and classism, that all Americans need to be made aware of – that took a natural disaster to bring to the surface. Rather than try to censor unpopular criticism, the media should do its best to investigate these issues such as those brought to light by Kanye West. To the American media, the story here is not Kanye West; it’s much bigger than him. Do your job and pursue the real story.
Charmie R. Snetter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.