West made this unfiltered, deeply emotional assertion during A Concert for Hurricane Relief, a live celebrity telethon raising funds for Hurricane Katrina rescue and relief efforts. The storm devastated the Bahamas and Cuba, Florida, and the coasts of Mississippi, Alabama, and New Orleans.
“I hate the way they portray us in the media. You see a Black family, it says, ‘They’re looting.’ You see a white family, it says, ‘They’re looking for food.’ And, you know, it’s been five days [waiting for assistance] because most of the people are Black,” West said on live television, straying from the teleprompter that his telethon co-celebrity, Mike Myers, had so stridently read from seconds before.
West went on to call himself a hypocrite, saying he too had tried to turn away from Katrina television coverage. He’d gone shopping even before attempting to make a donation, he admitted, so he’d be contacting his manager to see what would be the largest contribution he could make.
“…Those are my people down there. So anybody out there that wants to do anything that we can help—with the way America is set up to help the poor, the Black people, the less well-off, as slow as possible,” West continued. “I mean, the Red Cross is doing everything they can. We already realize a lot of people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way—and they’ve given them permission to go down and shoot us.”
Myers attempted to steer West back to the teleprompter, taking the reigns to read other prepared responses. But when Meyers took a breath, West took his last opportunity to make a point: “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people,” he uttered. Meyers looked at him dumbfounded.
Before he had a chance to continue, NBC, the sponsor of the telethon, turned off West’s mic and cut to a live shot of Chris Tucker, also visibly shaken by West’s assertion.
For the 10th anniversary of West’s famed phrase, the Los Angeles Times wrote that West’s accusation of Bush as racist went viral well before the business model for internet virality, consisting of Twitter and Facebook algorithms and BuzzFeed-esque content mills, had even been implemented.
Houston hip-hop group K-OTIX turned West’s remarks into a song, using West’s Gold Digger to back parodied verses expanding upon the ways in which Bush and the U.S. blamed and ignored Katrina’s victims.
Critics accused West of race-baiting, while Bush later called the accusations of racism the “worst moment” of his presidency. Bush said that he resented the assertion. Five years later, West went on the Today Show and appeared to rethink his claims, and while he didn’t necessarily issue an apology to the president, his critics accused West of pandering.
“I would tell George Bush, in my moment of frustration, that I didn’t have the grounds to call him a racist,” he said.
Twelve years later, with parts of Texas and Louisiana under water once again after Hurricane Harvey, it’s unclear how West’s shaky but poignant words fit into the narrative of Houston, the fifth-most populous city in the U.S. with a quarter Black population. Aside from pockets of climate scientists and critics of Texas Republicans, the response to Harvey itself has largely remained un-politicized, with Texans and their supporters instead beginning the years of work it will take to shelter and restore the property and people left in disaster’s wake.
That hasn’t stopped some from taking a moment to remember a time when West was openly critical of a government that he felt didn’t support its Black citizens, particularly in relation to West’s show of support for President Donald Trump (which he has reportedly rescinded).
12 years ago today
September 2nd, 2005 pic.twitter.com/p0ZlAhDVA5
— Andrew Barber (@fakeshoredrive) September 2, 2017
You almost forget how awkward Kanye was going off script but he spoke what he felt👏✊
— Ravi (@RaviM21) September 2, 2017
Great moments in history https://t.co/FjEMwzboNf
— Bree Newsome Bass (@BreeNewsome) September 2, 2017
A MOMENT. RT if you saw this live. I didn't have Tivo so I couldn't rewind it but I wanted too so bad. https://t.co/RNJHFKieeQ
— Reagan Gomez (@ReaganGomez) September 2, 2017
Given West’s patchy history with the president, who’s to say what the rapper would say of Trump today? Trump’s critics have already expressed their skepticism of Trump’s response to Harvey’s survivors, from his empty tweets to his empty statements and to his possibly-empty donation.
But it wasn’t until Bush’s second term that he was hit with this accusation, that he was reluctant to help Black Americans. For Trump, however, this sentiment has followed him throughout his campaign and into his presidency, from his history of housing discrimination and his rumor-mongering around President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, to his outward condemnation of the removal of Confederate statues.
With the confidence of Black Texans, Trump, as he once told Black constituents reluctant to vote for him, already didn’t have much to lose.