John McWhorter: Kanye West: Bard or Bully?

[John McWhorter is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and lecturer at Columbia University, specializing academically in language change and language contact.]

Kanye West yelling that George Bush didn’t care about black people in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was not, in itself, interesting. He had a CD to plump for (Late Registration), as well as just plain himself to plump for, as he was a newer phenom then than the source of regular episodes of galumphing megalomania that he is now.

Interesting, however, is West’s acute discomfort in his recent interview with Matt Lauer at actually being confronted with footage of his accusation, good and loud and right in his face. With all of his cockiness about so much, he couldn’t take it. The sight of this was especially haunting in that West, like so many artists, is hyperarticulate in his creations but not especially so when speaking casually (not a knock on rappers, mind you – there were times when it was hard to believe that the George Gershwin of interviews was the man who wrote Porgy and Bess or the opening to Concerto in F). Both verbally and emotionally, when having to actually own calling Bush a bigot, West falls to pieces.

Most definitely, the good word in September 2005 was that if Katrina’s victims were white, the governmental response would have been quicker and more effective. In my view that was always a weak case (Hurricane Andrew, 1992? Same delay, same complaints – but the victims were white). Few, however, went as far as to treat this as evidence that George Bush, himself, thinks of black people as less than human and deserved to be outed as such. To most of us, however we felt about the man and his work, that would have seemed truly mean....

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Paul Harris - 11/18/2010

While this was an important discussion about racism (finally) that the media needs to spend more time on the real issue is that in his book, Bush claims that the worst moment of his Administration was being called a racist by Kanye West.

This is incredibly shocking, for a supposed leader to consider what this one hot-tempered individual THINKS or SAYS about him to be the worst part of his Administration tells volumes. Really, this is worse than the fact that his decisions (Iraq, Katrina) led to the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians is not much worse proves that this guy was far from the "Compassionate Conservative" he and Karl Rove marketed Bush as.

Paul Harris
Author, “Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina"

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