During an NBC telethon for victims of Katrina last Friday night, rapper Kanye West launched an unscripted, self-indulgent diatribe declaring that "George Bush doesn't care about black people." He also riffed against the Iraq war and generally made the case that America is racist. He should be ashamed.
Just last week Time magazine dubbed West "the smartest man in pop music" and "Hip Hop's Class Act" - which, in retrospect, seems to have kept the bar for that industry not far from its historical low.
Assume for the sake of argument that West's rant were accurate. Was this really the time to say so? The telethon was intended to raise millions of dollars for victims, a great many of them poor black folks. What was to be gained from insulting untold millions of middle-class voters who disagree with West about Bush, the war or America? Could it be that, if the top priority was to raise money for the victims, maybe - just maybe - this wasn't the moment to self-righteously preen? Perhaps West's top priority was "keeping it real," even at the price of keeping the victims miserable just a little while longer.
Apparently such objections are meaningless in this environment, where any Katrina-related racial grievance has merit. For example, on September 2, Randall Robinson, the former head of TransAfrica, matter-of-factly asserted on (the supposedly fact-checked) HuffingtonPost.com that, thanks to Bush's inattention, black hurricane victims (not "hurricane victims" - just the black ones) were eating corpses to stay alive after four days without food. Robinson later retracted the bogus assertion but did not apologize for suggesting that it doesn't take much prompting for blacks to resort to cannibalism. Why should he apologize? If it were so, it wouldn't be because of any shortcomings of the cannibals-of-color but because of Bush's racism.
For the first day or two of this horrible story, the media held off talking about the now holy duality of "race and class." A few writers, most notably Jack Shafer of Slate magazine, thought the silence was a bit odd and raised some interesting questions about media coverage. Suddenly, within 24 hours the press couldn't get enough of the subject. Cable news anchors were demanding to know "what it says about America" that those left behind in New Orleans were disproportionately poor and black.
That newscasters were suddenly shocked by this development is a bit odd. Under what scenario, one might ask, were they expecting the Superdome to fill disproportionately with rich white folks while the poor watched from safety and comfort?