Over a decade ago, I was watching a benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina’s victims and survivors. Rapper Kanye West and actor Michael Myers appeared on the screen to continue a plea for donations for the devastation Katrina caused in New Orleans. Instead of reading the scripted plan, West went off-script and delivered a passionate address about the racial injustices of the rescue and relief of thousands of African American residents in New Orleans. In the end, he declared, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.”
My face mirrored the expression of Myers—my mouth dropped, I chuckled a bit, and I asked out loud, “Did he just say that?” It was a bit like the 2004 Superbowl half-time Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake wardrobe malfunction. I needed an immediate instant replay to make sure what I thought I heard and saw had actually happened.
When later it was replayed, I nodded in agreement. I had watched the Katrina coverage like the rest of the world, appalled at our inability to help rescue residents in New Orleans, and in particular African American residents. West’s proclamation spoke for those suffering atop rooftops and in makeshift canoes—for African Americans whose government had left them behind once again.
It is this single event that makes West’s current bromance with President Trump so perplexing. Recently, West has stated his admiration for Trump on Twitter stating, “He is my brother.” Yes, former President George W. Bush did deserve West’s litany for his mishandling of Hurricane Katrina leading to over 1,800 deaths, but Trump has unapologetically made racist and sexist comments. He has publicly degraded disabled people and wounded warriors. When someone calls Trump out on any of his actions, he lies stating he never made such statements.
It is also upsetting that West supports Trump—a 71 year-old white president who calls African Americans “the Blacks”, garners loads of support from White Nationalists, and has a difficult time condemning the acts of the KKK. He’s also mishandled his own hurricane as Puerto Rico is still without power 7 months after Hurricane Maria’s landfall.
I’ve been wanting West to reappear, to call him out in a manner similar to Eminem, Robert DeNiro, or Greg Popovich. Instead we watch a narcissistic partnership, where West shows his true colors—MAGA red.
West is also well-known for another spectacle—interrupting Taylor Swift’s Video Music Awards speech to defend Beyonce’s honor, stating that she should have won the award. Though awfully rude, it was an attempt to bring systemic racism at awards shows to the forefront. Last year, Adele made a similar remark as she accepted a Grammy that she thought Beyonce should have won.
Perhaps it’s the spectacle that West admires—the call-out of George W. Bush and the takedown of Taylor Swift are akin to the rogue-ness of Trump’s impromptu statements at his rallies or on television. After all, in his recent song to Trump, he raps, “but ever since Trump won, it proved that I could be president.” That statement may be the most telling. West has gone from racial justice truth-teller to an admirer of ego, ambition, and greed all because in his mind, it could lead him to the highest power in the land. If he, in fact, is out of his “sunken place” this new place is somewhere equally as frightening, possibly on a floor in Trump Tower, just not the top one.