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Ask the White Guy Answers: Was Kanye West Racist?

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.


Paraphrased Question:
Was Kanye West racist when he said “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people”?

Answer:
I think this Kanye West interview on “Nightline” is where Kanye is at his best—slightly contrite, but perceptive: “I have a hard time believing that George Bush cares about anyone. So, sidebar, Black people also.”

I think it is unfortunate that Kanye has now apologized for “calling him a racist.” 

It’s unfortunate because his earlier reaction was the better of the two. Objectively, you cannot say that former President Bush doesn’t care ONLY about Black people; his saying that Kanye’s comments were the worst part of his presidency speaks to both his damaged thought process AND his relative lack of racist behavior. It’s important to remember that his Cabinet was relatively diverse, but that didn’t protect him from managing so poorly.

I don’t think that this incident is the best learning experience because the wounds of the Bush presidency are still ongoing (two wars, economic disaster) and the aftermath (a Black president) is being leveraged by the Koch brothers and others to build a political movement that has divisiveness as its single largest source of power aggregation.

That said, I think what we can learn from this is that everyone has a bad choice of words now and then; for example, Justice Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” comments were not well phrased. It is the nature of an apology that makes the difference; a heartfelt “I’m very sorry. That was a poor choice of words. I apologize for the offense they gave” is very likely to set things straight. Kanye’s apology was very good. I just wish he hadn’t made it!

I don’t think Kanye West’s remarks were racist. Technically, they couldn’t be racist—because they were from a Black man to a white man (racism can only be directed down the economic scale, not up). At best, they could have been bigoted—but that’s a semantic argument that’s lost on most people. But “racist” is how Kanye West describes his own words, and I believe everyone has the right to their own imprimatur.

 

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35 Comments

  • This is what is so great about this site, you learn. I did not know that I did not know. Now I know. Also the “I like you” comment cracked me up! Thanks

  • Racist or not, the Bush administration poorly handled the Katrina situation and a host of other major decisions that will affect us for generations to come. The Katrina response was the epitome of bad management and judgment and the blame rests at Bush’s feet and legacy at this point. Regarding racism, one commenter hit the nail on the head when he or she said that racism is a matter of one group feeling superior over another. African Americans by and large do not feel superior to whites. Their self-hatred contributes in part to the current state we find ourselves in. Education, economics and time will one day level the playing field. I believe the next generation has a good chance. Every race can have individuals who are prejudice. African Americans are no exception. Kanye West’s comments reflect his prejudice, arrogance, and immaturity. Here is hoping he learns to keep his mouth shut.

  • Anonymous

    I am an Hispanic Female. I do not think of President Bush as a racist at all. I do not know what is in Mr. Kanye West’s heart. Racism infects human nature and destroys human beings. Those that hold on to it will forever be ruled by its ugliness. Those that perpetuate the hate will not allow this nation to heal. The wrongs done in the past have certainly left many scares, Hate only deepens the scares. The kinder and more respectful we become to one another the better our country will be. Some things can never be made right here on this earth because of how heinous the crime. My persepective is that at some point we all will pay for any ill we have caused.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Luke, for pointing out the often missed nuance of economic dominance in the definition of racism or racist. Merriam-Webster could learn a thing or twp, as could other dictionaries that fail to note the correct definition. Frankly, I wish all would listen carefully to such statements and interpret them atated. Even if said white man to black man, the statement “Bush doesn’t care about Black people” isn’t itself racist. The statement isn’t even calling Mr. Bush a racist. It is simply pointing out that the person is indifferent to other groups of people. A person may be callous, aloof or out of touch without being racist. It is only when one’s callous policies and actions begin to disproportunately harm groups that one can complete the analysis.

  • Anonymous

    Dear White Guy:

    I think that the problem with a lot of your readers lies in the fact that they are one sided individuals. Many of us like for people to hear our perspective, but fail to understand the perspective of others OR acknowledge our wrongs. I personally feel that Kanye, while blatantly honest, could have found a better way to say things. But hey, is there really a politically correct way to label someone as racist?

  • Anonymous

    Clearly Diversity INC needs a new White Guy, the one you have is too thoughtful to be an accurate representative of what the majority is angling for. It’s akin to the GOP membership asking Clarence Thomas what the average black man thinks, not going to be accurate. Luke you have been too tainted by sanity to reflect the opinons of Tea Party, Glen Beck watchers and Bush voting Americans

  • Anonymous

    Maybe readers and Luke should understand how gov’t works before accusing someone of inaction. I guess Bush was wrong in one respect that he assumed the governor and mayor knew what they were doing. Nobody remembers that it wasn’t the storm that did most of the damage it was the levees breaking. He should be a democrat and then he would be celebrated for caring and not doing anything. There is such a double standard. Look at the current President and Haiti.

  • Anonymous

    Kanye is a loose cannon who speaks his feelings without much thought. This creates the impression that he is a racist or a bigot. He may be bigotted but I don’t know him well enough to say so. I am not familiar with his music so I can’t say if he shows the same trends there which would not be off the cuff.

  • Anonymous

    That was a different time during the civil rights era without the systems/processes in place for such disasters. A reference in the last few years might be a little more relative. Ok, I guess we will wait until another disaster happens, wait BP. We are still finding the truth about that. Back to the subject, Kanye also has a history of remarks and actions that paints the whole picture.

  • Anonymous

    I heard your interview on NPR Monday Nov 15th 2010 with McWorther. You were right on time with your view. Mr. West did not call President Bush a “Racist”. He said what I and others had been saying regarding Bush for a long long time. Fact he being a republican, rich, white and from a southern state has been associated with individuals or groups that supposively don’t care about Blacks and black African-Americans in this country. Another thing that I appreciate from you. Your explanation of what “Racism” means, that is relative to economics, is what it was viewed as in my neighborhood back in the 60′s. It was about whites having the power to express their will on blacks as it affected them economicly. Not a social issue but when white prevent blacks from accessing those mechanism that would improve their economic status in life. Jobs, commerce, skills attainment, education, and ect. Today you see it still going on with the issue of Black Farmers getting their settlement money and just lately it was said that Hispanics and Women farmers could get paid from that settlement right away while the Black Farmers woud have to wait for congressional approval. Thats racism in it true form. Thanks for the hard work you have apparently spent deriving the observation skills you possess.

  • “”I don’t think Kanye West’s remarks were racist. Technically, they couldn’t be racist—because they were from a Black man to a white man (racism can only be directed down the economic scale, not up). At best, they could have been bigoted—but that’s a semantic argument that’s lost on most people.”

    Kanye West makes more money than George Bush. Therefore, your statement is incorrect.

  • Anonymous

    I think Kanye’s earlier comments could be indicative, or reflective, of racism he felt in his own heart. Remember, “the thief thinks everyone steals.” We shouldn’t go around accusing people of being racist for no reason. Still, he did apologize for his unwarranted remarks, and that counts for something.

  • Anonymous

    Kayne West said he was sorry. George Bush accepted that and he harbors no hard feelings towards Kayne. Now, here comes Luke Visconti telling a black man (Kayne West) what to say and how to act. What? A black man is not allowed to think for himself, according to Luke Visconti? I respect Kayne West for being gracious enough to admit when he’s blundered. I cannot respect someone who owns a company (Diversity, Inc) that simply exists to tell black people who they may speak to and what they must say. Apparently, Kayne West’s skin is a tad too dark for your taste. I pity you. Go ahead, write some smarta$$ed lame comback. It’s YOUR stupid website and you, “The White Guy” are the “decider”.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, Luke Visconti! When I read your responses to the Guest commenting on the article, it made me smile. Thank you.

  • AngloAmerican

    I think that maybe some people should look up programs such as PEPFAR and tell me if Pres. Bush is still a racist. And if so, what was his motivation for committing to the program?

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