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Ask the White Guy Answers: Was Kanye West Racist?

The White Guy explains why Kanye West's statement "George Bush doesn't care about Black people" can't be racist. Read his explanation here.

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.