Last night, while accepting the Video Vanguard Award at the MTV Video Music Awards, Kanye West announced, among other things, that he is going to run for President in 2020.
The speech he gave leading up to his announcement was everything that people either love or hate about Kanye: full of ideas that sometimes hit in ways that are really unexpected and but also incoherent, but you can tell what he was going for.
It was all very reminiscent of the time Kanye stopped a Hurricane Katrina relief telethon in its tracks with an emotional speech and then made a stunning declaration.
It was September 2, 2005. NBC hosted a telethon/concert that drew a reported audience of 8.5 million and raised $50 million for the Red Cross. No one remembers Aaron Neville doing "Louisiana 1927" or Harry Connick, Jr. leading a rendition of "When The Saints Go Marching In."
Before going in front of the camera, Kanye told Mike Meyers, his presenting partner, "Yo, I'm gonna ad lib a little bit." When their segment was live, Meyers stuck to the script, and when it was Kanye's turn to speak, he went off:
I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says, 'They're looting.' You see a white family, it says, 'They're looking for food.' And you know that it's been five days because most of the people are black. And even for me to complain about it, I would be a hypocrite—because I've tried to turn away from the TV because it's too hard to watch. I've even been shopping before even giving a donation. So now I'm calling my business manager right now to see what's, what is the biggest amount I can give, and, and just to imagine if I was down there, and those are my people down there. So anybody out there that wants to do anything that we can help with the set-up, the way America is set up to help the, the poor, the black people, the less well-off, as slow as possible. I mean, this is—Red Cross is doing everything they can. We already realize a lot of people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way—and they've given them permission to go down and shoot us.
The show's producer Frank Radice told the Huffington Post that he remembers the backstage and set area going completely silent. Meyers then returns to the script, trying to get things running smoothly again:
And subtle, but in many ways even more profoundly devastating, is the lasting damage to the survivors' will to rebuild and remain in the area. The destruction of the spirit of the people of southern Louisiana and Mississippi may end up being the most tragic loss of all.
Then Kanye says it: "George Bush doesn't care about black people."
Meyers is speechless and turns his head to Kanye as the camera cuts to Chris Tucker, who is also stunned.
The headlines the next day were about Kanye's remarks, not the $50 million that the show raised. Some of the responses were measured ("I don't think this was a race issue, and has Kanye even donated money yet?"). Bill O'Reilly said, "I mean. Come on. West is saying authorities want to shoot blacks? Doesn't get more irresponsible than that. But what do you expect from an ideologically driven newspaper industry and the world of rap where anything goes…What do you expect."
This was a few days after O'Reilly referred on air to black New Orleans residents as "thugs." There was even a tinge of a conspiracy theory as West's second album, Late Registration, had just been released and opened at no. 1 on the Billboard charts.
All because Kanye spoke from the heart with a simple message: it's really screwed up that the government reacted so slowly to this disaster. It probably wouldn't have happened to a wealthier city. This is all kind of suspicious.
In light of his VMA speech, one Twitter user summed it up very well.
That moment was a turning point for both Kanye and the way we discuss Kanye and his multivalent politics. There is a long history of entertainers entering politics at a national level; if he was to run for president in 2020, he'd be 42, the same age Teddy Roosevelt was when he became president. His comments during that telethon (along with his multiple references to gun violence in Chicago) will be pointed to as a political awakening. As always, @mashfreak is right.
David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org