That moment, the moment Kanye West uttered those words (nearly 10 years ago), is arguably one of the most provocative in the history of television. I happened to be watching the broadcast of A Concert for Hurricane Relief and for a moment, I felt as if I’d been gut punched.

From the looks of it, Mike Myers and Chris Tucker felt that way too. It was almost as if time had slowed for a brief moment. Everything stopped cold and those few seconds eventually went viral before viral was even a thing.

I watched it a few times on YouTube today (ok, a lot of times) and Chris Tucker had me crying, literally. I suspect all three men would probably laugh about that moment today, but at the time…I didn’t know what to think.

We were well into the tragedy that had taken place in New Orleans and the heart wrenching images of the many, mostly black, folks who had essentially been abandoned by their government, had been streaming across media outlets from around the globe.

FEMA, the federal and the local government responses (Nagin doesn’t get a pass) had been abysmal. FEMA sent hundreds of firefighters who had volunteered to help rescue victims to Atlanta for 2 days of training classes on topics including sexual harassment and the history of FEMA. Meanwhile, local police and EMS personnel were being overwhelmed. At least two officers committed suicide, and over 300 deserted New Orleans after gang violence and turf wars erupted around the city. The Danziger Bridge killing of two unarmed bystanders by police and the subsequent cover-up is just one story of many that we may never really know.

Two days after the levies failed, drowning  hundreds, Bush was busy playing golf and taking birthday pictures with John McCain. When the national guard finally arrived, it seemed as if more resources were devoted towards maintaing  ‘law and order’ than actually facilitating the extraction of U.S. citizens from a life and death situation. Over 1800 people had lost their lives by the time they stopped counting bodies. From my perspective the Katrina response was indefensible…no doubt about it.

Even so, Kanye’s off script statement rubbed me the wrong way. At least it did initially. But then things started to change.  The national debate that had already begun on the governments response, began to rage, forcing us to take a hard look at classism and racism in America. Kanye’s actions demonstrated the unapologetic, in your face, sort of activism that happens to be a necessary evil in this world. And make no mistake about it, it is absolutely necessary.

As I reflect on the 10 year anniversary of the Katrina tragedy and follow the movements that currently rage today, I can’t help but think back to that Kanye moment and the seeds it laid within both the cyber and physical space of the black community. Today, Black Twitter is an undeniable force on the net and the organization of a number of activist groups have made amazing strides.

In his own way, Kanye, back then, was saying to the world that Black Lives Matter…they really do.

 

Written by A.N.S