The George W. Bush White House demonstrated a “passive indifference” toward blacks that is common in a society that believes all people drive SUVs with trunks full of sparkling water, stated Barack Obama during a 2005 speech on racism and Hurricane Katrina.
In the speech, Obama strongly implied that Bush adviser Karl Rove was a racist.
He further said that while Bush may not be lying, he should be called “on his bluff” when “he says he has finally been awakened about the fact of poverty and racism in our midst.”
Obama made the remarks at the Harvard Law School Association “Celebration of Black Alumni” Award Luncheon on Sept. 17, 2005. He delivered the keynote address and was the recipient of that year’s award.
Obama, then a U.S. senator, was first introduced on stage by his future pick for the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, who at the time was the dean of Harvard Law School.
Obama stated: “You know, after the hurricane and its aftermath there was a lot of discussion about the fact that those who were impacted by the achingly slow response on the part of the federal government were disproportionally black.”
“And one of my favorite musicians, that’s right I’m 44 but I still can hang, Kanye West, said on a telethon, ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people.’ And that also shook up the ordinary. NBC scrabbled and they had to… Mike Meyers was standing there. He’s usually a funny guy but he didn’t have a witty comeback for that one. He was looking like somebody just made a bad smell or something.”
Continued Obama: “I love Kanye’s music, but I actually disagreed with how he phrased his statement. … I said I do not ascribe to the White House, or to FEMA, to Mr. Chertoff or Mr. Brown any active malice. I don’t think they were in there plotting and saying ‘you know what these are black people, lets not rescue them.’
“But rather what was revealed was a passive indifference that is common in our culture, common in our society. A sense that, of course once the evacuation order is issued that you will hop in your SUV and fill it up with $100 worth of gasoline and load up your trunk with some sparkling water and take your credit card and check in to the nearest hotel until the storm passes.”
See Part 2 of Obama’s remarks:
Obama said the notion that “folks couldn’t do that simply did not register in the minds of those in charge.”
“And it’s not surprising that it didn’t register, because it hasn’t registered for the last six, seven, eight, 20, 50, 75, 100 years,” he added.
Obama said the “incompetence” aspect of the Bush White House to Katrina was being “color blind.”
The politician then focused on Bush and Rove.
“I do have a couple of suggestions in terms of how I think politically we are going to have to move forward,” stated Obama.
“First of all just in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane I think it’s important that we don’t just assume that George Bush is lying when he says he has finally been awakened about the fact of poverty and racism in our midst. And it’s tempting to do so, especially when he decides to put Karl Rove in charge of reconstruction, but I think it is absolutely imperative that we call him on his bluff. That we assume the best. That we trust although we should verify.”