September 3, 2005


As with nearly every political story dealing with society, race is entering into the debate over the rescue efforts in New Orleans. The right are screaming that it's got nothing to do with race, and dismissing those calling attention to the issue as irresponsible, out of line, and wrong.

And in fairness, yes, there are black leaders and blacks themselves who are very much too quick to cry race, and see racism where there likely is none. But that seems to be a relatively minor problem in the scheme of things.

But the fact is, yes, race is a part of everything of this nature, and race certainly plays a role in this event.

No, the fact that most of the victims trapped in New Orleans are poor and black was not part of some diabolical racist plot, though righties will likely try to suggest this is the complaint as a means of dismissing the real issue.

The fact is that New Orleans' population is 2/3 black, and it's level of poverty was very high. No matter who was affected, they would be predominately poor, and predominatly black.

And it's a fact that those who remained were often unable to leave due to poverty. They either had no car, no money for gas and lodging, family to care for, and other reasons, none of which come close to suggesting that they somehow brought their plight on themselves. To blithely and callously suggest that these people had it coming is the thinking of a lazy and likely racist mind.

Now figures on the right desperate to deflect blame away from Bush are attacking the mayor of New Orleans (no doubt in payback for his honest indignation with Bush and the Feds in his interview) and local officials, saying that they are the ones to blame for the fact that so many of the poor, elderly, and other people unable to flee were not evacuated ahead of the storm.

[Note: Just what the hell is it with the Republicans ALWAYS blaming the victims? It's as predicible as Old Faithful. When Bush's actions cause suffering or death, his army of apologist ALWAYS attempt to blame the victims. It's loathsome.]

But this ignores the fact that city officials had no way of mounting such a massive mobilization without any aid from federal or state resources.

The tragic fact remains that there was no effort to evacuate those too poor or infirm to get out of town on their own. Trying to point the finger of blame for this is nothing more than attempts to deflect blame away from Bush and the Feds, as it's unclear how they expected the city to be capable of evacuating hundreds of thousands of people, all within a day or so, without federal help.

Which brings me to why race is indeed a part of this story. It's largely latent racism. For decades, people have retained their racism, but it's been driven into the unspoken realm. They use code words, and are careful to never utter anything too blatantly racist. But Trent Lott, Ashcroft, and many others on the right still support and court the support of groups with overtly racist agendas.

Bush is the first president for decades to refuse to speak to the NAACP convention and has repeatedly refused to meet with black leaders. His administration intervened in the University of Michigan Affirmative Action case arguing against allowing race to be among the many factors used to consider admissions.

Don't think Republicans are racist? Ask yourself, which party would a blatant racist feel more at home in? The Democrats? Or the Republicans? I rest my case.

Republicans, of course, have no monopoly on racism. But it's true that they're the party that racists strongly identify with, due to their blatant disregard for civil rights and disdain for black leaders, affirmative action, welfare, and any other program which attempts to alleviate discrimination and racism.

But those who say race is involved in this situation have a point: Would relief have been more rapid, more urgent, and more massive, had the affected population been almost entirely white? There is no way to know, but it's not a ridiculous question to ponder.

It is also a rock solid fact that many in our country are watching the suffering in New Orleans and thinking that "those people" are animals anyway, and who cares if they die. They likely laugh at the video of elderly blacks and mock them in their minds, feeling oh-so-superior. Look at that weird tattoo, look at the way they dress, look at that tongue piercing, look at how dirty and poor they are. They sit and instantly judge them as "bad", again while feeling superior somehow. Perhaps you've had similar thoughts yourself, even if subconsciously.

Even those who swear they don't have a racist bone in their body are likely subconsciously thinking it's because the victims are poor blacks that there's been so much crime. As the rapper gaining attention for his statements on a fund raising concert on NBC asserting racism in the response said, if they show blacks stealing, they say they're looting, if they show whites doing the same thing, they say they're desperately trying to survive.

The accounts of lawlessness and shootings were instantly seized on and blown out of all proportion. The media played up that angle ahead of all others, despite the fact that there was little solid evidence of it, and will likely turn out to be a few isolated incidents. Yet they breathlessly suggested that the entire town was crawling with armed and crazed criminals. And of course, the implication that they were black didn't need to be mentioned.

When you heard these reports, did you envision blacks? Why? Did they say it was blacks shooting? No. It could have been whites. But the fact remains that everyone, including myself, instantly assumed it was blacks. The odds are that it was, but it still illustrates how strongly people associate crime with blacks.

But these people, these victims, whether you are put off by their appearance and behavior or whatever, are American citizens. And they're all human beings.

I feel certain that race will definitely play a large part in the aftermath. It won't be blatant, though there will likely be a few instances of blatant hostility reported.

But it will be more insidious. For instance, you know beyond a doubt that many, many people in Dallas, Ft. Worth, San Antonio, and other Texas towns are freaking out at this very moment at the thought of thousands of poor blacks "invading" their towns.

Some will feel the need to "guard" themselves, lock up their women-folk, and will likely feel the need to arm themselves. It will be ugly. And another rock-solid fact is that fewer blacks will be taken in and helped than if it were thousands of, say, Minnesotans who were streaming into town in desperate need of shelter.

Even people who are not overtly racist would not consider taking in a black family, whereas they'd be happy to take in a white family. This applies to all people, Democrat or Republican. And particularly to people who don't consider themselves racist in the slightest. Would YOU take in a black family or individuals? Are you racist?

I only ask those questions to illustrate that racism is indeed alive and well, no matter how deeply submerged.

And although there is no way to prove it, one could reasonably wonder if the lackadaisical nature of the response and the ongoing slowness and seeming lack of urgency in the rescue efforts has some roots in the race and status of the majority of victims.

There has already been at least one report of boats picking up whites while leaving blacks in more distress behind. Racism? Impossible to say. But if you think racism won't enter into things, you're in a dream world.

In that respect, it's totally wrong for the right to scoff at and dismiss those who warn of the racist component in the rescue efforts or lack of them, the slowness and lack of urgency of the initial response, and the effort to simply find places for the tens of thousands lucky enough to get out of the area.


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