First, have you noticed that numerous articles refer to the affected region as “third world” in its devastation?
… The second issue circles around race within the U.S. If you watch the news footage of the post-Katrina rescue operations, you’ll notice again and again that the people being rescued seem to be overwhelmingly African American.
The question of race was recently picked up by Joan Walsh in Salon:
As I watched buses make their way from the Superdome to the Astrodome in Houston, in a surreal and perverse echo of the Freedom Rides of the ’60s, a few thoughts were inescapable. Why didn’t we send a caravan of buses into the city’s poorest neighborhoods on Saturday or Sunday, when the dimensions of the disaster were already predictable? And what is really going to happen in Houston? These are dispossessed people who’ve been further dispossessed — do we have a word for that? After a few days, the Superdome is already a slice of hell, with overflowing bathrooms, fights, rape allegations and now, people dying outside. Do we expect the Astrodome — abandoned by the Houston Astros in 2000 for Enron Field, excuse me, Minute Maid Park — to fare much better? Sure, Houston’s got electricity and running water, but tens of thousands of scared, angry people packed into an abandoned sports stadium — we couldn’t come up with a better symbol of how little we care about the poor, how little we’ve thought about what to do with them, for them, if we tried.
As if to make sure we didn’t miss the ironies, the same week as Katrina came news that the poverty rate has climbed again, the fourth straight year under President Bush. But let’s be fair: John Kerry barely mentioned the poor last year. And while President Clinton’s booming 1990s lifted some boats, and his welfare reform at least muted the ideological sniping about whether poor folks were victims or freeloaders, nobody’s bothered lately to pay much attention to whether welfare reform made people’s lives better, whether it paved a path out of poverty or just moved its subjects into the vast ranks of the working poor.
Another TV ‘relief official’ said Auntie was just plain unplanned. Unplanned —like what happens–who happens–when you’re too dumb or lazy to use birth control. If you’re poor, that is. As if there was still anybody planning for the black and the poor in America.
The father describes standing in his living room with his wife and five children as the floodwaters rose, trying to decide what to do. They have a car, but he says “it’s a five-seater” and some of the family members would have had to sit on laps. Seems like a ridiculous reason to stay, no? But then he explains that they heard the highway police would not hesitate to arrest drivers who broke the law. So he stayed at home, choosing to take his chances with nature instead of taking his chances as a black man in the Southern criminal justice system.
What is really strange is that these issues were not being discussed on TV. As Jack Shafer discussed on Slate:
If the reporter on the ground couldn’t answer the questions, a researcher could have Nexised the New Orleans Times-Picayune five-parter from 2002, “Washing Away,” which reported that the city’s 100,000 residents without private transportation were likely to be stranded by a big storm. In other words, what’s happening is what was expected to happen: The poor didn’t get out in time.
I’ll add more related articles to this post as I find them. Feel free to post more to the comments.
UPDATE: Three more posts on Katrina and race via BoingBoing:
On an NBC telethon, singer Kayne West said: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people!” NBC disavowed his statements, and there are reports that Comcast is censoring the CNN coverage of the episode.
Jordan Flaherty, an editor of Left Turn magazine writes:
The city has a 40% illiteracy rate, and over 50% of black ninth graders will not graduate in four years. Louisiana spends on average $4,724 per child’s education and ranks 48th in the country for lowest teacher salaries. The equivalent of more than two classrooms of young people drop out of Louisiana schools every day and about 50,000 students are absent from school on any given day. Far too many young black men from New Orleans end up enslaved in Angola Prison, a former slave plantation where inmates still do manual farm labor, and over 90% of inmates eventually die in the prison. It is a city where industry has left, and most remaining jobs are are low-paying, transient, insecure jobs in the service economy.
Race has always been the undercurrent of Louisiana politics. This disaster is one that was constructed out of racism, neglect and incompetence. Hurricane Katrina was the inevitable spark igniting the gasoline of cruelty and corruption. From the neighborhoods left most at risk, to the treatment of the refugees to the the media portrayal of the victims, this disaster is shaped by race.
Malik Rahim, a veteran of the Black Panther Party in New Orleans, for decades an organizer of public housing tenants both there and in San Francisco and a recent Green Party candidate for New Orleans City Council writes (via this BoingBoing post):
It’s not like New Orleans was caught off guard. This could have been prevented.
There’s military right here in New Orleans, but for three days they weren’t even mobilized. You’d think this was a Third World country.
UPDATE: Were things really that out-of-control on the ground?
UPDATE: “Stuff like this makes me fear for the future of the human race.” So says Kevin Drum about a news story that
the Louisiana State Crescent City Connection Police Department closed to foot traffic the three access points to the bridge closest to the West Bank of the river.
When confronted by the blockade:
Members of the group nonetheless approached the police lines, and “questioned why we couldn’t cross the bridge … They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City.
“These were code words,” the paramedics wrote, “for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.”
UPDATE: Naomi Klein writes:
New Orleans could be reconstructed by and for the very people most victimised by the flood.
UPDATE: What the right is saying.