Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Makes me Sick and Angry

The following article is in this weeks LEO, After it, you will find my response

Katrina to be known as the ‘black tsunami’
Guest Commentary by Phillip Bailey

Whatever historians decide to call this current decade, the few photographs, documentaries and essays will paint a grisly, Hobbesian picture. One tragedy after another has developed, and at each corner Americans are seeing how thin, incompetent and indifferent their institutions can be.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman reported that before 9/11, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the three worst and most likely disasters facing the United States “were a terrorist attack on New York, a major earthquake in San Francisco and a hurricane strike on New Orleans.” Scary to think that in just half a decade that prediction is two-thirds complete. Maybe the presidential candidates in 2008 ought to pay closer attention to scientific studies that predict there’s a 75-percent chance an earthquake will hit the City by the Bay. The last image of the decade should not be a smoldering Golden Gate Bridge with thousands fleeing for safety.

While the disaster in New Orleans doesn’t have the direct political overtones of 9/11 — terrorists are much easier to hate than hurricanes — the failure of political leadership, again, is disturbing. Think about it, even my conservative readers. As David Brooks, a more conservative New York Times columnist noted, in five short years “we’ve seen intelligence failures in the inability to prevent Sept. 11 and find WMDs in Iraq. We have seen incompetent postwar planning [and] the horror of Abu Ghraib.” Not to mention the collapse of Enron, corruption scandals on Wall Street, leading magazines and newspapers, steroids in baseball and skyrocketing gasoline prices.

Not our best five years.

With New Orleans ruined, the truth is already surfacing that has accentuated the intersection of race and class in a way that the fire hoses, police dogs and hyper-racist Bull Connor did for civil rights. By now we should all know the story. Days before the storm hit the Gulf Coast, the most vulnerable were left behind. Instead of compassion and aid, many responded with the popular Cosbian script, “They were too lazy, too stupid to leave.”

But besides walking out of New Orleans, what other options did they have? Twenty-eight percent of people who live in New Orleans live in suffocating poverty. Of the poor, 84 percent are black. That type of racialized poverty created 21,787 black households with no means to leave, as they had no car, which was essential to an evacuation plan based on driving out.

“This is a pretty graphic illustration of who gets left behind in this society — in a literal way,” said Harvard sociologist Christopher Jencks. “Maybe it’s just an in-the-face version of something I already knew. All the people who don’t get out, or don’t have the resources are African-American.” Richard Walker, professor of economic geography at UC Berkeley, said, “Natural disasters always reveal the social order of things — the social disorder really. You start peeling away the layers with an event like this hurricane, and the ugliness comes up from beneath very quickly.” Which is why on message boards and blogs, and In editorials and barbershops, Hurricane Katrina is referred to as the “black tsunami.”

Visuals from New Orleans prompted all sorts of criticisms from black leadership. “If you know that terror is approaching in terms of hurricanes, and you’ve already seen the damage they’ve done in Florida and elsewhere, what in God’s name were you thinking?” said the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, pastor the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church, Adam Clayton Powell Jr.’s old pulpit in Harlem. “I think a lot of it has to do with race and class. The people affected were largely poor people. Poor, black people.”

Even rapper Kanye West heeded the racial and class divide and said matter-of-factly on live television, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

But the present demands we deal with the political reality. New Orleans cannot be made livable for some time. Not since the Civil War has such a significant American population been displaced across the country. That means the short-term arrangements and private donations will soon become inadequate.

Katrina will create problems of overcrowding, overtaxing and intense competition for limited resources. I am not doubting New Orleans, a trade hub, will be rebuilt, but the question is what happens to the displaced in the meantime? “The bottom-line mentality for government, unless something forces the issue, is to do things as cheaply as possible,” said Paul O’Brien, chairman of the Sociology and Criminal Justice Department at Cal State Stanislaus. And that has been the real tragedy all along.

Phillip M. Bailey is a U of L student, chairman of the Student National Coordinating Committee and political science major.
Contact him at

IF we are tryiing to erase the lines of race This weeks guest commentary just pushed it back a few paces. In one ear we are being told that it is necessary to be color-blind if we want the nation-world to move forward, then two minutes later we hear that we must pay attention to the "poor black" people.( See Guest Commentary by Phillip M Bailey) Which one is it? The rest of the nation has been accused of not doing enough for poor communities in New Orleans to "prepare them" for the hurricane. What exactly does this entail? If these people are as poor as has been described then most of them are/were probably on some sort of government aid already. Should we give them more? Should we see to it that they get jobs? Should we raise the minimum wage? Every time there is a pending hurricane should we go in and shuttle out everyone who doesn't have a car? Where will they stay? How will it be paid for?

My point is, no doubt about it what happened to New Orleans was/is a tragedy. I have visited the city several times and can't wait to go back. The other tragedy is that there are those who insist on opening the racial gap even further. I am a white female in my mid 20's and I have made several donations to the Red Cross, Salvation Army, even PETA, but every day I am being told that because I am white I couldn't possible understand how mistreated the "poor blacks" are/were in New Orleans. I agree something needs to be done with city's nationwide disaster plans, let's start with the cities taking care of their own people. I agree the good ole Pres mucked this up too, but he isn't the only one. And isn't the Mayor was black of New Orleans black? Surely this wasn't a racial plan with him. Someone ask him why he didn't do anything to get the poverty stricken people out, ask him instead of the people who weren't even there.

New Orleans, your city and people (all) are in my heart and prayers

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