The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Kid Oakland - Race and the N.O. Fiasco

[. . .]

I see how race, how bias, how fears, how people's inherent "comfort levels" all came into play...and, truly, were a major factor that messed up our government's response to this disaster. And, recalling the experience of watching two basketball teams both play well beneath their abilities in a segregated environment...I can tell you...I'm sure race and fear played a role in the response to hurricane Katrina across the board. There is no doubt about that.

I mean, think about it, we have a President who won't even speak to the NAACP, and whose appearance yesterday, in Mississippi and Alabama, two of the most African-American states in the nation, consisted of a bunch of white men. I'm sure that didn't even occur to him.

But it is also clear how racism...structural, virulent, real...came to play in New Orleans. And structural racism in America is a one-way street, and always has been:

First, because of racial segegation. While racial segregation is, first off, the reality that kept folks in the most flood-prone parts of New Orleans, segregation goes beyond geography; and it's as much a part of American life as apple pie. Segregation in America means one thing: whites keeping other people out...whether that's in Piedmont or Metairie or on Park Avenue.

Second, because of the racist structure of poverty in this country and our nation's thirty-five year affair with ignoring it and accepting it. That's the real meaning of Reaganism and "starving big government," and we all know it. The Reagan attack on big government came as a response to the War on Poverty and Civil Rights. People voted for it along race lines, and against their own self-interests; they still do.

Third, because of bipartisan governmental bias and corporate irresponsibility: from the lack of funding for the levees right on down to the absence of FEMA from the ground in New Orleans.

Fourth, in the treatment and characterization of the victims themselves. Director of FEMA Mike Brown's casual remark about the victims "bearing some responsibility" is a statement we all must keep in mind, and never forget, when we look at the faces of those mothers with children and old folks in wheelchairs at the Superdome and the Convention Center.

When blacks were in desperate need, large numbers of people in our government whose job it is to risk their lives to try to save them....simply did not do so. And when they failed to do their jobs, they blamed those victims.

That's racism. That's the consequence of power structures that simply do not value African-American lives as highly as they do the comfortable benefits that come from the existing system. And in the case of the GOP, those comfortable benefits include a forty year pattern of using racial bias to win elections. That's the truth.

We're not talking about a level of "racial comfort" that can be solved by George Bush, Mike Brown and Trent Lott going on Oprah and "talking about it." We're not talking about "race" simply throwing us "off our game."

We are talking about a legacy of structural bias in the way we run this country, from both political parties...and an abject lack of commitment from our large corporations. (You don't think that the big companies whose businesses run through New Orleans don't have a stake in the people of that city, do you?) Further, we're talking about one political party, the GOP, that has built its house on the Southern Strategy and systematically undercut reforms, spending and any basic government commitment directed at improving the lives of the poor and racial minorities. That bias is not a two-way street. It's called racism.

All of us in the cities know this. We see it every day. And we know that the real reason that we saw the scenes we did in New Orleans....the real reason that the United States of America has looked like a "third world country" for all the world to structural, persistent racism in the conduct of our government and deep in the fabric of our society.

When the President's vision meant to inpsire this country, his vision of hope, was of someday sittin' on the porch in Mississippi with Trent Lott....a vision he entertained while thousands of our citizens were still abandoned and fighting for their lives in New Orleans, I have but one thing to say:

if folks don't realize that this is about race and racism, then it's time for this country to wake up.


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