A Year Ago Today...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Last night on NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams had a decent interview with a Michael Dyson, author of Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster. In it, both men seemed to make some really great points, but the key point made by Mr. Dyson is, to paraphrase, that America squandered a huge opportunity to have a meaningful conversation about race, class and poverty. In other words, we could have rebuilt New Orleans right. It could have become a model city for dealing with poverty and service delivery. We were handed a clean slate and an opportunity to address more than a devastated city and population, but also to address the causes of why things are the way they are in New Orleans.

Later last night, Brian Williams aired a special in which he reflected on his presence and role, and indeed the overall role and presence of "media" in general in New Orleans. It was surprisingly less self-centered than I expected and really became a piece that made some great points about how Katrina became and remained such a huge catastrophe. Again, he made some wonderful points that it was not the media's job to give food and water, which they did how they could. It was the media's job to ask where the heck the food and water...the relief...was, which they did, and which was never answered, except by a fumbling Brown ("the federal government just found out today about the Superdome...").

There was a point at which he aired a brief segment of an interview with Bush, who was angry (Hulk maaaaaaad) and generally indignant that people would call him and his administration racist. He insisted that he wasn't and "rejected" those claims.

My wife and I reflected on that statement and on the scenes that NBC quite effectively put together for their broadcast. It occurred to us that even if Bush and his people are not blatantly racist, what is racist is the catastrophe. The response is racist, and more than that, the fact that the huge black population in New Orleans, at least by media accounts, is predominantly poor is absolutely racist. This is our latent racism on display.

The response was slow. Blatantly racist? Probably not. More of a reflection of incompetence. Latently racist? Certainly. We have sequested our poor into areas that are actually more difficult for us to respond to.

Barbara Bush's comments; blatantly racist. Mmm...kinda, but ignorantly so. I like what Mr. Dyson, above, had to say about them:

But I'll tell you — when Barbara Bush said that, it reinforced the reputation of the Bushes as clueless patricians, No. 1. No. 2, inadvertently, let's be honest, she was right at a certain level.

Here's how she was right: That many of the people who were washed away were washed into better climates, better circumstances than they had before. That's a tragedy. You mean living in the Superdome, or living in the Astrodome, or living in a displaced geography that you had nothing to do with, you didn't grow up in, is better than where you were? For many people, yes. So even though she was right, she was right for the wrong reasons.
That's it; that's it exactly. That is the latent racism I am talking about, and the real catastrophe. That a "displaced geography" is better than your previous circumstances? Tragic. That we continue to let our biggest cities devolve into that circumstance, where it is more difficult to deliver services and aid and emergency displacement actually offers temporary comfort; that is the real tragedy. And that this tragedy focuses on, in a sense of majority, one or two specific minority groups: that's racist.

I love this post from LLPN (from Muckraker) because the "joke" that was played actually offers a real solution; a feasible solution actually applicable to every major urban center in America, but most immediately applicable to the real reconstruction of New Orleans. That the Bush Administration took it as an insult is not surprising. BUT...Mayor Nagan and Governor Blanco would do well to look at the joke's suggestions. They have as much a hand as putting together a real plan for reconstruction as Bush does. After all, Bush has shown that not only will his administration most likely screw it up if they tried, they're really not that interested in the first place.


Otto Man 11:52 AM  

Beautifully said, Smitty.

I'm not at all prone to conspiracy theories, but part of me thinks that Rove and Co. see the Katrina diaspora as a great way to turn the last blue southern state into a permanent red.

Smitty 12:46 PM  

I take that as a compliment of the highest regard, OM. Thanks for the love!

I agree. By forcing the blacks out and solidifying the inland white vote, I bet it would help LA go Red. Because by the next election, I highly doubt all the voting precincts will be in order, let alone the chaos of who lives...and votes...where.

Mike 1:24 PM  

Great post, Smitty.

And I'm leaning in agreement with you and Otto as well, if for slightly different reasons:

In the eyes of fellas like Bush, Cheney & friends, all those pesky black folks (poor and scary and talking with such heavy accents) are the only thing standing in the way of the ultimate American paradise of casinos. hotels, sports arenas and oil derricks and barges on the harbor piers.

Katrina gave them the jump start they need.

Thrillhous 12:55 PM  

Great post, Smitty.

Yep, we're in tune here. In fact, a few of my conservative friends have been saying these exact things: NO will be a much better place, votes will no longer be skewed by ignorant welfare queens, etc.

I still think Kanye West had it right. Bush just doesn't care. And in a president that's essentially the same as active discrimination, as Smitty makes clear. To paraphrase that jackass who said libruls were objectively pro-Saddam, W is objectively anti-black.

Otto Man 12:18 AM  

Actually, I'd say it's not so much hostility to blacks as much as it is hostility to the poor. Bush does, after all, have a track record of trusting African Americans with key jobs in the administration (Powell, Rice, Paige) but he's never demonstrated the first clue about the poor.

Katrina revealed the worst of it, as his administration assumed everyone could just get $1000 out of the bank, load up the SUV and head to a hotel.

But, really, the cluelessness about poverty runs through everything Bush does. And no, not just the tax cuts for the rich and a refusal to raise the minimum wage.

Look at his "solutions" to the health care crisis and retirement concerns -- been health savings accounts and private SS investments. Neither does anything for people who don't have $10K lying around and a financial planner to help out.

Look at how he's gutted the infrastructure and trashed the idea of public spaces. Doing away with public transportation, public parks, public pools, etc. may seem fine if you have your own car and your own country club and your own backyard pool, etc. etc. But if you're the kind of person who needs those spaces, it hurts. Bad.

His signature domestic reform, No Child Left Behind, is further gumming up the public schools and making the case for greater movement to private education. For those who can afford it, of course.

Bush is clueless about what being poor is really like. As Molly Ivins once said, he was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.

And if you dare bring up any of these issues that are life-and-death matters for millions of Americans? Well, you sir are then guilty of class warfare.

The GOP motto was well said by the Roman Senate in Mel Brooks' "History of the World." They said, and I quote, "Fuck the poor."

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