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« on: September 08, 2005, 02:17:43 PM »

No Ark to Save Them
by Ewuare Osayande
   
September 05, 2005
 

I, like millions of others, spent the past week watching helplessly as thousands upon thousands of people lost their lives and livelihoods in the wake of the hurricane called Katrina. As images of the victims flashed on the screen, I sat in horror watching the entire city of New Orleans reduced to rubble and its people to refugees. In a matter of hours an internationally celebrated city became a Third World nation. The U.S. had been unmasked. No more fašade of Americana: shopping malls, clean concrete sidewalks, name brand neighborhoods. The mask of materialism had been ripped away by Katrina's tidal waves. All that was left was something akin to a nightmare. Something that looks all too real to too many all over the planet. This is not something to gloat about. For it reveals something very disturbing about the United States. Something that many Black activists from Frederick Douglass on down have noted and named: America is a fraud.

What is a tragedy on top of the tragedy is the response to it or, better stated, the lack of a response. Natural calamities are bound to happen. They are to be expected in fact. Certainly, this one was anticipated. But what is most distressing about this recent tragedy is the way this government and segments of the population have failed to respond in kind. That failure is rooted in a racism and classism that is as American as the Atlanta Braves and all that that team's name implies. By no means is the racism and classism a creation of the media as many have tried to imply. ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN are just reflecting the reality. The United States is as divided as ever. This assertion is echoed in the haunting cries of the hording Black masses desperately crying: "HELP US!" Yet no real help would reach them for days. And rather than hold the responsible parties accountable, the media decided to criminalize the victims.

There is an email that is making the rounds in the inboxes of African Americans across this nation. The subject heading says it all: "Black Looters, White Finders." It exposes the corporate media's reportage of the actions of the victims. One picture is a white couple wading through the flood carrying bread and soda. They "found" food and thus, are seen as innocent, simply taking care of themselves under desperate circumstances. The other image which is the predominant image being telecast is that of a Black young man also wading through the water with a bag of food. The caption under his picture calls him a "looter." The implication being that he is a criminal, someone that ought to be arrested and locked up. He is not seen as worthy of saving himself. Any act on his part and the part of any other Black person doing similarly is viewed as criminal. That is a crime.

It is asinine that people would be more concerned about protecting property than protecting people in the wake of this tragedy. Condemning people for pilfering food that would otherwise spoil or rot says more about the people casting aspersions than it does the people struggling to survive. It speaks to the inhumanity of those that have historically refused to acknowledge the humanity of Black people.

But the racism doesn't rest there.

There is also the racism that is not seen on the camera. I am referring to the racism of those that were able to leave, able to escape the storm. There is the racism of those whites that by dint of their white privilege could afford to leave while the African Americans that also lived there were cuffed to the catastrophe that was coming. These were the very Black people the whites had confined to a state of dependency. These were the very Blacks that swept their floors, emptied their trash, wiped their windows, cooked their food, cared for their children, taxied them to and fro, and fixed their vehicles. Kept their livelihoods alive. It was on the backs of those that were left behind that the whites rode out to safety. Yet that story will never get told on Nightline.

New Orleans is a majority Black city; has to be to have a Black mayor. In fact 67% of the city's residents are African American. The overwhelming majority of them fall below the poverty line. Blacks in Alabama and Mississippi where the storm also hit fare no better. What choice did they have to stay or leave? Leave and go where? Yet, we have had to watch the majority Black victims of the storm derided by journalists and white reporters for not evacuating, not "heeding the warning." No! They didn't choose to remain; they were left behind. They don't own SUVs or Subaru Outbacks. They couldn't rent a U-Haul or even an Avis car because they don't carry any credit cards because too many of them hardly make ten grand a year. So they had no choice but to wade it out. Cast out the lifeboat, these poor dark-skinned peoples were rejected long before the high water hit their homeland. There would be no ark for them. No refuge. No sanctuary from the rains or the racism. Landlocked. They expected to die in their hometown of N'orlins. They just hoped it would be a death that was a bit more dignified than this.

One of the prime functions of the American media is to perpetuate the myth that the U.S. is democratic, just and upwardly mobile nation. And that we care for one another equally. All these myths are exposed as frauds in the wake of this tragedy. And as a consequence, the networks don't know how to address themselves to that fact, so they have opted to go with what has always worked for them: pander to the inherent racism of this society. They have chosen to stoke the flames of disdain for poor Blacks that harbors in the heart of this America.

The media is not alone in this either. There is the disingenuous governor of Louisiana who called on her state to pray the day before the storm only to turn and sic the National Guard on the Black victims of the storm. Warning them that these soldiers had just returned from combat and would "shoot to kill." This outrageous disregard for the lives of the citizens of her state is not checked at the Louisiana border but goes all the way to the White House. The response of the Bush administration has been disgraceful. The response has been no response. He might as well just stayed on the ranch and twiddled his thumbs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, the agency that is supposed to be first on the scene in situations such as this, has given more excuses than aid.

When the storm hit Bush was on vacation. Once again. Just like he was on 9/11. But Texas is just a state away from Louisiana. Yet the president decided to fly over the calamity rather than touch down and get a personal account of the suffering. A healthy human body can survive approximately three weeks without food, but only about three days without water. Yet it would take Bush four days to even make an appearance. (And still no clean water has yet been sent in the numbers that are needed.) It would take national and international pressure to get the leader of the world's police to protect his own. But that is just it. Bush doesn't consider us Black folk his own. Even when he arrived, he wasn't seen conferring with the majority of victims who are Black. No. He went straightway to the white districts. Got a photo opp kissing a white girl who was crying about losing her home. Kanye was correct; Bush doesn't care about Black people. But that is not news. The issue is, knowing that, what are we going to do about it? And further, knowing that Bush doesn't consider us "his own," what about those who do?

What of the Black bourgeoisie? Where are they in all this? Just the other night I sat appalled as I listened to National Public Radio's (NPR) "negro hour" called "News and Notes" hosted by former BET anchorman Ed Gordon. He and a roundtable of well-to-do Blacks traded barbs about how uncivilized those Blacks were behaving in New Orleans. What are they to do? How would our fine well-spoken Black cohorts want their undereducated counterparts to act in such a hellish condition? Would they have them walk by a grocery store while they and their loved ones die of lack of food and clean water? Would that be the civilized thing to do? The willingness of Black journalists to parrot their white counterparts is what is appalling. Black folks pilfering food so as to survive, on the other hand, is quite understandable and I would dare say encouraged.

Atlanta, Black Mecca sits just two states away from New Orleans, right next to Alabama and Mississippi, states that were also hit. Some of the nation's wealthiest Black people reside and do business there. Where are they? And let's not talk about the churches. Those mega churches could easily take in the thousands that are currently being rejected at the Astrodome and Superdome. Where are they? Eddie Long and Creflo Dollar no doubt are aware of the tragedy. Surely they will make reference to the tragedy in their sermons come Sunday. Somehow I imagine they will blame the poor and make it seem as if this is God's doing to correct the sinful ways of The Big Easy. But many of the suffering are elderly Black women who spent their Sunday mornings preparing for church listening to these Black televangelists and their white predecessors preach on TV, sending them money in hopes of God's blessings. They have now been met with the deafening and damning silence of the Black church. These mega churches and their MegaFests propagate a doctrine that ties faith to material success. Essentially, if you believe hard enough and tithe right, God will bless you with excessive amounts of mammon. This theology that damns the poor and praises the rich has more basis in the Bush administration's domestic plan than in the Bible.

Even now the corporate structure is jockeying for position. Staking their claim on what to them is a grand real estate opportunity. One person's tragedy is another's treasure. Even G. W. himself was quoted talking about how they're going to rebuild New Orleans. No mention of rebuilding the lives of the Black majority of New Orleans that have lost their entire material existence in the storm. Rather than address them, he spoke fondly of the day when he will sit on fellow millionaire, fellow Republican and Mississippi Senator Trent Lott's new front porch once his 154 year old oceanfront home is rebuilt. Even in the face of such tremendous loss of life, Bush can still take comfort in the certainty of capitalism.

It is that trust in capitalism, that belief that by throwing a few coins at the problem, that all will be solved. But it will take more than relief drives and donations to address the problems that are present in this disaster. These acts, though necessary given the enormity of the loss, are only bandages on a wound that is diseased. The true test as to whether these relief efforts will be a success is the quality of life that these people will have in the months and years to come. Sure, The Red Cross and the Salvation Army will bolster their revenue and supplies as a result of this tragedy. But the real question that needs to be raised again and again is: Will all the millions being raised really reach the people in dire need in a country where many believe that the poor are incapable of taking care of themselves?

Dr. King in his anti-war speech, "Beyond Vietnam: Time to Break Silence," said that "True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." Disaster relief is not enough when the problem goes deeper than the depth of the flood waters. What life awaits the impoverished Black victims of Katrina? Did we hear any of them talk about how they planned to rebuild? No. They have not the means. We need to come to see that the edifice that produces poverty in this country needs restructuring and work toward that even as we provide aid to meet the right-now-needs of the suffering. Otherwise, this is just prep for what will become a perpetual practice.

The hording masses are the Poor People's Campaign that King sought to organize before his assassination to expose the consequences of America's willful neglect of its poorest and most desperate. They are now refugees in their home. Political refugees in a land that rejected them at birth. Rendered this status by conditions outside their control. Now wading in polluted water. Sleeping with rotting corpses. Inhaling the fumes of feces and urine in order to survive under the unrelenting humidity of 90 degree heat. Scared to death. Frustrated to the point of insanity. This has been and remains the reality of the wretched of this country left to die in this makeshift hell called America.

Ewuare Osayande (www.osayande.org) is a poet, political activist and author of several books including the forthcoming Blood Luxury (Africa World Press). He is an organizer with P.O.W.E.R. (People Organized Working to Eradicate Racism) based in Philadelphia , PA.

Osayandespeaks@hotmail.com

http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=72&ItemID=8677
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