Race and the Hurricane

I just read a first-rate piece by Jack Shafer in Slate about the media’s silence about this fact: most of Hurricane Katrina’s victims are African American.

It’s definitely affecting the buzz I’m hearing about the looting and lawlessness –like, this sort of bad behavior didn’t happen after Hurricane Andrew, or after 9/11 –implication being that Whites behave better in catastrophe, forget the fact Hurricane Andrew didn’t maroon a million people without food or water, and 9/11 happened in a business district.

The Slate piece links to an interesting map which shows the percentage of African Americans by county –pretty close to Katrina’s path of destruction.  Outside of Washington DC, Louisiana and Mississippi have a higher percentage of African Americans than any other state. (30.8% and 35.6% respectively. By contrast, only 12.1% of the US population is African American.) In New Orleans, 67.3% of the city’s population is African American. Only one other US city has a higher percentage of African American residents: Detroit.

It’s hard not to wonder what the response would be if the racial situation was reversed…if New Orleans was a white, rich city. Would the levees been repaired with greater haste? Would there have been a better emergency plan?


8 thoughts on “Race and the Hurricane

  1. Love your blog.
    One unusual thing about LA is the legal system. Based on the European Napoleonic Code
    it is the only state where an out of state attorney can’t practise without doing a whole local law degree – and vice versa for their attorneys (who take the local stream at law school).
    The other thing is the sentencing is INSANE. Even for America. You can get 25 years for burglary no problems. THey give out decades like candy AND for a long time New Orleans was THE most corrupt city in America, police wise.

  2. And absolutely, if those were white people all fucked up there, heaven and earth would have stopped long ago to do ANYTHING to help them.
    Not only are they stupid enough to be black, and poor, but they’re not even Republicans!
    What do they expect… really?
    This isn’t the damn Clinton administration!


  3. If we can learn anything from this, it is KEEP SOME MONEY around the house. THe real diff between waiting out the storm in a hotel miles away, and being on a highway bridge for a week, is Money.
    In our case in NYC, its a nuke we’re really saving our pennies for.

  4. AND (finally, sorry), that a gun owning society is almost certainly a BAD IDEA.
    “To protect oneself in this situation” doesn’t hold so much water if NOBODY has a gun. A baseball bat or fist fight is less likely to leave one/both parties dead as its result.
    Even if I was armed (and most people aren’t, except people who shoudln’t be) I’d be TERRIFIED to be down there. But not if I knew there were almost no guns around.

    Also, we may wonder where the LA National Guard is until we remember the Republcan line “Better (to have the troops) in Basra, than Biloxi”.

    my (now ancient) website, thanks to Leontine.

  5. The mind-numbing horror story that unfolded in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast last week defies description. To jump all the way to the punch line, the message is, “If you are caught in a disaster, God forbid, it’s every person for himself!” (unless you live in Jeb Bush’s rich white Florida where emergency services respond within 24 hours.) On the morning of Day 5 after Hurricane Katrina nobody had seen FEMA or the Red Cross in New Orleans, where people were still dying at the Convention Center, The Super Dome, in hospitals and flooded attics, and on the wet ground, from lack of water, food, medicine or rescue. At my house we are taking the message seriously. We are stockpiling water, canned goods and shelf stable foods, which we use regularly anyway. We’ll just keep 3 or 4 times more of it on hand than we otherwise would. I plan to stock up on batteries, cash, and gasoline for our generator and vehicles. I was always taught to “Be prepared! Better safe than sorry.” The U.S.A. is neither prepared nor safe today, so it’s up to every household to look out for itself.

    The stories of devastation and abandonment of the mostly poor black refugees are simply unbelievable. Some of them are finally beginning to use the word “genocide” to describe last week’s lack of response. They were sufficiently enraged to attack all visible authorities, including rescue vehicles, all of whom they came to see as the enemy. The city had sunk into total anarchy and chaos by last Wednesday night. One victim said that if help did not arrive very soon, people would start killing each other for whatever they might have. Help did not arrive. More people died. This cannot be the USA, can it? Yes. It is the new Third World U.S.A. It’s finally here, courtesy of the George W. Bush gang.

    For several days and nights I watched CNN and MSNBC last week. I have never before agreed with very conservative Republican announcer Joe Scarborough on MSNBC, but Thursday night I found myself in total solidarity with him. He’s a former U.S. Congressman and has done in-depth, on-site coverage of many natural disasters. He called the lack of response in the Gulf a “national disgrace.” He and his conservative Republican wife and her friends were so stunned by the absence of water, food and any form of help for the hurricane and flood victims that they began a relief effort of their own, and they have become very critical of the GWBush administration, FEMA, The Red Cross, and the disaster preparedness efforts in general.

    Reporters, including Scarborough, said that the only services they had seen on the ground as of Friday morning, 5 days after the storm, were The Salvation Army and various church organizations (…the REAL Christians who follow Christ’s admonition to feed, house, and clothe the desperate, because “When you do it unto the least of these, my brethren, you do it unto me.”) Scarborough did not even show The Red Cross contact information, and recommended donating through Church World Services. We gave to both organizations.

    All the major newscasters on CNN and MSNBC began trumpeting strident criticisms of the Bush administration, FEMA and The Red Cross last Thursday night, and those voices became even angrier and louder as the week went on. At age 56, I have never heard anything like it in U.S. news reporting in my lifetime. For the first time in his presidency, as far as I am aware, GWBush admitted a failing Friday morning as he boarded Air Force One to return to the disaster scene, calling response efforts “unacceptable.” It was only one word, but it spoke volumes coming out of that usually smirking mouth. He looks grim. He knows that he is in big trouble. The black mayor of New Orleans used profanity on the air Thursday in describing his frustration at the nonexistent response to his city’s destruction and the mortal plight of his people, despite his constant pleas to all authorities. He was reduced to appealing to the U.S. populace as a whole. The entire world now questions whether this country is capable of responding to any kind of disaster. We look very weak and vulnerable today. The U.N. and 20 countries, including Bangladesh, Argentina, Germany, and France, offered their help, seeing that we were powerless to help ourselves. This was a profoundly unfortunate picture to show to terrorists.

    The moment when all my delusions about the safety net of America dissolved came at 10:05 last Thursday night when MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country” newscast announced that even the New Orleans police officers were forced to loot stores to get enough water and food to survive. For the first time in their history, major U.S. TV networks had to provide their own security forces in order to go into an American city and get the story out. We have become a 3rd world country. Therefore, households must now become independently able to sustain themselves in the event of disaster. To do otherwise is to gamble with our own lives, until we have new leadership with common sense and heart and priorities in the right places to begin to lead us our of this darkness.

    I am personally gratified and relieved that virtually the entire U.S. press corps (minus Fox News, which we would NEVER watch, because it is simply a
    propaganda outlet for the Bush administration) has been screaming with very
    serious criticism of this regime’s lack of response to the human tragedy. Where was FEMA, The National Guard, The Military, The Red Cross, and the “resident” himself, for FIVE WHOLE DAYS?!?! The press is openly critical today, but will everyone forget this unforgivable abandonment now that help is finally arriving after hundreds more people died than otherwise would have if the authorities had responded immediately the way they did in rich white Florida? Even the establishment press is saying that it looks like we just don’t care about rescuing impoverished black people and “poor white trash.”

    I am not comforted to have heard virtually nothing about global warming as
    the root cause of this catastrophe until Friday night on HBO’s “Real Time” with Bill Maher, and Saturday morning on NPR’s “Living on Earth.” I was very
    relieved when Bill Maher devoted a solid segment of his show to a fascinating and funny interview with a highly respected climatology scientist, one Professor Stephan Schneider, who proclaimed that Bill Maher should be appointed as the administration’s new climate change advisor. The climatologist interviewed on NPR Saturday morning wasn’t as funny, but supported Professor Schneider’s contention that the temperature of the water in the Gulf of Mexico has risen almost 1 degree due to global warming, fueling a multiplication of intensity and duration of storms to many times what they would otherwise have exhibited. It is very frightening to imagine what storms will be like as the oceans rise another degree in temperature, since we are doing absolutely nothing about carbon emissions and global climate change. The Bush administration has snubbed the world by refusing to sign the Kyoto Climate Change Accords, insisting that the science is still inconclusive on global warming, contradicting at least 95% of professional climatology scientists. Will we see the decimation of the entire southern and eastern coast in the next 40 years? Is it really possible that the all important Gulf Stream could be disrupted as Professor Schneider suggested, bringing on the apocalyptic scenario that everyone proclaimed “absurd” when “The Day After Tomorrow” was released in theaters? He says it could happen.

    Okay. We’ve given our paltry $750 which we could not really afford. We are seriously considering housing a small family on our property, especially since Philadelphia’s Mayor Street has announced that he will bring several thousand refugees to our region. I’ve got to get back to work and make some money or we won’t be able to help anybody ever again and we’ll be in trouble ourselves. But — damn! — It was very hard to concentrate when people were still screaming for help last week, trapped in flooded attics with water up to their necks since Monday. I suppose all those anguished voices have died out now and will be added to the eventual body count. Should “we the people” have wrested control of this rescue mission from the authorities to do it ourselves? Any third grade class could have planned and executed a better disaster response than the disgraceful performance of the G. W. Bush administration.

    Shame! Shame and Disgrace! Shame and Disgrace and Dishonor! I am embarrassed and ashamed to be an American. We do not take care of our own.

  6. I’m struck by the media images from the hurricane as well. Images that look very similiar of African-Americans and Whites in water with bags of food,etcc but with entirely different captions. African Americans are looters and the whites are simply foraging for food. Maybe it was inadvertant the caption, maybe it was a mistake – either way what does it say about us as a society? A nation? That the default answer is that the blacks are looting and not the reality that they are also trying to save themselves and their family.

    I found painful some conversations this weekend with my in-laws who felt that my husband and I were over reacting to the hurricane by stating our sorrow about the situation and concern that it was happening in the US today. Their thought was that these people should have just gotten out and that the result was their fault – they should just help themselves. Besides the obvious narrow mindedness of the comment, I wondered if they would say the same thing if the hurricane hit their nice, white, future retirement area in Florida instead of a largely black city.

    I find myself more and more concerned with who we are as a society and this just sheds a booming, direct light on it.

    Here is one link to the 2 images I mentioned – http://www.boingboing.net/2005/08/30/black_people_loot_wh.html

  7. I suppose,it is hard for some people, i.e., Wendy’s in-laws, to imagine a life that isn’t one of pampered privilege.
    There was a good story in the NYT over the weekend about how the middle-class family (white) and a poor family (black) experienced evacuation and escape. I can’t find it on the site today for some reason. But meanwhile here’s
    Kristof’s column, brilliant as usual: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/06/opinion/06kristof.html?hp

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