Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Disaster Along the Class Divide

As the full extent of the destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina becomes more apparent, so also does the latent racism and classism that is sadly still existent in the United States today. There are numerous ways this bigotry can take shape, but several notable breeds of it have become very prominent in regards to the disaster in New Orleans. Some examples of this bigotry I've heard in person in the last week; folks actually expressing to me views that I consider so anti-social that I'm barely able to remain civil. Others I have read online or see elsewhere in the MSM. Let me take a stab at shedding some liberal understanding onto a few of these misconceptions:

People living in a hurricane-threatened area deserve what they get.

This smug declarative from a diseased mind is appalling mainly for its myopic ignorance. Every geographical part of the United States runs the risk of some kind of natural disaster. Blizzards in the Rockies, tornadoes in the Midwest, heat waves in the Southwest and hurricanes in the South and Southeast. Recently a record number of tornadoes touched down in Wisconsin, doing extensive damage to numerous towns across the southern part of the state. Yet, not one time did I hear anyone saying "Well, we chose to live in the Midwest...". No, they were too busy petitioning FEMA for disaster relief! Yet certain people from this area have no problem whatsoever with criticizing those that live along the Gulf Coast for living in danger of a hurricane. It's an ignorance born of rooted regionalism: where one lives is a sensible place, regardless of the danger, but where others live is foolish because the risks are different.

Those that stayed behind after the evacuation get what they deserve.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people seem to think that abandoning one's home is just easy as pie! Nothing to worry about! Just jump in the car and head off to stay with the family or at a hotel for a few days. Of course, it won't be only a few days this time. For many, it will be for the rest of their lives.
Now, I don't doubt that there are some folks able to evacuate that are too stubborn or too much the thrillseekers to do so and I don't have much sympathy for those folks. But for many, evacuation is a very tough option, particularly in the areas of the Deep South that are prone to hurricane destruction. It's no secret that Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are among the poorest states in the Union; it's tragic that it should be so but the reality is there. Many of the folks that weathered Katrina couldn't evacuate. Perhaps they had no access to an automobile, couldn't afford public transportation, had no family in which to turn or couldn't afford a hotel room; the list goes on. Undoubtedly many of the people that remained behind did so for medical or logistical reasons. The point is that evacuating one's home is a much different prospect when you have no money and no viable transportation and those that are so quick to criticize the people caught in Hurricane Katrina would do well to reflect on how they would react if asked to flee their homes.

The looters should be shot and their bodies strung or stacked up as a warning to other looters.

This is a paraphrase of something I actually read at Free Republic, one of the most vile, right-wing hate sites on the net. The problem of looting is a complex issue and really has to be looked at in terms of what's being taken, by whom and why.
The answers to the first question, "What's being taken?", seem to fall into two distinct categories: necessary items and desired items. If someone is going to survive, they're going to need the basics, and I think taking such from the local Wal-Mart in this situation is just fine. Only the most die-hard ideologue would argue that such is stealing.
The problem arises when looting extends to things like plasma TV's and firearms. Many of the people still remaining in the city have lost everything. The poorest parts of New Orleans were the hardest hit by both the hurricane and the flooding that followed. Those living in poverty likely don't have insurance, savings or investments to fall back on. Their only life-lines are charitable organizations like the Red Cross and a currently Republican-controlled Federal Government that is ideologically opposed to social welfare programs. So I can accept that there is an economic justification for looting, even if I don't agree with the moral issue.

At the end of the day, though, the aftermath of Katrina will serve to demonstrate the terrible truth of the economic division of race that still persists in this country. A co-worker of mine expressed the opinion that the race and work ethic of those remaining in New Orleans were the reasons for the looting and lack of evacuation. I found this incredibly sad that, 30 years removed from the civil rights era, the same bigotry still remains. I am hopeful, however, that the events of this past week will help shed some light on the issue and bring it into national prominence once again.

[Update: Scott McClellan was on CNN over lunch and, when asked about the refugees taking food, water and other essentials, McClellan responded with the President's "zero tolerance" policy towards looting of any kind. "Compassionate Conservatism" at its finest. Maybe if the poor folks of New Orleans get together and incorporate, they'll get the help they need from the Bush Administration...]


DadOBot said...

Why is it so hard for people to pictue themselves in the situations others face? When pop songs are smarter than the opinions around one's self, one has to wonder. I offer:

But before you come to any conclusions -
Try walking in my shoes,
Try walking in my shoes.

You'll stumble in my footsteps

-- Depeche Mode

Samurai Sam said...

You get an A for the day for quoting such a great song. Bravo!

The news out of New Orleans has become almost surreal at this point. Can you even imagine if this had been a terrorist attack? Four years and billions in Homeland Security and we're no better prepared for a disaster than we were then. If Clinton were still President, the Righties would want him tarred and feathered!

DadOBot said...

You know, I don't seem to remember anyone who had a probelm with many of Clinton's policies when he was in office. Most simply attacked him personally (and his family). What a moral thing to do. ;)