Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Misconceptions, Mismanagement, Misgivings and Misanthropy

There's plenty of blame to go around for this mess in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but I'm not here to point fingers, except at one man: Kenny Rogers!

Now that we've determined whose fault it is, perhaps we can postpone the rest of the Blame Game due to bad weather. The frustration and rage among destitute survivors, relief workers, politicians and the public at large are all understandable and a great deal of vitriol and violence have erupted since Katrina unleashed its deluge last week. I cannot tell people to swallow their grief, their anger or their hopelessness, nor can I promise everything will be all right by and by. For many thousands, it won't be all right anytime soon, perhaps never again.

For these reasons, I'm going to cut my fellow man some slack. I'm even willing to look past looting. True, I think it's foolish and unproductive to steal a television, especially when you have no house or electricity, but in the general scheme of things, there are greater concerns afoot (I'm unwilling to look past rape or firing guns at rescue helicopters or any forms of unprovoked violence, but that should go without saying). I'm also willing to give George Bush an incomplete here. I think his administration responded slowly to the crisis, but so far I've been unable to trace this to any particular cause. I'll leave that to more qualified people and hope they do their research at a later time. And Bush did travel to the region, deem the recovery efforts "not acceptable" thus far and vowed to fix it. Jesse Jackson dismissed this move as "largely ceremonial", which is probably true, but in fairness, what exactly is Jesse Jackson doing besides castigating the President? Kanye West lambasted the President, too, saying he "doesn't care about black people." That may or may not be true, but at least West was doing something at the time; he was trying to raise money for the relief effort. Still, they both get a pass from me; they all do (except Kenny Rogers).

I only wish we could delay all these attempts to find scapegoats or politicize the issue until as many people as possible are housed, clothed and fed. This is, of course, not a realistic expectation and it's a bit starry-eyed even to breach the subject. In short, I'm not offended by all this mudslinging--it's human nature in the face of such catastrophe--I just don't think it helps. That's what I'd say to anyone eager to single out FEMA, George Bush, the state and local governments of Louisiana and Mississippi, or the victims of this crisis as the villains in this saga: forget about that! (Some people really are blaming the victims, by the way, claiming their "lawlessness" delayed the aid, which I find preposterous)

And for a moment, let's talk about race. I don't have all the answers, but I do think there's a perception among African-Americans that white people put their hands on their ears and say "la la la la la" whenever race is mentioned. Conversely, I think a perception among whites exists that blacks inject race into every discussion, whether warranted or not. This is one reason we can't talk about it. Blacks get accused of playing "the race card" and whites are either embarrassed about the past, afraid to offend, or ignorant on race issues. Because of this, the few times we really talk about the topic of race, the dialogue either becomes rancorous or, more often, remains utterly shallow and perfunctory.

I don't know why the lives of African-Americans and Latinos ultimately appear to have less value than white lives. It's hard to fathom that it's as simple and bald as "they're not white, so who cares?" anymore, although that sentiment probably persists among a pathetically ignorant few. There are probably more reasons than I can count, but one factor rarely mentioned is the false notion that most blacks are poor. Because African-Americans account for a disproportionate number of those in poverty, the assumption is it means a majority of blacks are destitute. Maybe it sounds pedantic to say so, but there's a difference between overrepresentation in an economic category and dominating said category. Not only are most poor people in this country not black or Latino, most blacks and Latinos aren't poor, if you go strictly by the numbers. Most, in fact, lie in that strikingly familiar category with which most of us are acquainted, neither rich nor poor.

I feel these illusions contribute to apathy. We're used to seeing minorities suffer. They're all poor, anyway. White people don't necessarily hate them; they either can't relate or they think there's nothing to be done. Just like we're desensitized to African famine and feel there's no way we can really alter the course, we're desensitized to those poor minorities. We can muster sympathy, but not action. This pessimism is not only defeatist, it's inaccurate. There's no way to precisely calculate how much this perception hampers hurricane relief, but I wouldn't be surprised if it factors in somehow.

Dumbest Things Said:

"If you don't need gas, don't buy it."
I already mentioned I don't think it's fair to blame the shortcomings of this recovery effort entirely on the President, but what the hell? George, the only reason I ever buy gas is because I need it. I don't buy it for fun. I'm not a gasoline "enthusiast" or "collector." He could have said "People should consider delaying their travel plans" or "Try to conserve gasoline any way you can." But "if you don't need gas, don't buy it"? Thanks, but I never have.

"New Orleans is like a disaster area."
A number of news commentators broke out with this remark. It's not actually "like" a disaster area; it is one. In the same vein, I heard a radio announcer say one reason Palestinians might struggle to adjust economically to the Israeli pullout of Gaza is because they "are like people who have been at war for forty years." Sorry, but they aren't "like" people who have been at war for forty years; they really have been at war for forty years!

"We can help other countries right away; why can't we help people in this country?"
This is not dumb, because it was often said by people feeling the pain and frustration of slow-to- arrive aid, but it's not accurate. When the Tsunami hit, there was a delay in relief efforts as well, in part because the disaster occurred on December 24th and much of the world wasn't paying attention to the news due to the Christmas holiday.

"We help other countries when they need us, but they're not helping us now."
This is also wrong. I heard several radio commentators make such a point. Actually, Mexico has pledged relief assistance, Venezuala donated one million dollars, and Singapore diverted military helicopters on maneuvers in Texas to assist at the disaster sites. Other nations, such as Australia and Britain, have also contributed and even in Cuba there was a moment of silence for the victims. Lots of American citizens have stepped forward as well, offering money, time, or both (except Kenny Rogers).

Note: You may ask if I mean the Kenny Rogers who sings abysmal songs and hasn't shaved in 40 years or the baseball pitcher who recently assaulted a cameraman. The answer: Yes!

Sources: The World (radio program produced by the BBC and PRI)

DM (Additional contributions and research provided by TD--thank you!)


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03 September, 2005 16:20  

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