Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Being Black Means It's All Right to Suffer

Barbara Bush, the president's mother, remarked yesterday from her palatial home in Houston, or was she hobnobbing with Poppy Bush at Kennebunkport?, that since the people (meaning black people) in the Astro and Superdomes were poor, their situation could be seen as an improvement in their condition (don't believe me? click here). She also thought the prospect of all those black people coming to Houston "scary." This certainly takes the heat off of W., who astoundingly praised the head of FEMA, and told the rest of America not to use too much gas and that everything will be okay. It also takes the heat off of Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the House, who said that New Orleans could be bulldozed (God I love compassionate conservatism in action). Perhaps a subsidiary of Haliburton could receive a no-bid contract to do the dozing.

Apart from the appalling stupidity and callousness of Barb's comment, it highlights the fact that if you are a black American, or worse, an black African, suffering is considered to be your normal life experience. This view is not merely held by those like Barb, who wear triple strands of pearls to the country club (the almost all-white club), but is in fact the unexamined position of nearly everyone, including, sinfully, myself. Consider our news reporting. Did you know that 13 million southern Africans, especially in Malawi, are in danger of starvation at this very moment? I didn't, until doing a little internet research I came across the Irish Red Cross appeal for aid (link and also here). Some of us have heard about the suffering of Darfur, but it hardly rises to the level of say, Jennifer Anniston's feelings about Brad Pitt. Some of us may know that in Swaziland, 40% of the population has AIDS, but Brian Williams won't tell you that, and if he did we would just shrug and say, well those Africans don't really know how to govern themselves anyway, and that they don't mind suffering since they don't actually own much. We may not verbalize that statement, but it flits through our heads as we change the channel. In effect, most of us are subconsciously channeling Barbara Bush right now.

If Katrina had struck Palm Beach Florida, I wonder if I would be writing this post? I somehow doubt it. I somehow think that a massive airlift of food and water would have reached the friends of Barb and Poppy Bush the day after the storm ended. It would be Evian water, of course, and the "refugees" would be relocated to a Hyatt Regency.

Let' summarize Fox News and our government's counsel: "All you good black folks in Louisiana, Niger, Malawi, Ivory Coast, and other places of even less strategic value, hang in there, for perhaps suffering will make you stronger - unless of course you're dead - but then that's your fault for not having the resources to get out of such hellish places. Let's get together and stop blaming FEMA, stop blaming Western apathy, and start blaming the victims: it's always much easier, and even fun at cocktail parties and fundraisers."

P.S. We interrupt this Katrina coverage to bring you the news that Chief Justice William Rehnquist, no friend to people of color, has passed away. He now lies in state at the Supreme Court, feted by the media as a man of great dignity. For a somewhat different view of his life click here. Let's hope Judge Roberts, a devoted Rehnquist clerk, proves to be truly a compassionate conservative for people of all colors.


Blogger gail said...

Oh, my goodness! I agree with your post!

8:57 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...

You sound surprised!

11:22 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Sorry, Scott, but this is a little over the top, revealing some political prejudices I wasn't aware you held.

Bar's comment need not be taken so cynically. Any mass migration of people which strains the economy and infrastructure of the receiving cities/states is "a little scary," and not because we aren't concerned for those dislocated.

Maybe Hastert is right about bulldozing for sanitary reasons (I didn't hear this one); why assume he just doesn't care?

I do agree with you about media reporting US African suffering way out of proportion with African suffering. Honestly, I believe some of Africa's suffering does come from a self-governance issue (warlords just don't care who they have to hurt or kill to stay in power), but that doesn't mean I don't care about their suffering!

There is a difference between realistic assessment of history, and idealistic desire for righteousness, justice and peace. Both are needed. You assume that Bar's realism nullifies any concern she may have. Why?

To fix a problem long-term, you need the realism to know what caused it.

Scott, I love you as a brother, but I think your playing the race card here is simply irresponsible. Do you realize the government isn't infinitely capable to meet all its citizens' needs in such widespread catastrophe? Isn't that a more feasible answer to gov't failure than that they're all racists?

I also take an opposite view as you on Rehnquist. Just because a judge refuses to give special attention to minorities doesn't make him less a "friend" to them. He simply believed in equal justice for all, regardless of color. That makes him *my* friend, even if he wouldn't give me special treatment when I think I deserve it from the government. Dershowitz is wrong. Rehnquist was one of few who made sense in the Roe v Wade case, too. Check here for a different view.


9:56 AM  
Blogger Stacey said...

I have a hard time believing that anyone would describe Barbara Bush's comments as displaying "realism." And yet, there it is, right in front of me.

Multiple reports indicate that a disaster of this magnitude in New Orleans was predicted well before Hurricane Katrina, and yet the government was utterly unprepared. It took days for food and water to arrive. Thousands of people have died, and many more have lost everything. It's not "realism" to ignore the racism - and I would add perhaps more so classism - that has played a significant role in the lack of urgency in the government's response to this crisis. It's not "irresponsible" to expect public figures to be more informed and compassionate in their responses than the Bushes and others have been.

Scott, I think it would have been irresponsible and unrealistic not to point to the race factor involved here, and I thank you for a pointed and poignant post.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...

Yikes! Well Steve, my friends all know that I am an unreconstructed East Coast political liberal. I don't find that at all incompatible with Christian faith. I obviously touched a nerve with you, and am sorry, but I just can't swallow the "spin" you place on these comments. Perhaps they weren't meant as cynically as I took them, but Barb and Dennis made them at the wrong time, wrong place. It gives the appearance of racism and classism.

As far as the race card goes, well, the mayor of NO was screaming for days for help, and no help came. Yet tons of relief was dropped on the citzens of Banda Aceh, in a remote corner of Indonesia in 48 hours...so, what else is can it be? It would be irresponsible not to point out that our tax dollars are being diverted to support a military-industrial complex which ignores the needs of the poor - & the poor are in this case mostly black, & therefore without power or influence. I call that racism. What else is it? Blacks vote Democratic, were ignored, & now the gov't will have to fork over $40 billion to repair a problem it could have solved for $60 million (the amount Louisian public works wanted for this year - they got $10million. The reason gov't isn't meeting people's need is because it is squandering our money on tax cuts for the rich and an ongoing quagmire in Iraq.

As for Rehnquist, it wasn't his time spent on the bench which offended me, but rather his well documented defense of, in my opinion, indefensible positions such as Plessy.

Of course the entire tragedy of NO was not based on racism, but it was, in my mind, made horribly worse. The comments of conservatives in the aftermath have only poured salt into the wounds.

1:50 PM  
Blogger RogueMonk said...

Thanks for the post. All politics asside, the comments (by Mrs. Bush are dispicable. :(

4:52 PM  
Blogger Gina Burgess said...

Dear Sir,

You are mistaken about the fact that Mayor Nagin was screaming for help for days. I live in Louisiana and have watched national and local news and I have seen irresponsible reporting from day 1.

Finally a note of truth was reported this morning (forgot what channel) but pictures of several hundred school buses under water in New Orleans tells the real story that the black mayor of New Orleans had little concern for the people in Ninth Ward district who had no money to get out of town. Blanco refused to sign the request for federal disaster aid and Bush had to break Constitutional law by declaring Louisiana a disaster area before the governor requested it. Then she refused to sign a request for National Guardmen for 2 days. That is why the feds have been so slow to react. If you recall, Blanco was asked by Bush if he could come to Louisiana and she said on national TV, "I don't think it's time for that now." I don't know her motivation.

Even now, there our many people stuck in their attics in Chalmette, but that is not being reported, either.

If you are going to form opinions, then try to get the truth before using selective observation (which social psychologists point to every time they find a skewed result to a study.)

The problem is clear: We had a need for massive evacuation. We had numerous studies depicting what would happen to New Orleans if a levee broke. Bill Clinton refused federal aid to help strengthen the levees. But, hey, if you want to blame someone, go back to the late 1800s and talk to the General of the Corps of Engineers who tossed out an excellent, accurate study of how to control the Mississippi River, not contain it. That was the initial, crucial mistake that was made glaringly evident in the flood of 1927. Get you a copy of "Rising Tide", if you want eyeopener truth about the problems in New Orleans.

It is very easy for people to sling mud when there is plenty of mud to sling. Just be careful that you know all the facts before the tossing game begins.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Scribe said...

I agree that the Governor and the Mayor will come out of this whole thing looking very inept. I'll ignore your comment about getting at the truth, as you have missed the larger point I was trying to make - our awareness of black suffering in the world is woefully negligent. Our compassion for black suffering is woefully negligent. Our knowledge of Africa is almost non-existent.

Our government is content to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on corporate welfare, war in Iraq, and tax cuts which benefit the wealthiest 10%. Those are facts. If Clinton failed New Orleans, that's no surprise, given that he was an Eisenhower Republican masquerading as a Democrat.

I find it interesting that people call facts & opinions "mud" when they don't like those facts & opinions. Just as I don't like racist comments from right-wing partisans for a republican government.

1:13 PM  
Blogger Gina Burgess said...

I never call facts, mud. I call opinions based on selective observation, mud.

I agree that most northerners do not have a clue what Delta Poverty is all about. I sincerely invite you to come to the Mississippi Delta and first hand observe how the whites and blacks live together.

Suffering is not limited to blacks. I agree that, for the most part, whites have an advantage... but, we would probably disagree as to what the advantages actually are.

"...that since the people (meaning black people) in the Astro and Superdomes were poor, their situation could be seen as an improvement in their condition..."

You have not seen the squaller that some poverty stricken people live in. I was a cemetary property sales person 10 years ago and went to some of the most deplorabe living conditions imaginable (and some of the most beautiful). One lady had chin hairs that reached her chest and had dog poop dotting the plywood floor of her one room dwelling and dried spaghetti on her shirt and in the bowl the dog was licking. Here in Newellton, there is an extended family of 12 living in a one room home that has a color TV, a couch, a chair and a mattress on the floor. I could see the ground through the cracks in the floor. One is white and the other is black. Poverty is no respecter of color.

4:25 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...

You are correct, I have never been to the Delta, and poverty is no respecter of race or creed. Thanks for your firsthand account of the squalor and devastation folks in your area are dealing with. Our prayers are with you.

4:36 PM  

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