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Saturday, October 01, 2005

Racism, pure and simple 

Looking back over the last several weeks, we can see the real story of the hurricanes now emerge: that the evacuation and dislocation of hundreds of thousands of black people has revealed a vicious and ugly racism in American society, like a multi-legged horror exposed by the overturning of a deeply embedded rock.
From Hurricane Katrina, we saw how the hysterical "looting mobs of black people will kill us if we try to help them" myth combined with the patronizing "its their own fault because they didn't do what they were told" myth.
Together, these myths allowed federal and state authorities and the Red Cross to collude in the abandonment of tens of thousands of old people and single mothers and children in central New Orleans.
These myths would not have been told about white people. White people would not have had to wait for four or five long, hot, miserable days for help.
The crowds waiting so patiently a month ago to die outside the Dome and the Convention Centre were "so poor and so black" in CNN commentator Wolf Blitzer's unintentionally revealing phrase. And then we found out that the Gretna police force were so afraid of the black mob myth that they refused to let these suffering New Orleans people evacuate to safety through their community.
From areas where other New Orleans evacuees fled, they get comments like Queen Barbara's, about how scared she is that too many New Orleans people will want to stay in Texas, and we note the growth of urban legends of violence and ingratitude. We are now seeing stories about how black people are going to be warehoused in trailer parks and that the Bush administration does not intend New Orleans to be a black-majority city again.
And Hurricane Rita was no better. Many more of the Rita evacuees where white, so the racism issue was not thrown into such sharp relief in the national media with this evacuation. But don't think it was not a major factor for black people themselves.
Steve Gilliard found this story from the Beaumont, Texas, Enterprise newspaper titled Evacuation "like a horror movie"
. . . 3,000 evacuees . . . fled Hurricane Rita aboard a convoy of about 50 Beaumont Independent School District school buses. Several bus drivers from the convoy . . described seeing people on their front lawns glaring at them with shotguns in hand, and pickup trucks with nooses hanging in back (most of the bus passengers were black).The drivers said whenever they tried to stop to rest or let their passengers use the restroom, town officials had court orders waiting for them to get out of town, an assertion those town officials later denied . . .Driver Toni Soularie, 49, said she nearly had a violent confrontation when she pulled into a rest area. "This officer said he was going to shoot me if I didn't get back on the bus," she said. "At that point I was prepared to let him shoot me. I had this invalid on the bus who was already embarrassed because she urinated all over herself. And I was not going to let her embarrass herself again. We just got off. But the officer stayed right there with me - made sure we were going to get back on." . . . in Kilgore, they thought about stopping in an empty Wal-Mart parking lot, but again were turned away. The town, drivers said, was one of the roughest portions of their journey. "When we tried to exit there, cars would actually back up on the ramps and force us to get back on the freeway," Cassandra Francis, a 46-year-old BISD driver, said.

And in the Comments of the Gilliard blog was posted this story from a California newspaper, The Sonoma West Times & News, about the experiences of a local volunteer who travelled to an East Texas shelter to help out - Hostilities, racism follow local emergency worker
. . . What got to him most was the shouting. Local officials and law enforcement officers regularly shouted and screamed at the evacuees. "I saw people in authority yelling at evacuees in public settings, the condescension. I was told by numerous police and sheriffs that 'These people don't take care of themselves, they don't respect each other, they are crack addicts, dope addicts.' And my experience of the same people was quite the contrary," said Mazer. He pointed out that he has worked for 11 years working with the homeless in Sonoma County, and led the mental health services at the Armory in Santa Rosa for five years. "I'd know. I saw respectful, mindful people who under the conditions were extraordinary in the respect they maintained for themselves and for others."

Digby points us to this story in the Miami New Times, about the racist rants on one of Florida's major right-wing radio stations:
. . . some callers vehemently disagreed with her [radio show host Kelley Mitchell's] negative characterization of the black race, while others really liked what they heard. "My father told me that when the blacks move in, everything is going to be really bad," one caller said, adding, "He was right!" "I don't think there's anything wrong with what you're saying," she responded. "That's because there are cases in Liberty City of that happening.... You've got these places that are trash. The only explanation was that blacks were brought to America [against their will] ... their entrance into America was different than anyone else's." The Oklahoma-bred broadcaster told listeners her mother was once mugged by two African-American women and said if she were a poor black mother, she'd be "angry and embarrassed" at her race for its behavior. On the other hand, she pointed out that wealthier folks fared really well in the storm's aftermath. "I read a beautiful story about people in an upscale neighborhood" who went into a grocery store and "took only what they needed," she said.
Yes, we white people are just so unselfish, aren't we, we just do that type of thing quite naturally, don't we? Like the white guys who ran Enron, for example, and Halliburton and those Quebec ad agencies and . . .
Racism is so pervasive, I notice that even people who consider themselves to be political progressives are not immune. Bloggers Brad DeLong and Matt Yglesias both defended Bill Bennet's remarks about how aborting the pregnancies of all black women would reduce the crime rate. Neither of these bloggers appeared to realize the overall problem with Bennet's remarks. It is even beyond what Armando at Daily Kos describes as insensitivity.
It is, quite simply, racist to use a unnecessarily race-based example to prove a point. Bennet's discussion was about using abortion to cut the crime rate. Now, he could very easily and more accurately have used "poor people" in his example -- as in "you could abort every poor baby in this country and your crime rate would go down" -- or he could have used "teenagers". But it never even occured to him. He just didn't think of it. When he thought "crime" he thought "black people" and out of that racist mindset popped his racist example.
Bennet's use of such an example, and the defense of such statements by DeLong and Yglesias, just shows how basic and pervasive racism is within American culture.

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