Saturday, September 10, 2005

What you've seen is accurate. There's just been a spotlight on it.

I've had several conversations lately about the hurricane aftermath. Most stick with the safe angle, the party "how awful" line. Some have ventured into complaining, blaming, finger-pointing or exclaiming disdain at Barbara Bush's comments. For the most part, though, the people I'm around are pretty careful. Spouse & I are the biggest ranters I know & we pretty much keep it to ourselves & you.

Nonetheless, everybody is missing the point.

This is more than a republican/democrat thing.
More than a liberal/conservative thing.
More than a federal/state thing, or a state/local thing.
It's more than a mayor who lacks leadership. More than a governor who lacks administrative skill. More, even, than a president who lacks the desire to micromanage. More than an incompetent director of a federal agency.

It's not even about the hurricane, not really.

What the hurricane did, above and beyond the loss of life and the economic and natural destruction, was shine a spotlight, under magnification, on the experience of black Americans in every part of this country, every day.

I'm not talking about poverty, or access to social services.

I'm talking about being ignored. Not being heard. Marginalized. Filed. Having to rely on semi-hysterical "newsmen" to draw attention to needs; obvious, treatable, manageable needs, occuring right beneath the noses of those with the means to help, but who apparently lack the vision and the will. Blacks who "succeed" despite the circumstances of life as a racial minority with a sorrowful history of entry into this country, tend to be those who either assimilate, or whose talent or intellect or force of will pulls them into an arena of social, political, or economic status populated by few minorities. "Success" in this case is difficult to define as it means different things to different people. At this time, I tend to think of success as having enough money to have the means to get out of town after your home has been destroyed.

It is popular, among the people I know, the papers I read, the personalities I listen to, to declare that racism is if not dead, much improved. You don't hear "nigger" anymore outside of black comedy clubs and rap albums. You child has a black classmate. Your firm just hired a black associate. Even for most blacks, I suspect, that it is easy to mostly ignore the reality. You've got credit. You drive a nice car, own a laptop and a state of the art cell. Your kids go to good schools and wear nice clothes.

You don't have to think about the blood, the suffering, or the degradation that bought your freedom, your participation in the political process, your kid's access to decent schools. You didn't have to think about it, that is, until this week.

The will to right the wrongs we have all witnessed this past week will not come from the federal government. It will not come from the next president, or the next governor, or the next mayor. It will not come from Habitat for Humanity, or whatever contractor wins the right to rebuild the gulf coast. Not the Red Cross, not whatever-group-of-musicians-aid, not the certain congressional hearings into the matter.

It will come though. Truly, I say to you, it will come...


Blogger Rob said...

Sara -

I know you're a bit upset, but look at the flip side: over $700 MILLION dollars in donations. The most ever donated by Americans to any cause, ever.

I worked at a shelter here in Austin when the first waves of evacuees came through. A few mentioned race, as in, "we're just poor black folks". None, however, mentioned race in an accusatory way. Most of them said, "We're just glad to be alive" and a few said, "We never thought we'd see a nice place like this again, we thought we would just die in the muck". They were gracious and appreciative. Many said, "we're taking this as a sign that we should live somewhere else".

Black or white, the ones that made it here weren't interested in politics. They had a zillion stories to tell and none of the stories had anything to do with skin color. The stories were about danger and heroism and fear and want and privation, but nobody mentioned skin color. All of the volunteers picked up on it. When an event like this happens, skin color is the very first casualty. These people simply couldn't be bothered to worry about that crap. A sandwich meant more to them than the color of the volunteers and a smile and a "thank you" meant more to the volunteers than anything so superficial as skin color. Events like Katrina do more than anything else to show that skin color is a political invention. When disaster strikes, humanity trumps skin color a hundred times over, from both directions.

Somewhere else, I read a blogger who said, "if you're depressed about the hurricane, just volunteer somewhere and it will go away." That was true for us. I was ready to type "that was true for us in spades", but stopped because of the obvious racial overtones. Screw that. This had nothing at all to do with race. My wife is an RN, and she spent 15 hours straight treating people of all races - not even noticing race, really - because that's what nurses do. The same was true of EMT's and doctors and even unskilled laborors like myself. Putting a racial face on Katrina is like putting a racial face on the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

Shit happens, people deal and life moves on.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Sara Thomas said...

Thank you for your eloquent first person reply. What you described, the politeness, courtesy, gratitude and the expressions of unqualified faith that I have personally heard are common traits among blacks of which I am personally proud.
To maintain one's faith, one's common courtesy, and one's dignity despite unrelenting opposition and adversity of varying degrees is commendable. These are traits we all should exhibit more of, always, not just when disaster strikes.

7:22 PM  

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