When it comes to the question of what part the victims' race played in rescue and relief efforts, I find it disingenuous for people (specifically conservatives) to use phrases like "race-baiting" and "shut up." I'll be the first to admit black people in particular have not exactly established a reputable track-record when it comes to pointing out discrepancies in this country's ability to interpret such principled phrases as "We the people" and "all men are created equal." Moreover, the NAACP seems intent on making certain we will never gain that credibility back. Poor leadership aside, it needs to be said that America has not healed or reconciled itself from many racial wounds. I am black and I live in this country. I know this to be true. Therefore, I cannot stand in agreement with those who proclaim that the race of the un-aided American citizens in hurricane Katrina was irrelevant in this matter. On even the most visual level of detail such as reporting angles and the number of times certain citizens' misery was exploited for the sake of a good story, the lop-sidedness is evident. This however, should not be the primary concern.
No. When I looked at pictures of the victims, I didn't just see black people; I saw poor people. And poor people come in every color and hue and package you can imagine.
The main issue at hand is class. And for those like me who don't like that word, let's just call it the underlying belief or subconscious attitude that certain peoples' lives are more valuable than others. I am not one of those people who believes in a socialist society. The poor will always be among us. As for terms like "class," well the reality stands that we have attached our own earthly system of stacking human success and whether we want to admit it or not, that system has levels and unwritten rules. What I am specifically addressing is a mentality found within humanity towards other humanity.
Almost exactly four years ago, this country banded together and showed tremendous courage in the face of another national tragedy. When two towers, two symbols of our financial strength and capital came tumbling down, we never moved so fast with aid. Many of those among the injured were working people--businessmen, and women. Executives. Movers-and-shakers. Plainly put: suits. And yes the rescue circumstances were different, as was the behavior of the victims involved, but the attitude of those in authority to help was take-charge, get in, and get them out. Not so much the same in the gulf coast I observed.
Does a person's ability or inability to make financial contributions to society determine the value of life?
What struck me the most however, wasn't the destruction, the late aid, or the deaths. It was that suddenly, in a matter of hours, this entire nation was forced to deal with the poverty, the devastation, and the lawless that have been in New Orleans for countless years. Rapes? Rapes have always been taking place in New Orleans. Thefts and robberies? Nothing new. Violence and lawlessness? Same story. Chaos, confusion, and debauchery? Two words: Mardi Gras. Gang activity? Check. Starving people? Check. Neglected elderly citizens? Check. Homeless people? Check. Parentless children? Double check. In fact, run down the list of all the chaos that was being reported in New Orleans and it sounds like a regular day at the precinct. I venture to say that the frequency with which many of the above events occurred probably wasn't too far from the normal day-to-day realities of the city. The difference this time being the hovering presence of a national magnifying glass.
Therein lies the problem. Too little time spent observing in magnification.
There were many tragedies that occurred last week. The evident ones have tugged at our hearts and we as Americans have responded to the call with our time, our resources, our finances, prayer, and encouragement. It is certain we will be called upon again as the entire gulf region begins the difficult process of evaluating what comes next. But we also have another responsibility--one that has been swept under the rug over the last couple of days.
Now that we have observed just a taste of what's been taking place in New Orleans for years, we cannot allow that city to ever be the same again. In a city where the vast majority of people are either below the poverty level or what's called the "working poor" (those who literally live paycheck-to-paycheck), New Orleans cannot be rebuilt with the same mentality or re-inherit the same sins that have been familiar for generations. Something has to give. Every citizen of this country matters to the future of America and we cannot sit back casually as communities are given over to squander themselves as local leaders are not held accountable.
The theme of tomorrow should not consist of pointing fingers. Our President will be our President for three more years. More than us putting our mouth on him, he needs our prayers. We cannot begin to fathom what things (good and bad) lay ahead for this country. For today, there is much responsibility assigned to many at different levels of authority (e.g. spiritual, civil, governmental) for what's taken place. But at the heart of it all, our human frailty has been shown. So it turns out we don't have everything under control. We just. Weren't. Prepared. No matter how many dollars, politicians, workers, or fancy words we initially threw at the wreckage, it has proved to be much bigger than anyone could have expected. We were relying on a contingency plan that we never thought we'd use. Suddenly our failures, shortcomings, oversights, and neglect were exposed.
I say "our" because we must all own up to this. The etymology of the word "nation" is "that which has been born." Whether we agree or not, we are brethren in bearing the standard of America. As we discuss what's taking place in this nation with family, co-workers, and friends, we may find that people are emotional, enraged, confused, empathetic, and sometimes even irrational. Such frustration is to be understood, but not all expressions of it are to be endorsed.
I sense in the air that we are somewhat disappointed with ourselves as a nation. Taking stock in the events that have transpired, in some ways we should be. Leaders were depleted of leadership. Troops couldn't organize themselves fast enough. Resources weren't sent in quick enough. I venture to say that even some prayers weren't sent up earlier enough. Lives were lost, families disconnected, and important possessions destroyed.
But (the word that negates what was just said before it) today is the day of restoration. Where we have fallen short thus far in our responsibility to the quality of life of humanity within our own country can be made up in the days, weeks, months and years to come. Let's restore to people their dignity and empower them to see vision beyond tomorrow. It's time for beauty instead of ashes, gladness instead mourning, and praise instead despair. This too shall pass. Life is precious.
Life is precious.
Americans, be encouraged.
**(These will be my last words on hurricane Katrina. I feel the best battle can be fought via kneeology (the act of bending your knees). Please continue in fundraising efforts, but please give to organizations other than the Red Cross. If you are interested in a unique way you can help restore dignity to the women specifically affected by the hurricane, please email me as I can pass on information that allows you to direct specific goods to a direct contact at an accountable tax-reporting non-profit organization in Louisiana that will give you specific confirmation that your donation was received by someone who needs it.)
Update (09/06): My goodness. In a striking turn of events, Rush Limbaugh is both insightful and accurate in his discussion of race in America. I just linked to Rush Limbaugh? Jesus must be coming soon.