Racism in New Orleans?

Thanks to John J. for pointing me to National Geographic‘s human migratory DNA study. I have sent in my $116 for a DNA testing kit to have my ancestry tracked by the scienists described on the website. Check back in a few months when I will report that I am descenced from Genghis Khan, Darius, Akbar and Rumplestiltskin.

It seems Germany’s Anarchist Party has put out a TV commercial to describe their platform. If you view the video, it will show that German anarchists are all about gettin’ it on with drunken, topless fat chicks. Any joke I insert here will necessarily insult someone, so this one time I will desist.

Back to New Orleans…. Andrew Sullivan sums up what I tried to say in an earlier blog post:

“The fundamental reason George W. Bush was re-elected was his commitment to national security and a government able to deal with post-9/11 real crises and calamities. That was his promise. And when the first real post 9/11 test came, he flunked it.”

A lot of discussion is going on about whether or not the calamity has a racist dimension. There are those among us who see racism at every turn, and those who refuse to see it even when it grabs thm by the ears and delivers a sloppy wet kiss. Were the largely white-skinned emergency responders and leaders a modicum less motivated to go that extra distance to rescue non-white victims? I think this is likely, since everyone among us is more emotionally drawn to the perils of those who most resemble us. But would such a phenomenon manifest as the criminal inability to respond as was seen in New Orleans? I think not.

Instead, the determining factor here –as it was with the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004– is poverty. Poor people have more fragile homes, less access to vehicles and information, less access to services and good infrastructure that would allow an easy evacuation. Poor people are more likely to suffer mental and physical disability, making their exodus all that more difficult. Poor people are extremely less likely to wield political clout and to complain when their needs are not being met. Poor nieghbourhoods are less well mapped, more poorly patrolled and have lesser representation within the larger societal support networks.

Moreover, poor people tend to have fewer personal and familial safety nets, hence are less likely to have a safe place to which they can evacuate; and their neighbourhoods are more likely to be fraught with crime. These factors combine to make poor people less motivated to evacuate, since there is a perception that their possessions are more likely to be looted by their neighbours at first opportunity. And yes, poor neighbourhoods tend to suffer from more violent crime, thus making them less attractive a destination for service providers.

In New Orleans, the poor people tend to be Black. So I believe that what we are seeing isn’t so much overy racism, but rather an unfortunate confluence of poverty and race (which, of course, is typical across urban America). As always, those who have the least tend to suffer the most.