Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Lessons from Katrina

Mikaela corrects:
Or more precisely, lessons from the "liberal" response to Karina from Washington Post columnist George F. Will [emphases added by little ole liberal moi]:

"Three not-at-all recondite rules for avoiding poverty:

  1. Graduate from high school,
  2. don't have a baby until you are married,
  3. don't marry while you are a teenager.
Among people who obey those rules, poverty is minimal.

[Eric -- I'm dying to have you take this one on for sheer fallacy of correlation vs. causation. Come on! You know you want to...]


Liberalism's post-Katrina fearlessness in discovering the obvious -- if an inner city is inundated, the victims will be disproportionately minorities -- stopped short of indelicately noting how many of the victims were women with children but not husbands. Because it was released during the post-Katrina debacle, scant attention was paid to the National Center for Health Statistics' report that in 2003, 34.6 percent of all American births were to unmarried women. The percentage among African American women was 68.2.

Given that most African Americans are middle class and almost half live outside central cities, and that 76 percent of all births to Louisiana African Americans were to unmarried women, it is a safe surmise that more than 80 percent of African American births in inner-city New Orleans -- as in some other inner cities -- were to women without husbands. That translates into a large and constantly renewed cohort of lightly parented adolescent males, and that translates into chaos in neighborhoods and schools, come rain or come shine."

Ah yes. Why didn't they just choose to not have babies? Or to just stick around and raise their kids? Or just marry better and go to college?

Bad choices. It always comes down to that. Bad choices, bad, bad, bad. Sit. Stay!

Now, let's get down to the business of taking away their choices again! First off, no bid contracts to Halliburton! Hire mercenaries at $350/day instead of training local efforts and paying a decent wage. (Bush recently removed the federal law that said reconstruction efforts had to pay the minimum wage as defined in the state they were working. Woo-hoo! More "choices" off the table for those silly African American poor people.)

I don't want to just be a liberal whiner. I have answers! What's the alternative?

  1. Job training.
  2. Education.
  3. Instead of suspending minimum wages, what about putting a temporary cap on profits?
  4. How about a suspension of corporate bonuses for executives working on reconstruction?
  5. Or ... if that's anathema and we can only count on market incentives to motivate people ... how about funding bonuses instead of wage cuts for all workers on the ground doing ACTUAL reconstruction.
  6. What about some forethought? What about starting special government bond accounts for everyone who's currently working in the contaminated city for their eventual health care/cancer treatments? We know it's going to happen! Let's plan for it now.
  7. Let's go REALLY crazy and find ways to create incentives for all those companies still manufacturing toxic chemicals for household and industrial use that will one day leach into our soil and water, whether hurricane or no! How's THAT for thinking ahead?

There's much to be done and much to take on. Is it really the time to blame unmarried black women for being unmarried and having babies? Does that really help to explain why they were left to drown, even if they were stuck living in the inner city? Because they're unmarried? Because they had babies? Really? Leaving that point aside for a teensy second, doesn't the government -- local or federal -- still have some responsibility for evacuating poor people even if "bad choices" led to them being poor?

His larger unstated point that liberals should stop talking about race since it's not these ladies' blackness but their fertility and morality that's to blame for their monetary circumstances seems to me utterly beside the point and downright counterproductive, no matter who you agree with. This columnist takes the opportunity of people like Obama talking about race (because it actually does help explain why they were left bereft and drowning in the inner city) to divert attention away from those who helped perpetuate the system toward those who were victims of it.

If Mr. Will is right, and we're allowed to blame unmarried African American women for ending up in the inner city where they were left to drown when the hurricane hit and for days after as the water turned into toxic soup (not to mention being vilified for "looting" when they "stole" food and water from downtown stores NOT abandoned houses in richer neighborhoods, thank you very much!), then we must also be allowed to blame the capitalists who built chemical plants and petroleum refineries along the Mississippi and in the Mexican Gulf, where they now leak pollutants and oil that will take years if not centuries to clean up, if they can ever be cleaned up. Surely they can bear some responsibility for their bad choices if poor black women can.

And if they can't? Mr. Will, if you're tempted to blame the system...corporate individuals just did what was legal to do...what was expedient at the time...living within the structure set down for them to work with? Then yeah, perhaps the same could be said of black women who are doing the best they can with the uneven playing field they're on. The very idea that "light parenting" of black male children leads to the conditions of poverty we've seen on the news in the last 2 weeks is irresponsible and disgusting. And so very beside the point.