Thursday, September 01, 2005

What exactly is the argument?

marjorie says...

In all of this debate about the word “looting”, how to represent the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, how to take care of the refugees’, the bemoaning of climate change and our culpability in it, our infrastructure and gasoline needs…

We haven’t even touched on the atrocity that is going to be uncovered when they start counting the dead bodies in New Orleans. There are going to be a lot of them, and most of them are going to be black folks.

I know that this catastrophe covered a lot more ground than New Orleans--the town of Biloxi was demolished. And I know that there are a lot of white folks who lost everything and who died in those places.

But New Orleans demonstrates beyond anything that I can remember in my lifetime how our structure completely discriminates against the poor, and it clearly shows the correlation between race and class.

To see an evacuation in one day of one of the major metropolitan areas in the US was astounding. Where are all of those people who drove out of New Orleans? They are in hotels, camp grounds, with family and friends elsewhere, in shelters throughout Louisiana and Texas. We aren’t hearing much about them. They are okay, even if they have lost their material possessions and face a struggle to reclaim their day-to-day lives. Most of them are with their families.

The remainder, those who stayed behind, are primarily the poor people who had nowhere to go because they didn’t have the resources to leave. They are struggling to keep their families together, and to simply get some water and some food. We know that most of those people are African American. Of course there are going to be a lot of white folk too. But, I have to say, pictures seldom lie to this extent.

Sure, there are going to be stories about those who stayed because they wanted to. But the overwhelming number of those who eventually became refugees, first to the Superdome, then the Astrodome, and now it looks like possibly the Alamodome, had no choice but to stay in New Orleans.

What does all of this mean? It means that the capitalist structure of this society left the poor of New Orleans, largely African American, to drown. Because that is what has happened--there are a lot of drowned people--the bodies haven’t been collected yet.

We’ve had a big debate here at M-Pyre about whether or not the reaction to this catastrophe is racist, whether or not white folks who feel empathy and want to help are racist or not. In my mind, this isn’t about labeling individual white folks as racist. Obviously, there are millions of white folks out there who feel compelled to help in any way that they can. From the rescue workers to public officials to just ordinary people, we can see that the loss of life is a lot lower than it could have been.

But, what it *is* about is labeling the structure in which we live as racist. It is racist. It’s also incapable of safeguarding the interests of the poor on an everyday basis, much less when push comes to shove. What then is the responsibility of white folks, who are part of a larger white community which is the dominant group in this society?