Black?: Bush Doesn’t Care

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The comfort of a middle class lifestyle has partitioned Black America into two groups: those who have a college education and those that do not. Middle Class Black people have engaged the “American Dream� and are more interested in accumulating materials than developing community… In many ways, Black America was distressed, desolate and deserted long before Katrina. Katrina was the personification of how Black people have been treated throughout the history of this country. In its aftermath, Black America is forced to deal with the clean up, organization and rebuilding of not just the Gulf Coast, but of our overall approach to politics, society and culture. Thank you for the awakening, Katrina. Change gon’ come.

A storm is nature’s instrument of change.  It scours and cleans the earth’s surface as it passes overhead, washing away the filth that humans accumulate; it makes way for divinely inspired growth and increase.  In the case of a hurricane – specifically Hurricane Katrina – the storm is so intense, its devastation so pronounced that it is nearly impossible to envision the impending growth amid rampant destruction and human suffering.  Nevertheless – in the words of the late soul singer Sam Cook - “Change gon’ comeâ€?. Change must come for poor and working class Americans.  Imagine the preparation, evacuation and aid effort that would accompany a natural disaster in Beverly Hills, California or Manhattan, New York.  With that image in mind, the impoverished victims of Katrina should feel abandoned by the federal government.  After Katrina, the message is clear: if you can’t afford health and safety, you will not be healthy or safe.

America could have easily afforded the cost of preventative measures in New Orleans.  Our government was well aware of the hazards in the Big Easy, as well as the cost to rectify the danger.  In the 1990s, the Army Corps of Engineers determined that hurricane catastrophe in New Orleans was one of the most eminent disasters facing the U.S.  Armed with that knowledge, New Orleaneans petitioned for roughly $25 million in federal funds to subsidize the reinforcement of levies and pumping systems for quite some time, to no avail. In fact, the President himself refused to approve levy funds not once, not twice, but three times. Instead, those moneys were diverted to the war in Iraq and the Department of Homeland Security which, in the wake of Katrina, continues to be ill prepared to assist victims of a disaster, as it suppresses, under a Superdomed-sized mound of red tape, the efficacy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

Not that FEMA could be effective anyway.  Director Michael Brown is a crony of the Bush family, which is an association that can get you any job, even if you’re not qualified. What about the response of the National Guard?  Well, they were in Iraq.  Although the National Guard is supposed to serve the needs of a state’s governor, 40% or so of those troops in Gulf Coast states were fighting for the President in the Middle East.  Those National Guard troops are specifically trained and equipped to deal with localized catastrophes like hurricanes and other natural disasters.

The preparation and response to Hurricane Katrina reek like a smorgasbord of rotten decisions and under-preparedness.  Who suffers as a result of those miscues?  The poor and underprivileged.  When government responds only to economic markets and acts on behalf of interest groups it shuns the needs of its people; particularly its poor.  Hence, the federal funds allocated for war and defense increase while funds to aid poor Americans dwindle.  That’s why there were no levies, no troops, and no aid for the poor people affected by Katrina. Was the inadequate response to Katrina only an issue of class and not an issue of race?   Of course not.  If you think otherwise, ask yourself this: if a disaster of similar proportions struck the inner-urban core of Oakland, Baltimore, Chicago or Detroit, would the response have been any different?  I don’t think so. Those communities have been plagued by poor public schools, a decreasing demand for labor and inadequate access to health care, among other things, for years.  Black urban communities, such as those listed above, were in a state of catastrophe long before the Katrina disaster in New Orleans. Yet, the Bush administration has failed to respond to the crisis in the American ghetto.  In fact, Bush and his people are hardly even conscious of a crisis.  For a recent point of reference recall Vice President Chaney’s response to the issue of AIDS in the Black community during the Vice-Presidential debates last year: “I wasn’t aware there was an issueâ€?.  After Katrina, Black Americans feel overlooked, and are generally fed up with Bush, Republicans, Democrats and any other group that can’t help deliver positive, enduring results.

Hip-hop superstar Kanye West said it best in his recent ill advised, impromptu tirade on NBC: “Bush don’t care about Black people.â€? Those words struck America, and the world, like a cheap shot punch to the gut.  Well Kanye, nice body shot.  Although he could have been more tactful, Kanye was right.  If Bush cared about Black people he would have campaigned in the inner cities of America, he would accept invitations to NAACP functions, he would have personally addressed those stranded at the Superdome, and he would not ignore modern issues of race in America and around the world (refer to Chaney above).  Kanye’s brazen indictment is not the product of just one isolated rebuff, but instead a commentary on how Black citizens (yes, even multi-millionaire Black citizens) feel about the service of their government.  Soon, poor and working class whites will uncover the subterfuge of racism that politically divides Blacks from whites, and acknowledge similar dissatisfaction with leadership and government.  

Grass roots organization is the answer for Americans underserved by their government.  Black Americans, in particular, must begin to engage in the political process.  The comfort of a middle class lifestyle has partitioned Black America into two groups: those who have a college education and those that do not.  Middle Class Black people have engaged the “American Dreamâ€? and are more interested in accumulating materials than developing community.  Established Black organizations, therefore, are becoming less effective, because those who should be leading the effort to organize Black America are disinterested.  In the wake of Katrina, that disinterest has turned to disdain for our government.  Black people will channel that angry energy into a stream of consciousness bringing about political change and economic empowerment. 

In many ways, Black America was distressed, desolate and deserted long before Katrina. Katrina was the personification of how Black people have been treated throughout the history of this country.  In its aftermath, Black America is forced to deal with the clean up, organization and rebuilding of not just the Gulf Coast, but of our overall approach to politics, society and culture.  Thank you for the awakening, Katrina. Change gon’ come.

The author, an attorney, can be contacted martinshepherdlaw@yahoo.com

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