More Lessons From Katrina

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For, although I understood that most Black people were relegated to the bottom of the economic ladder, I took me awhile to realize that racism is a function --using Blacks as the primary pawns-- to maintain economic dominance over the masses, by the few.

(Kanye West was right when he said “Bush doesn’t care.�)

One year has passed. And we are still struggling and grappling to rebuild and heal our broken community.

All of us remember the heartbreaking events we were inundated with as those horrific images of death and suffering from Louisiana engulfed us. I will never forget Katrina and the awful truth that it illustrated about the injustices of class and race in America. A year ago, while preparing to celebrate a birthday those horrible pictures of destruction and death came. And I found myself grieving and searching for answers to why.

On August 29, Hurricane Katrina descended on southern Louisiana bringing with it an almost unparalleled level of destruction after the levees were breached, flooding 80 percent of the city. A category three storm with sustained winds around 125 mph when it made landfall, Katrina killed at least 1,577 people in Louisiana alone, making it the deadliest since Hurricane Okeechobee hit in 1928. And hundreds of people still remain unaccounted for. Many of the dead were African Americans.    

Katrina cost the American taxpayers an estimated $81.2 billion dollars in damages. That’s more than any natural disaster in American history. But the only thing worse than the devastation of this storm is the ugly realities it has revealed. For many years I thought racism was the worst problem in America. But then I realized I was wrong, at least to and extent. For, although I understood that most Black people were relegated to the bottom of the economic ladder, I took me awhile to realize that racism is a function --using Blacks as the primary pawns-- to maintain economic dominance over the masses, by the few.

Much has been made of Kanye West’s statement saying that Bush doesn’t care about Black people. West was right. Because, Bush doesn’t care about anyone who isn’t rich and most Blacks aren’t. Remember Bush’s infamous statement at an engagement for the rich and connected where he declared “This is an impressive crowd, the have and have-mores, some people call you elites but I call you my base?� Well, that comment underscores that only people with money are a priority in this “president’s� eyes.

So, is it any wonder that while people were starving, drowning and dying in Louisiana that this “president� remained on vacation and bypassed Louisiana to attend a guitar photo-op? Many defenders of the “president� argue that Katrina was a natural disaster. But the disaster of Katrina was, in fact, largely manmade. The “president� claimed that no one could have predicted the devastation that Katrina caused. But we know that was another lie. For several engineers and scientists warned of this very thing. And this administration cut funding that would have fortified those levees in New Orleans.

In the last year, Bush and his republican bandits in the Congress have spent four to five billion dollars a month to fight an immorally war in Iraq. And Bush ardently defends lecherous tax breaks --even immediately after Katrina-- for the filthy-rich. To make matters worse this administration facilitated no-bid contracts to war profiteers like Halliburton, who have overcharged the troops for food. Yeah, just supporting the troops right Dick! Then if that wasn’t bad enough they got the Davis-Bacon Act “suspended.� The Davis Bacon Act of 1931 is a “federal law which established the requirement for paying prevailing wages on public works projects.� 

Make no mistake about it, this was done to bottom out wages and further exploit the people in New Orleans, just when they need help in rebuilding their lives. However, last month the Bushites rushed through funding sending more bombs to kill babies in the Middle East. And yet they couldn’t marshal the resources to save the lives of Americans as they died slowly and alone? Where were all the military boats, planes helicopters that should have been sent to save the lives of those in their hour of distress? Well, evidently if you are poor and or Black you are nothing more that a savage in the eyes of these folks and therefore unworthy of saving. Remember the racist media coverage we witnessed. If you were Black and took food you were a “looter� but if you were white manna fell from heaven.

Katrina showed the world the hypocrisy of a nation that preaches to others about sharing democracy, while it has utterly failed to do so for many of its own citizens. Katrina peeled the scab off of that illusion, showing the cancerous underbelly of desperation many face in this country every damn day. Katrina reminded us how insignificant we are to these “powers� who dictate so many things in our lives. It highlights the perversion of a “president� who decries quotas while appointing Mike “your doing a heckuv a job� Brown to oversee FEMA. 

But there is another lesson from Katrina that we should never forget. Katrina proved once again that: we are survivors. And that the only people we can truly depend on is us.

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