Peace through victory - the American way.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Disgusting Racial Politics.

Probably the most offensive charge being made in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is that the federal response was deliberately slow due to racism against the victims of the hurricane in New Orleans, who are predominantly black and poor. The issue is usually framed by the media as an important question that must be addressed because of the speed of the federal response and the racial composition of the victims. One question that apparently need not be addressed is whether the crime and looting occurred because of race. For instance, there's this story from England (here) about a group of British students who were trapped in the Superdome.

Up to 30 British students huddled among the thousands in the Superdome were forced to set up a makeshift security cordon to fend off abusive locals.

Jamie Trout, 22, an economics student from Sunderland, kept a record of his terrifying ordeal. He wrote: "It was like something out of Lord of the Flies - one minute everything is calm and civil, the next it descends into chaos. A man has been arrested for raping a seven-year-old in the toilet, this place is hell. The smell is horrendous, there are toilets overflowing and people everywhere."

Jamie, who had been coaching football to disabled children as part of the Camp America scheme, said people were shouting racial abuse at the Britons because they were white.

Zoe Smith, 21, from Hull, told how students set up a security cordon when the power briefly went down in the Superdome amid fears they were going to be attacked. "All us girls sat in the middle while the boys sat on the outside, with chairs as protection," she said.

If the media is going to lead this country in a wrenching national conversation about race and Hurricane Katrina, then the question of the racism that occurred in the Superdome should be addressed as well. It won't be, however, because that's not how we talk about race in the United States.

Personally, I don't buy the racism angle at all. Whatever blame there is for the quality of the federal response is likely to be a function of incompetence and bureaucracy and the overwhelming and devastating nature of the hurricane. And the crime that occurred in New Orleans is a function of the personal character of the criminals involved not their race. The fact that race is a significant political and media topic says more about the reporters and commentators peddling the story and the grandstanding politicians who are leading the attack than it does about the facts on the ground.




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