Waldlaw Blog

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Katrina's Reminders About Racism in the US

Not that we had forgotten.... But I have to admit that, looking back over the last two weeks, and still haunted by images of the sick and elderly being recovered -- both dead and alive -- from the places they have been trapped by the hurricane and its aftermath, the thing that most plagues me is the stories of vicious racism during the first hours and days after the levees broke. I cannot clear my mind of images of African American citizens of New Orleans trying to walk over the bridge to safety, only to be turned back by Louisiana State Troupers with shotguns. This is such a powerful image: survivors of the hurricane and flood climbing out of the water and the muck, up onto a bridge, with safety visible on the other side -- only to be sent back into the water and muck to face their fate. It is an image I'd like to believe was only part of a movie. But it was part of the aftermath of Katrina that is only starting to be talked about in "polite circles." I understand natural disasters. I understand government incompetence. I'm sorry to say that I even understand governmental indifference and callousness. What I don't understand is the kind of viciousness that would allow people to send other people back into the flooded wasteland of New Orleans because of the color of their skin. What I don't understand is how human beings can contain that much hate, that in the midst of natural disaster and governmental incompetence they would not reach out their hands to those in need because the ones in need were the wrong race or ethnicity. I cannot fathom that level of bigotry, of hatred. And so I sit here in my office in San Francisco, looking out my window at the perpetual fog, and ponder.... What makes people that full of hate? What makes people that afraid of people who are different from themselves? This is the part of the aftermath of Katrina that I find genuinely mind-boggling. Am I naive? Maybe so. But I hope I never get used to the concept that humans can be so awful to each other even in moments of critical need -- and I hope that something changes so that my children don't sit in front of their computers 30 years from now with these same types of awful images stuck in their minds.

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