Saturday, September 03, 2005

Tears Are Colorless

And over the past week, I've shed many.

So although I will probably regret this, I really need to get a few things off my chest in regards to what I'm hearing about the situation in New Orleans and why and who and how.

First of all, I sent my money to the American Red Cross without any thought whatsoever to the color of the skin of the people my donation would eventually help. Just as I didn't think for a single second about what nationality the victims of the Tsunami were when I donated to the American Red Cross for that disaster, nor what religion the people who were victims of the 9/11 attacks were when I sent my money to the American Red Cross to help those folks out. And frankly, I don't care one bit about any of that.

My donations are color-blind, and I resent it when influential people come on television and imply that Americans don't care about what is happening to those unfortunate people suffering in New Orleans because those folks are of a certain racial background or economic status. According to BusinessWeek Online, donations for the victims of Katrina are coming in in record amounts and at a faster rate than the Tsunami and 9/11 disasters. So it seems as if the majority of Americans are not holding back their support for any reason, especially not because of the race or previous economic position of the victims.

Secondly, offers the following definition:
ref·u·gee ( P ) (rfy-j)n. One who flees in search of refuge, as in times of war, political oppression, or religious persecution.

I don't personally find anything at all derogatory in that description. I certainly would never think less of a person who was a refugee, whether they've left their country because of war or famine or they've left their city because of natural disaster.

So why have some people of influence come on television to decry the media's use of the word refugee to describe the victims of Katrina, claiming that using this term is derogatory toward a certain racial group? When I hear the word refugee, I don't think of anyone of any particular ethnicity, simply a person who has been displaced from his or her home. Calling someone a refugee does not mean that person has now lost his or her identity as an American citizen. It does not mean that this person is inferior or not needing of compassion or help.

So what is the problem?

And finally, I completely respect and even accept the needs of many of the victims of Katrina to help themselves to the food and water and diapers and shoes and clothing from the shelves of the abandoned stores of New Orleans. I like to believe that the store owners themselves would have been handing out these items to the needy - free of charge - had they been there to do so. I don't call these people looters, simply survivors, regardless of the color of their skin.

But people who gleefully carry televisions and bicycles and DVDs and entire racks of expensive shoes and clothing and GUNS from abandoned stores are looters. They are thieves. Period. And here, too, it doesn't matter what color their skin is.

So when influential people come on television and claim the media's calling of these thieves "looters" just another example of stereotyping and profiling, I wonder how they are so completely able to ignore the miles of video footage showing non-essential items being carried out of stores, stolen almost proudly with no sense of shame or apology. I wonder what kind of twist on such a scenario they can possibly spin to make such lawlessness acceptable or the fault of anyone else - the American people or the government or the hurricane itself - other than these thugs who are so utterly lacking in common decency.

This is not the time to draw racial lines in the sand. This is not the time to accuse the American population of racial neglect. Certainly blame needs to be laid where it belongs when we finally have the time to examine the reasons it took entirely too long to help these people. I would wager that victims in areas that are comprised of predominately white communities are as neglected by the powers that be as those folks in New Orleans. These people are probably feeling just as abandoned and helpless and frustrated as those stuck in the Superdome. To claim that any one group is being treated more poorly because of their race or economic background is misdirecting blame, an exercise that will do no one any good.

If you look at pure, empirical data, the population of New Orleans is 67% African American (using 2000 US Census data), and 27% of the population is below the poverty level. Place this disaster in Miami, Florida, we'd be seeing a disproportionate number of Hispanic people (Miami's population is 67% Hispanic) and the poor (28% of Miami's population falls beneath the poverty line), not because of discrimination but because of demographics. It's not a conspiracy.

And I would be no less outraged if the current situation existed in Miami, and I'd give just as much to help those who needed it. Just as I would be no more outraged if the entire state of Rhode Island, with its 85% caucasian and 89% over the poverty level population, were experiencing this tragedy. It's wrong in any color.

But this should not be about race. This should be about people needing help. Now. To jump to making accusations only serves to alienate and divide us when we most need to stick together and help each other out. This is already a national embarrassment. Let's not make it worse by throwing stones at each other.


MaryF said...

Wonderful post!! I'm applauding!!

Major Mike said...

Nice post. Spot on.

Alyssa said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alyssa said...

Amen to that. Great post, Lynn.

Anonymous said...

Well argued, Lynn!

The issues of disadvantage and race/skin colour are complex, and it's infuriating when people reduce it to a simplistic 'you're all racist' statement for their own ends. Undoubtedly, race plays a part in poverty levels, in New Orleans and elsewhere - but that's not the same as saying that we're racist if we dare to refer to 'looters' or 'refugees'.

And claiming that 'refugee' is a racist term... I'm stunned. I haven't heard that one, by the way, but have those who argue it never seen refugees in Eastern Europe? People who fled Bosnia and Macedonia and the former Yugoslavia? White-skinned, all of them.

The mind boggles.