Sunday, September 4, 2005

Despair

Today, I am giving in to despair. Every channel is alternating "retrospectives" of Rehnquist's glorious career with more coverage of the "heroes" who finally have the chance, nearly a week later to try to pull the living from amongst the dead in New Orleans. Don't get me wrong--I have nothing but respect and admiration for the rescue teams, the national guard members, the city servicepeople, and the emergency workers on the front line. What appalls me is how little they have been allowed to do before now. Tucked way back in the end of the front section of our local papers are little news stories like the one about the navy ship with 1200 sailors, hospital beds, and the capacity to make that sat, for days, off the coast "waiting to be asked for help" while the young, the old, the sick, and the overwhelmed died in the heat and the filth of New Orleans's streets. Also buried: the righteous indignation of New Orleans's mayor, who pulls no punches in his anguish over the decimation of his city, its residents, and the rescue workers who have begun succumbing to suicide in their despair at our collective failures.

Rescue workers speak of plucking the few living from among the numberless dead, of knowing that for so many they came just a day or two too late. One man told of being dropped into a hospice where half of the residents had already died, and those who lived on lay among the bodies. Weeping mothers tell of their missing children, friends speak of those who died right before their eyes, waiting for the help that never came. How, in the richest and most powerful nation--bar none--that the world has ever seen, can anyone possibly believe that this is anything less than a cavalier disregard for the value of certain human lives, or that this motivated "incompetence" is the price of our national obsession with wealth, and with the so-called Christian sexual morés at the expense of the basic compassion Christ himself would have us practice?

I feel very, very far away from this country right now--perhaps farther than I ever have. Before, I've always believed in our ability to rekindle and live up to our ideals. Now, I doubt everything but our national greed and hypocrisy. I know that there are lots of caring people opening hearts and wallets right now, and that there are many who feel outraged like I do. But instead, I can only feel like I've run into the wall of intractable American racism in its 21st century incarnation. I feel guilty for not having had to face the brunt of it more fully before now, even as I have been well aware of its presence. I'm sick of living in a country where the hypocrisy is so blatant, and where it's so easy to dismiss the criticisms of the very obvious racism underlying this tragedy as the talk of the lunatic leftist fringe, or as the product only of divisive African American voices (like the mayor, like Kanye West).

We hosted a family gathering yesterday. Although my in-laws are not particularly warm people, it was, overall, a relatively pleasant event. Except for the moment when the football game was interrupted by footage of the desperate poor still trapped in New Orleans. At this point, two members of the family exchanged a series of unspeakably racist comments about the relative "uselessness" of the victims, and their unfittedness for a new life somewhere out of the cesspool their homes have become. "We've supported them for years," said one family member; "I can't believe people are going to want to pay to get them back on their feet."
"We've supported them for generations," commented the other, referring, presumably, to the historical effects of welfare and the disproportionate poverty and blackness of the victims. "They're not the kind of people anyone [i.e., anyone "decent"] would want in their communities. I don't know where we could put them."

What astounds me about this encounter? I knew these people were bigots. I know they consider themselves the arbiters of "decency" and are firmly convinced that by the state of man's lawn wilt thou know his soul, that "good people" wash their cars every week and that plenty of folks of other races are fine as long as they are "just like us" (refer to state of lawn, above).

It's the casual dismissal of an entire group of people, and their utter lack of embarrassment about it. Their total complacency at writing off thousands of helpless men, women, and children because their skin is the same color as that of several of the looters and lawbreakers featured on TV. Their absolute ease at saying something so hateful, at never mentioning the word "race" because, at this all-white family gathering, it would be so patently obvious that victims this depraved could only be black. Have we lost so much ground in the war on racism that we don't even have to pretend any longer that we are not racist? Evidently for a lot of white folks, the answer is yes. Bush is in the whitehouse, the leftys are on the run, and we can all feel good about blaming the victims. Human kindness is only for those who can get along without a functioning government in times of disaster.

Welcome to the era of "neo-individualism." If your family fate, like our president's, is to be legacied into an ivy-league school for which you are intellectually unfit, to be given corporations to run into the ground until one succeeds despite you, and to be handed the presidency by the morally bankrupt machinations of your father's wealthy friends, the new "individualism" is gonna look pretty great. If, however, your "legacy" has anything to do with bad luck, ill health, poverty, or dark skin, you might as well get used to being roadkill.

Do I need to mention that the family's representatives of evangelical Christianity, who are so holy that they usually forego family events to be with their "Christian" family, said nothing. Remember that golden rule? I guess we'd better make that the "pearl rule": Do unto white people as you would expect white people to do unto you. Wasn't that what Jesus (clearly a white man) said?

Is this a great goddam country, or what?

8 Comments:

At 3:59 PM , Anonymous ehj2 said...

before you erase me -- i'm not anonymous and i'm not selling anything (like those three posts in front of me).

i wish you could rest for a moment, find the still point of eternity in a piece of music, enjoy a glass of wine, walk in a garden, drink in the smiles of your true family.

if you let yourself eat too much of the country's shadow, it will just pour through you into your family.

but perhaps by putting it here you have succeeded in pouring it away from your family. well done.

my own family is all republican. my brother called yesterday afternoon to invite me to visit ... and commented for awhile from a worldview informed by fox, etc. he's incredibly resistent to facts. it makes me ache just to listen to him.

my mother is actually struggling to understand. she can't believe she's been lied to for all these years, that she's been taken in by callous self-serving greedheads who used her vote to seize the country. it's hard for her to shed her worldview. patriotism is almost a disease, and to the extent it is a disease, it's been exploited by republicans.

but this is a gift to me -- these people can't escape me, can't give up on me, have to talk to me. they are my opportunity to understand them, and through them, the rest of this strange greedy insecure racist sexist country. understand that i take them in small small doses, and never after something like this.

you are an important voice. we can't afford to lose you. we need you to pace yourself. this is going to take awhile.

you've already got more on your plate than anyone should have to handle. please let today's troubles be enough for today.

i know you already know all of this. i hope i can just be a small polite graceful reminder.

love & peace,

/e
but i'm still a sexist

 
At 5:41 PM , Blogger Dorcasina said...

/e,
Delete you? Never! I cherish your comments, and your listening, and your reminding me that I am never as alone as I feel.

 
At 8:00 PM , Blogger shrinkykitten said...

Nothing brilliant to say, but I agree with your post. I hadn't realized that rescue workers were already killing themselves -- usually that happens a bit later than this. Such a statement to the horrors and sense of betrayal, I think.

 
At 12:17 AM , Anonymous Flippy said...

Here, this will at least make you feel better than not everyone is glorifying Rehnquist's career - http://tinyurl.com/7bxlj written by Alan Dershowitz.

 
At 1:29 AM , Anonymous Flippy said...

er, better that not...

I wish Blogger let (anal) people edit.

 
At 4:59 AM , Anonymous ehj2 said...

lol,

thank you for your deft and humorous reply. hope things are going well there in "ruralacademaetopia."

okay. i get to agree with your post and share the following without providing analysis; the information is resistent to analysis.

i'm gradually working through the pages on my site and improving the format, presentation, etc. i won't be pleased until i have a poem and a flower on every page ... and at the same time i check to make sure i haven't got too much "dated" material ... the econ stuff has a short shelf life and i'm going to have to figure out how to handle that.

but ... under "PolySci0/Cartograms" we have a national problem -- the demographics of red/blue America are little different than the split during the civil war.

which is your point above, made slightly differently. racism and sexism (is this an underlying selfism?) are seemingly intractable in these areas.

given that 16% of the u.s. population in the rural states choose 50% of our senators, we need to strongly consider equilibrating strategies.

~~~

sunny here. golden. maybe a bike ride and a meditation in the woods. prayers with you.

/e

 
At 12:41 PM , Blogger timna said...

thanks for your post.
I'm feeling strongly that the US is just not a good place to raise children.

 
At 4:51 PM , Blogger ABDmom said...

Well said, as always. I too was at a family gathering this weekend (my side of the family) and was horrified by some of what I heard. In my case, nothing racist (which I had expected), but full of nonsense they heard on Rush or various other right-wing talk shows. "Well, 'they' brought in buses to evacutate NO on Saturday, and nobody got on them! They didn't want to leave! It's their own fault!" And of course, no facts are offered to support that ridiculous claim, other than "So and So said it on the radio." And anything I said was met with, "That's not true," no matter how many sources I could point to as evidence.

I have been sick about this all week. I have never felt so ashamed to be an American.

 

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