Friday, September 2, 2005

With deep shame

I'm still thinking of Badger and Badger Boy pretty much constantly. Thank goodness for Academic Coach, who has found some practical means to help in this unspeakable loss.

I'm horrifically upset by what has happened (and continues to happen) in Louisiana and Mississippi--which is nothing less than a full-scale collapse of whatever social and political systems once promised to support this poor excuse for a nation. The photos, as plenty of people have observed, look like the third world--which, in fact, much of urban and especially black urban America is. The mere idea that Americans are dying for lack of services, after being left to their own nonexistent means to escape this catastrophe, makes an abominable mockery of every claim we have made to truth, justice and freedom. Every one of us has these deaths on our conscience, even if we have voted against Bush and his predecessors as they sliced away every thread of the safety net.

The fact is, these people Do Not Matter to those in power today, or to their "fellow Americans." They are (as depicted in stereotype by the corporate news) old, sick, chronically unemployed, resistant to authority, undereducated, and black. They are "lawless" and "defiant" and "criminal"--and they are, we are supposed to believe, responsible for the devastation that has now come upon them. I lived in San Francisco back when they suffered their devastating earthquake in 1989, and not once did I hear the kind of blame-the-victim bullshit that is rampant on all the news programs today. San Francisco had already been the victim of almost complete destruction in 1906, yet its intrepid residents chose to fly in the face of nature and rebuild on its fault-riddled ground. Horrific wildfires are a near-yearly occurrence in wealthy neighborhoods in the bone-dry Southern California hills, but no one talks about the man out there with a hose spraying water on his million-dollar estate as lacking "personal responsibility" or "disobeying evacuation orders" while the authorities "did all they could."

I hang my head in shame at the thought of the rest of the world's seeing the disorder in our national house. At the same time, I know the problems won't go away without becoming visible, an embarrassment to the Bush whitehouse and the American rhetoric of "self-sufficiency" that is but a thin veneer for greed and racism. We went to war for the 2000 victims of the World Trade Center bombings. What will we do to honor the people whose crisis our national neglect has caused?

I finally saw an article on race in the coverage of the hurricane aftermath. It was this one, from the Washington Post (free registration required), that merely confirms the negative impressions of the victims through the handy lens of a black spokesperson. It doesn't mention the virtual apartheid the characterizes most American cities, including every liberal city I have ever lived in, the poverty that trapped many of these people in their homes, their disproportionate access to information services and aid, their logical antipathy toward governmental structures that bring them no benefit.

Jonathan Kozol, continuing advocate for the poor children of color who make up the bulk of city public school students, has an excellent and heartbreaking essay in this month's Harper's. Our schools and communities are more segregated today than at almost any time in our history--as the devastation of New Orleans, and the overwhelming demographic of its victims, clearly reveals. The ground of racial harmony we gained through integration and the Civil Rights movement has apparently been lost, washed away by American greed and indifference as surely as the doomed levees of New Orleans.

For shame, America.


At 8:21 AM , Anonymous diana christine said...

Dr. D,
We are shamed, dreadfully shamed. We have done this...
Thank you for saying it so well. (I can only wish I had your gift. I think then I would preach it from the housetops...)
Thank you for being so eloquent.
Diana Christine

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