Katrina - A Blessing in Disguise?
Posted: Wednesday, October 5, 2005
By: Michael De Gale
Do you feel that any white man has ever done anything for the black man in America? "Yes, I can think of two. Hitler and Stalin. The black man in America couldn’t get a decent factory job until Hitler put so much pressure on the white man. And then Stalin kept up the pressure." (The Autobiography of Malcolm X)
As cold and as insensitive as it may sound, Hurricane Katrina could be the best thing that happened to Afro-Americans since WWII. In the glare of MTV, Reality TV and the glitter of Bling, the plights of Black people struggling in ghettos all over America has mostly been forgotten. Katrina unveiled their suffering in Louisiana, Mississippi and New Orleans. More significantly, it reminded us of America's history of slavery, racism and bigotry in this centre of selfishness. With mouths agape, we witnessed in anguish and disbelief the attacks on The World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Almost instantaneously, a well-orchestrated Government and community organizations rallied to rescue the hapless victims. These events gave the US the excuse it needed to unleash its dogs of war on the defenseless people of Iraq. The unilateral offensive they claimed would "make the world safe for democracy" and uncover "weapons of mass destruction." The rest as they say is history. In contrast, the response by all levels of the US administration in the days following Katrina seems pale. Although the US constitution proclaims liberty and justice for all, it was determined that race was a mitigating factor in the administration's response to this semi-natural disaster.
America is a land of varying contradictions - a matrix if you will. In this democracy, an underclass exists which has historically been oppressed, marginalized and discriminated against. Overwhelmingly, these are people of colour. Katrina opened America's closet and showed us the descendents of former slaves living in conditions little removed from that of their fore-parents. Unlike the physical structures that fell victim to the category five hurricane, this sobering reminder of America's shameful past can never be wash away. It stands in sharp contrast to the handful of Afro-Americans whose astounding economic success muffles the cries of the majority and make us believe that all is well in the land which consumes 25% of the world's resources yet people continues to go hungry. With a history of blatant racism, political assassinations, the toppling of democratically elected Governments by violent means, religious icons advocating murder, what moral authority does America have to spread democracy anywhere? America has lost its way politically, economically, socially, spiritually and morally and is therefore incapable of teaching what it has not learned in more than 200 years.
However, I remain naively optimistic that the American ruling class could learn a few things from its citizens and caring people around the globe. In the middle of the devastation for example, an African –American family of seven, fleeing the fury of Katrina, reached out to two white Canadian women who would have perished as sure as God made Moses. My Canadian friends sat on the floor of this dilapidated vehicle with its windows shattered. Driving rain and howling winds assaulted them from every angle. The parents were frantic, the children were frightened and my Canadian friends wept bitterly. They were weeping, not for the nightmare that was unfolding before them, but for the unsolicited gift of human kindness from strangers who literally saved their lives and asked for nothing in return. The family lost everything and fundraising efforts are currently on the way by the Canadians to return this gift of kindness. Truthfully, when bread is cast upon the water it returns tenfold.
The numerous unselfish acts of human compassion witnessed throughout this horrific disaster tell me that there must be a better way. The artificial constructs of race and class are historical tools used to separate people and facilitate their easy manipulation. It tells me that corporate greed, religious bigotry and political scoundrels who amplify differences to maximize corporate and personal gain do so to the detriment of the human family. The worldwide outpouring of support for those affected by Katrina is a clear indication that the "… isms" that separate us are unnatural. As ridiculous as it may sound, human beings want to live with a sense of dignity, respect and a future that holds some promise. Billions of dollars to wage an unjust war will not accomplish this end. It will bring neither relief nor enlightenment to the great majority. On the contrary, it only intensifies suffering and prolongs the darkness.
It is my belief that the vast majority of Americans are people of conscience with genuine concern for the rest of humanity. However, they are trapped in a political and economic system that alienates and divides them, creating xenophobia and a virtual dog- eat- dog society. It is predicated on the age-old concept of divide and rule, which was prevalent throughout the colonial era and is still with us today. Corporations make every effort to dismantle organized labour and reduce wages. At the same time, they increase their own strength through mergers, amalgamations and hostile takeovers. The Government facilitates their efforts on the basis that it brings economic prosperity. The masses are still waiting to experience the trickle down effect in ghettos across America. In the meantime, increasing numbers of people fall below the poverty level making prison a right of passage for many. This is the malignancy, which robs America of her moral authority and brings into questions her credibility as a purveyor of democratic principles.
Like Hitler and Stalin, Katrina unleashed violence, death and destruction giving African-Americans even more reasons to sing the blues. As wonderful as the blues sounds, it is rooted in pain and suffering. In New Orleans, Mississippi and Louisiana it is performed for the benefit of drunken tourist, reeking with alcohol and seeking cheap sex from poor black women and men who only wears the mask. Evidently, there is a perverse pleasure in witnessing black pain. It is perhaps for this reason that historically, attempts to alleviate black suffering has never been a priority.
If I were a believer however, I will give testimony to the words that, "the Lord works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform." Katrina forced an otherwise arrogant administration to acknowledge its incompetence, historical racism and inequality. Furthermore, it conceded that might does not make right and that the provision of hope and opportunities are greater deterrents to terrorism than bombs and bullets. Prior to the invention of the cellular phone, it was an accepted fact that "talk is cheap". This is no longer the case. Hence, the incumbent US administration must be judged not on its words but on its deeds. Hitler and Stalin left death and destruction in their paths. Inadvertently, they created opportunities for African-Americans that were not previously available. The Bush administration now has a similarly unique opportunity and a chance to live up to the creed that all men are created equal. Louisiana, New Orleans and Mississippi could become test areas to sample true democracy.
Beginning with the US$200 billion that is estimated for the reconstruction effort, implement the concept of equal employment opportunities by issuing a substantial amount of contracts to minority business to correct a historic imbalance, demonstrate a commitment to affordable housing and health care etc. These concrete steps supported by an economic base would demonstrate concern for working class Americans and restore some degree of credibility to the US, which is currently lacking.
It is often said that "in every adversity lies the seed of an equivalent benefit". Like Hitler and Stalin, Katrina put pressure on an arrogant administration forcing it to acknowledge racism, inequality and historical wrongs. Rita kept up the pressure. It is my hope that the rains have washed away the blight of racist oppression and American can begin to march bravely into the future in a spirit of humility and brotherly love. This is a unique opportunity to show the world the true meaning of democracy. In reality however, old habits die hard and only time would tell if tomorrow would bring a brighter day for ghetto dwellers in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
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