Sunday, September 04, 2005

A Nation's Castaways

The news about the racial divisions revealed in New Orleans by the hurricane has been noted by many news articles this weekend. In the Washington Post, an article reads:
The history of marginalizing black folk in America, especially poor ones, runs so deep that it occurs like second nature. It is one reason, say several prominent black intellectuals, that the response to the devastation of Katrina was so slow.

Racism runs "so deep that the folks who are slow to respond can't see it," says Russell Adams, professor of Afro-American studies at Howard University. "That's the unperceived character of racial behavior, of what I would call hidden racism where you don't know that this situation has a racial character to it, just like fish have trouble defining water."
The article also notes the racialized way that the photographs and news footage coming from New Orleans have been interpreted:
This feeling of being disregarded is pervasive in the African American community, where old wounds still sting. Witness a "Saturday Night Live" skit from 1998, where Samuel L. Jackson and Tracy Morgan indulge in a bit of hyperbole, playing African Americans in the fifth class steerage of the Titanic. Everyone was rescued before them -- even the furniture.

While that may have been comedy, its message is conveyed in all kinds of real-life ways. Deborah Willis, photographer and professor of the arts at New York University, laments some of the images coming out of New Orleans.

The frequent replay of what has become an iconic looting photo -- the guy with the flying braids and falling pants -- "desensitizes the viewer of finding compassion for what happened to the thousands of people who have died or who have suffered," she says.

It's an us-vs.-them kind of image, she says, and "a racialized image because of the way it's been used and reused over again."
For another way of thinking about race, see these comments:
Noel Ignatiev, author of "How the Irish Became White" and editor of Race Traitor, a journal dedicated to the "New Abolitionism," suggests that the nation is poised at a pivotal point. He sees an opportunity for a realignment of thinking.

"White is not a matter of color. White is a matter of a sense of entitlement, a sense they are or ought to be entitled to specially protected place in society," he says. "But there are plenty of white folks on the bottom rung of society, people for whom whiteness isn't doing much at all."

"Some may be awakening to the notion there's no use clinging to an identity that's doing them no good. If white folks start thinking of themselves as poor and dispossessed instead of privileged, it will change the way they act. We will see the beginnings of class conflict."

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