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Racism is Real

June 4, 2007

June 3, 2006

What do you do when you find out that the world really is as awful as realists warn us idealists it is?

I just returned from a 4-day stay in New Orleans, LA, and I am left completely shocked and horrified by what I encounteredthere.  Cruelness.  Heartlessness.  OUtright racism and classism. 

I always thought that the social and economic structures that keep poor and dark-skinned people down were consequences of the capitalist system within which we operate as opposed to actual, intended racism and classism; never in my life have I witnessed obvious and intentional manifestations of these insidious “isms” in the United States until I arrived in New Orleans.

Poor blacks are literally being barred from returning to the city.  Public housing units that withstood the storm and the flood with resolution have been cordoned off with razor-wire fencing, their units emptied of all personal
belongings and their doors ripped off so that people can’t move back in.  Homes in the Lower 9th Ward were condemned without their owners’ knowledge or consent until a local lawyer stepped in and sued the city, putting a hold on the city’s attempt to rob even black homeowners of their property. 

New Orleans wants to become a wealther, whiter city, and Hurricane Katrina was the perfect excuse to commence a purging of the city’s poor black population.  To this day, less than half of the former population has returned to the city, largely due to tactics similar to and including those mentioned above.

Insurance companies have also played a role in stalling the rate of return, refusing to reimburse families through hurricane policies because most of the damage was caused by the subsequent flood.

Katrina and her aftermath have exposed how ugly our nation’s social and economic structures are; worse still, she has exposed how ugly and deficient our capacity for self-inspection is.  Media pundits claimed that Katrina was going to spark a national dialogue on race and class in the United States, but such a “dialogue” never occurred.  A few authors wrote about it, sure, but do you ever remember being confronted on the nightly news about your hidden stereotypes and biases?  Do you ever remember an anchorman or news writer encouraging you to think twice about continuing to participate in the capitalist system within which we operate?  Did anyone ever ask you why you feel uncomfortable when you say the word “black” out loud?  No, no one did.

Whites may not be to blame for the slavery that our ancestors practiced, but we most certainly are to blame for participating without question and without reflection in a social and economic system that subjugates entire groups of people.

While waiting for my plane to arrive in the New Orleans airport yesterday afternoon, I wrote a letter to the shuttle bus driver who had taken me to the airport (he had revealed his address on the ride over when declaring how tired he was and announcing how he’d love to stop by XXXX P Street for a nap).  The driver had shared with me how difficult life has been since Katrina scattered more than half of his family and half of his fellow shuttle drivers across the country.  In the letter, I told him that when I returned home, I wasn’t going to forget him nor what I had witnessed in New Orleans; I told him that I was going to talk to whomever would listen about what I saw there and that I would otherwise do whatever I couldn do to encourage people to reflect seriously on what is going on in our country today, and about what has gone on for centuries.  This entry is the beginning of my promise.

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