Watching CNN’s coverage of the disaster in New Orleans, the thing that isn’t being said by most observers comes screaming out of the screen: New Orleans has a majority-black population. And there’s a very strong correlation between poverty and race in the city. And the folks who didn’t leave the city — the folks who didn’t leave because they couldn’t afford to leave, or because they had no transportation, or even because it seemed like a better idea to stay put and cling desperately to what little is theirs — these people are the poor, and they are, in the vast majority, black.
Most of the dead are black. Most of the stranded are black. Most of both are exceedingly poor. And this is not incidental.
Much was made yesterday of the AP and AFP’s senses of who is a looter and who is not. And I’m quite convinced that if such a natural disaster happened in a city where the population left behind was white, the media would have far less interest in the looting question at all.
But I think that the unconcsious race bias endemic to this country is playing itself out in other ways as well. More below the fold.
Imagine that the Big One — the earthquake that’s been predicted for several decades — finally hits San Francisco. The city has done what it can to protect itself, but it’s never been hit with anything of this size, and even though there were computer projections of the kinds of devastation that were possible, somehow those projections were so bad as to be incomprehensible.
Would anyone say, of San Francisco, that the area is much too prone to such disasters, and that we shouldn’t rebuild?
Would anyone point fingers at the people who live there, saying they brought this on themselves?
Would basic relief — water, food, evacuation assistance — be this long coming?
I’m not trying to suggest that there’s conscious racism or classism involved in the fact that all of the above responses are happening around the country, as people (not any of you, of course) look at New Orleans, see the disaster, and want to give up. But there are people whom it is easier for us to give up on than others, people whose interests and desires seem alien, and therefore dismissable.