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  • 8/6/2019 Dyson Ch. 2


    ""W.... _ . k . ; _ . . . I 1 1 1 ._ 1 1 1 2 . . a_.~ l l l! l " .- - . , .. . . . . . . .. - - - - - .. . .,,_,.,_." "" "_ .. .. .. _~

    - ., -J es se J ac ks o n, c iv il r ig h ts l ea d er a n d K a tr in a v o lu n te e r

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    'MYL;ct), I !$if i ,hol : lered, "ou ' re shot.' I getup a n d t ri ed t o j um p over' tM~ t re e~b~ rn~s h l the street, an d a s soon as I got in m id -a ir a n ot he rhl~,~'~,:ltrne: i "mYh~ ,ck ;And I fell onthe ground agam.S o m eh o w, i t

    "w(js'a;,miratle, ' lg9 fupagaifli a nd 1 b eg a n t o r un . J h ea rd [ th e w h it e~g ,Uys.~$a} ' ing ; , :Nigge' r,yo'Ugot tarun. "I ra n a ro un d a corner a nd I

    s a lh 't hi sb la c kg uy s it tj ng ol 'i ' t he p or ch ,a n d 1 said " Ma n, h elp m e.", . fo . ,n .d :,ne;sa id ,"ComEl o n, " b ut he w as in th e h ou se w ith s om e w hite-~e~ple; ,When 1wentte.the back of the hou se , th is white l a d y s a id "I ~~ I1 "th el py ou .y ~~ go tta g eto ut of h ere ." S o 1 ra n away f ro m t he i r.hou~e;:J 3 ; f i d J " r a n upto t o t , s truck with tw o wh ite guys, a nd 1 said,

    : "P IEla~~"P lea$e. pfe~se~elp me." I f el t l ik e I w a s g o in g to d ie . A n d~he, ,

  • 8/6/2019 Dyson Ch. 2


    . . .. , _ 3& .

    C O M E H E L l O R H IG H W A TE R

    Perhaps social commentator and humorist Nancy Giles cap-tured the feelings of many when she more diplomatically, butwith no less outrage, framed the issue onCBS'sSunday Morning:

    , ,

    After meeting with Louisiana officialslast week, Rev.Jesse Jacksonsaid, "Many black people feelthat their race, their property condi-tions and their votinS patterns have been a factor in the response."He continued, "I'rn not saying that myself." Then I'll say it: If themajority of the hardest hit victims ofHurricane Katrina in New Or-leans were white people, they would not have gone for days with-out food and water, forcing many to steal for mere survival. Theirbodies would not have been left to float in putrid water.... We'verepeatedly given tax cuts to the wealthiest and left our most vul-nerable American citizens to basically fend for themselves.... ThePresident has put himself at risk by visiting the troops in Iraq, butdidn't venture anywhere near the Superdome or the conventioncenter, where thousands of victims, mostly black and poor, neededto see that he gavea damn."

    , .,

    Would Bush and the federal government have moved faster tosecure the lives of the hurricane victims if they had been white?The question must be partnered with a second one that permitsus to tally a few of the myriad injuries ofthe racial contract thathas bound American citizens together: did the lar~ bla~ andR~orcitizens in the ~lf Coastget left behind ~h.~_.~ereblack and poor?

    It is clear that President Bush and officials of the federal gov-ernment, like the rest of us, have been shaped by racial forcesthat have continually changed our society since its founding.The tragic reign of slavery for 250 years, the colossal efforts ofthe government and the legal system to extend white supremacythrough Jim Crowlaw, and the monumental effort of black folk

    D O E S G E O RG E W . B U S H C A R E A B O U T B L A CK P E O P L E?

    to resist these forceswhile redefining black identity have formedthe rhythms, relations, and rules of race. The rhythms of racehave largely to do with customs and cultural practices that feedon differences between racial groups. The relations of race havemostly to dowith the conditions that foster or frustrate interac-tions between racial groups. The rules of race have to do withnorms and behavior that reflect or resist formal barriers to socialequality.The rhythms, relations, and rules of race have both defined

    the forces against which progress must be made and provided ameasure of the progress achieved. They help us understand thateven when fundamental changes in law and practice occur-say,the Fourteenth Amendment, the Brown v. Board of EducationSupreme Court decision, or the Civil Rights Act of 1964-thereis the matter of racial vision and imagination to consider. Theyhelp us see that racial terror has bled through the boundaries oflaw as surely as harmful racial customs and beliefs persist in thedeep pockets of a formally changed society.This framework must be kept in mind as we answer the ques-

    tion ofwhether race played a role in how the federal governmentresponded to Katrina's victims. But as I've made clear, the-9~:tion shouldn't be whether race played a role, but what role it-piaysd..:_HowlY be quarantmtion ofKatrina when it so thoroughly pervades our culture-thechoices we make, the laws we adopt and discard, and the socialpractices that are polluted by its pestering ubiquity? Of courserace colored the response to Katrina, although it may not meanthat explicit racial prejudice fueled the decision to leave poorblack folk defenseless before the fury of nature.After all, one need not have conscious or intentional racist be-

    liefs to act out a script written long before specific actors comeon the political stage to play. We take our cues from different

  • 8/6/2019 Dyson Ch. 2


    (l I 221 ] i2 ; w ...541 i

    C O M E H E lL O R H I G H W A T E R

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    parts of the culture that have vastly opposed ways of viewingthe same racial event. Our conscious decisions are drawn fromthe reservoir of beliefs, attitudes, and dispositions that form ourgroup's collective racial unconscious. When we gear up for re-sponse to a particular event, when we dissect or process a spe-cific item of information, we pull from these resources, whichhave shaped our understanding ofwhat can and should be done.The collective racial unconscious, and the rhythms, relations,and rules of race, together constitute the framework for makingdecisions, even those that apparently have nothing to do withrace. Thus, one can reasonably say that race was the farthestt~ng from one's mind even as its subtle propositions lure one~ward into territory invisibly bounded by racial criteria. And

    , ~~one can scrupulously proclaim, and mean it, that race does not, ...-:~affect one's calculus of desert, of how resources should be; ~- shared, while appealing to ancient racial understandings that

    shape just who is seen asmeriting a particular sort oftreatment.It should also be clear that although one may not have racial

    intent, one's actions may nonetheless have racial consequence.In discussing the charge that racism was at the heart of the re-sponse to Hurricane Katrina, Senator Barack Obama said, "I'vesaid publicly that I do not subscribe to the notion that thepainfully slow response of FEMAand the Department ofHome-land Security was racially-based. The ineptitude was color-blind."4 Obama went on to say that "I see no evidence of activemalice, but I see a continuation of passive indifference on thepart of our government towards the least of these."> However,one may agree with Obama that there was no racial intent, no"active malice," in the response to Katrina, and yet hold theview that there were nonetheless racial consequences thatflowed from the "passive indifference" of the government topoor blacks. Active malice iIDG-passive_indifference:.:,ebut .. 0 . "

    : .


    D O E S G E O R G E W . B U SH C A R E A B OU T B L AC K P E OP L E? 2 1

    sides of the same racial coin, different modalities of racial men-~e that flare according tothe contexts and purposes at hand. Ina sense, if one conceives of racism as a cell phone, then activemaliceis the ring tone at its highest volume, while passive indif-ference is the ring tone on vibrate. In either case, whetherloudly or silently, the consequence is the same: a call is transmit-ted, a racial meaning is communicated.When it comes to the federal government's response to the

    victims of Hurricane Katrina, the specific elements at play mustbe examined.' There were poor blacks, mostly from Louisiana,drowning in twenty-five-foot floods, stranded in their homes, orcrammed into makeshift shelters, awaiting help from a Texas-bred president and an Oklahoma-born head of FEMA. At itscore, this was a Southern racial narrative being performed be-fore a national and global audience. If Southern whites havebeen relatively demonized within the realms of whiteness-when compared to their Northern peers, they are viewed asslower, less liberal, more bigoted, and thoroughly 1/ country "-then Southern blacks are even more the victims of social stigmafrom every quarter of the culture, including Northern andSouthern whites, and even among other blacks outside theregion.Southern blacks, especially poor ones, are viewed as the worst

    possible combination of troubled elements-region, race, andclass-that on their own make life difficult enough. They arestereotyped as being backward, belligerently opposed to en-lightenment, and tethered to self-defeating cultural habits thatundermine their upward thrust from a life of penury and igno-rance. Their woes are considered so entrenched that they cannotbe overcome by social programs or political intervention. Noteven a change of geography is seen as completely successful;when transposed to Northern terrain, poor Southern blacks are

  • 8/6/2019 Dyson Ch. 2


    2 2 C O M E H E lL O R H IG H W A TE RI, believed to be victims of a time warp of anachronistic values

    that work against absorption into the middle class and insteaddrive them to carve enclaves of urban horror from their ruralroots.When they were not being painted in unflattering terms on

    the canvas of social history, the lives of poor Southern blackshave stirred the colorful fantasies of whites across their nativeregion and beyond, The exotic Southern black supposedly hadmore soul, was closer to nature as a semiliterate savage, couldsing and dance w