Yesterday…

yesterday I pointed a link to a photograph from the New York Times website, showing thirty black detainees guarded by six police officers in New Orleans; four of the six police officers were white, while of the other two, only one was obviously of a different race. I suggested, maybe, that the NOPD should arrest some whites just to avoid broadcasting the racism issue in every photo. That idea was… poorly received, as it should have been, and I deleted the post. You can’t fix the problem of racism by reverse racial profiling, and it’s problematic to suggest it. Nonetheless, the photograph made me deeply uncomfortable. You can see the photo here — http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2005/09/06/national/06cnd-loot.3.html

I was deeply uncomfortable and unhappy with something my dad said over the weekend, too, along similar lines. I feel like this is really ugly, and it’s been bugging me for afew days.

Dad was reading some article or another about New Orleans in the Sunday New York Times and he flipped down his paper in that way that dads only do in movies from or about the 1950s. He said to mom and me (I think was in the bathroom or the other room – I hope she was), “New Orleans’ trouble is that the government there was taken over by blacks. They know how to talk, sure. They talk great. But they have no idea how to run things. Mississippi, too.” Then he flipped up his paper and went back to reading.

Mom and I stared at one another, absolutely horrified. Then she raised her hands in that peculiar family gesture that means, I am NOT going to get into this right now, we’ve been on opposite sides of the political fence since Nixon was vice-president, I am NOT going to ruin a family gathering by arguing with my husband who never changes his mind…

Days later — DAYS LATER — I finally realize what my response is. “Sure, Dad. Maybe they can’t run things. But is that some innate failure in them? Is it in them, or is it in the way that prominent Wall Street and Washington leaders ignore black business leaders and black mayors? Is it that they’re crooked in the wrong way, and don’t arrange kickbacks and bribes to the right people? Is it that they’re honest in the right way, and don’t arrange kickbacks and bribes for anyone? Is it that others, conciously or unconsciously, set up blacks in leadership positions for failure? Is it that, being black, they’re shut out of prominent networks of government and industry officials, so they never learn how to run things? Is the failure in them, Dad, or are their failures part of our failure, as well?”

I think this is the essence of it, really. Because we all know that some individuals are about as ready to be First Selectman or mayor as I am to be head of the levee reconstruction effort in New Orleans — I haven’t got the background, the experience, the education, the training, to do it; there are lots of individual people who have neither the drive nor the connections nor the mysterious X factor that makes good politicians, either. But the essential issue of racism, as I think I finally get it, is that some people fall because they cannot do something, something which is beyond their talents or means — and some people are pushed off the towering cliffs of their ambition. Some aren’t pushed, but they do discover, as they climb upwards, that familiar or even mapped-out handholds have been filled in with concrete, that pitons and belay points have been pulled out.

To put this a slightly different way, the Mayor of Boston or the Mayor of Seattle can probably get in a word with the president from time to time. Everybody in Washington knows the name of the Mayor of New York. So why does the President, in addressing the traumas of New Orleans, recall his pary days twenty-five years ago, rather than his current relationship with the mayor of America’s most important port? Have Mr. Bush and Mr. Nagin ever met? Have they ever spoken?

So… sure, Dad… Maybe Nagin and his crew at their makeshift City Hall aren’t up to running a big city like New Orleans: but whether that’s inherent in them, or a flaw in the system, is more difficult to say.

Will I ever get to say this to him? I don’t know. Maybe today during orientation, I’ll write him a letter. We’ll see how that goes.

stole this from …


The earthquake struck at 5:13 AM.
By 7 AM federal troops had reported to the mayor.
By 8 AM they were patrolling the entire downtown area and searching for survivors.
The second quake struck at 8:14 AM.
By 10:05 AM the USS Chicago was on its way from San Diego to San Francisco; by 10:30 the USS Preble had landed a medical team and set up an emergency hospital.
By 11 AM large parts of the city were on fire; troops continued to arrive throughout the day, evacuating people from the areas threatened by fire to emergency shelters and Golden Gate Park.
St. Mary’s Hospital was destroyed by the fire at 1 PM, with no loss of life, the staff and patients having already been evacuated across the bay to Oakland.
By 3 PM troops had shot several looters, and dynamited buildings to make a firebreak; by five they had buried dozens of corpses, the morgue and the police pistol range being unable to hold any more.
At 8:40 PM General Funston requested emergency housing – tents and shelters – from the War Department in Washington; all of the tents in the U.S. Army were on their way to San Francisco by 4:55 AM the next morning.
Prisoners were evacuated to Alcatraz, and by April 20 (two days after the earthquake) the USS Chicago had reached San Francisco, where it evacuated 20,000 refugees.

San Francisco. April 18, 1906.

2 comments

  1. The problem is you’re still ducking the possibility-shading-into-probability that it is at least a local-culturally-innate inability. When did it become inherently impossible to say anything bad about black subculture, even in one of its worst, most egregious examples of runaway brokenness? Is it better to try and scratch up some way we evil white people are at fault than to blame the folks who are actually doing wrong things?

    Moreover, doesn’t this insult the efforts of black people who have worked hard to get out of the cultural attitudes which are crippling communities all over the US and are spotlighted in NO? Its like the whitewash on illegal immigration spitting in the face of folks who’ve worked hard at becoming citizens of this country the legal way.

    I wasn’t aware it was anathema to point out minority failures. That attitude might be at the root of part of the NO mess, too, if you want white folk to demonize.

  2. The problem is you’re still ducking the possibility-shading-into-probability that it is at least a local-culturally-innate inability. When did it become inherently impossible to say anything bad about black subculture, even in one of its worst, most egregious examples of runaway brokenness? Is it better to try and scratch up some way we evil white people are at fault than to blame the folks who are actually doing wrong things?

    Moreover, doesn’t this insult the efforts of black people who have worked hard to get out of the cultural attitudes which are crippling communities all over the US and are spotlighted in NO? Its like the whitewash on illegal immigration spitting in the face of folks who’ve worked hard at becoming citizens of this country the legal way.

    I wasn’t aware it was anathema to point out minority failures. That attitude might be at the root of part of the NO mess, too, if you want white folk to demonize.

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