Monday, September 12, 2005

Don’t Rebuild New Orleans

To America’s race-baiters, not even Hurricane Katrina is colorblind. They fault the administration not for bureaucratic bungling, but for a racist hostility to blacks. This goes not just for America’s self-appointed black “spokesmen” such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, but for guilty white liberals, too.

Oprah Winfrey, the multimillionaire talk show host, said, “It’s a black thing.” She demanded that the nation, which was busy providing relief, apologize to the victims.

Actor Sean Penn accused team Bush of “criminal negligence.” Bobby Rush, a congressman from Chicago, likened conditions in the New Orleans Superdome to those of slave ships, saying, “If in fact New Orleans were populated by middle-class whites, then you would have seen a far different response.” (Busy faulting Bush, Rush forgot to mention that the person most responsible for the Superdome fiasco is Ray Nagin, the black Democratic mayor of New Orleans.)

Rapper Kanye West said during a benefit concert, "George Bush doesn't care about black people." (West apparently never heard of Condoleeza Rice or Colin Powel, high-ranking blacks who have served Bush with distinction.)

Abandoning his usual caution, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, speaking to the National Baptist Convention of America, noted what he called “the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a significant role in who survived and who did not.”

Unfortunately, loony conspiracy theories are nothing new for Dean, or for a significant percentage of the nation’s African American community. According to Reuters, “A survey by researchers from Oregon State University and the Rand Corporation released earlier this year found 16 percent of African-Americans thought AIDS was created by the government to control the black population.”

The report went on: “Conspiracy theories also sprouted among Hurricane Katrina evacuees camping out at Houston's Astrodome. Several told Reuters they suspected black residential areas were flooded purposely in an effort to divert water from white housing.”

Such irrational fears play into the hands of a Democratic power structure ever eager for an excuse to bash the president, and looking for ways to keep African Americans on the liberal plantation. They are also a significant hindrance to many African Americans ever getting a realistic shot at the American Dream. While some discrimination still exists, the bigger problem for many blacks is their worldview.

As author Shelby Steele, a scholar who is black, noted years ago in The Content of Our Character, such conspiracy theories are a convenient cop-out on personal responsibility. “When a people of a race or nation are insecure about their ability to thrive in the larger world, they inevitably evolve an identity that allows them to recompose inner fears into external threats,” Steele writes. “It is not that we fear that we can thrive as well as others; it is that others are hostile to us, and we must be tightly unified to defend ourselves.”

Perhaps this dysfunctional group mentality helps explain the otherwise incomprehensible comments from some black leaders pooh-poohing the looting of New Orleans by marauding blacks. (Celine Dion said simply, “Who cares?”)

Such a herd mentality has done little to advance blacks in New Orleans, where they constituted two-thirds of the population. Crime, corruption, and poverty run rampant in the Democratic-run “Big Easy.” Joel Kotkin, writing in, notes that the city of under a half-million was a dead end for its citizens even before Katrina.

“In l920, New Orleans's population was nearly three times that of Houston," Kotkin said. "During the '90s, the Miami and Houston areas grew almost six times as fast as greater New Orleans, and flourished as major destinations for immigrants.”

While I have heard one government official after another vowing to “rebuild” New Orleans, I have yet to hear one displaced resident vowing to return. Here’s hoping that many will escape the city’s dysfunctional culture and start new, more hopeful lives elsewhere.

Whatever the logistical and financial challenges to rebuilding the city, I hope they don’t rebuild it (at least the way it was). The poor people of New Orleans need a fresh start, and many are already availing themselves of it. Perhaps getting out of New Orleans, some for the first time in their lives, will open their eyes to new ways of looking at the world, and at their fellow citizens.

Some already are. Joseph Brant, 36, escaped the city by hitching a ride with compassionate white people. Brant told Reuters, “Before this whole thing, I had a complex about white people. This thing changed me forever.”


Blogger Bob said...


I missed Jessie, Oprah, and Sharpton, but surely you've got to admit Dean had a point: “the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a significant role in who survived and who did not.”

That's accurate. People who were impoverished, who didn't have cars, didn't have savings, didn't have a place to go, were old and stuck in nursing homes, or were waiting for their end of the month paychecks or September 1 goverment checks didn't get out.

FEMA and President Bush didn't say, "there are just black folks in the Big Easy, let them drown" and anyone who insinuates that is a moron.

In your post you mentioned that New Orleans was a dead end, and in a separate section, that 2/3 of the city was black. There's a correlation here that goes beyond worldview. How about unequal schools, lack of access to capital, long term family disfunction, red-lining--those play large roles as well.

They can be overcome--but blacks and whites in the US do not start out on equal footing. Our starting contexts are different. Maybe you could help me understand why so many white evangelicals can't admit that.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Stan Guthrie said...

I agree with Dean about age and economics, but certainly not skin color. That's a pernicious comment, designed to divide.

I agree that the situation and opportunities for blacks and whites are often very different, but these things are not destiny. Many blacks and whites overcome a lot to achieve the American Dream. Heck, look at Oprah.

Telling blacks that the deck is stacked against them and they cannot win no matter what is harmful to them and to society. Such thinking serves no positive purpose and is self-perpetuating.

The black community used to be much healthier than it is today in terms of marriage and other issues. It is highly dysfunctional (two-thirds of black births are outside of the context of marriage, high rates of black on black crime, etc.) in a lot of areas. Solve these problems in the black community and I think you will see blacks flourish as well as any other group. After all, they are every bit as made in God's image as any other group.

I agree we need to give all people equal opportunities to capital and good schools. Maybe this disaster will, as I said in the commentary, give many poor people a fresh start. I hope so.

4:11 PM  

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