Friday, December 16, 2005

Was It Racism?

Chris Lewis, a New Orleans evacuee who spent time in the Superdome after Katrina and then at Camp Gruber in Oklahoma, tries to answer this question in an editorial in the Tahlequah Daily Press:
Was it racism? Not in the traditional sense. I think it was inefficiency allowed to run amok due to the apathy toward those left behind. Many of those considered less than intelligent for having stayed were, in fact, simply too sick, too old, and too poor - myself included - to have motive, means or opportunity to leave. Those who rendered those judgments never thought to ask why someone might stay behind in a disaster zone, aside from ascribing such behavior to either simple stupidity or stubbornness.
He’s right. It wasn’t racism in the traditional sense. It was racism aimed at the invisible race – that race of people who are invisible to us Americans everyday. We walk right by them, not even seeing them. And, if we see them, we pretend like we didn’t. We don’t talk about them much. And you normally don’t see the invisible race on TV.

But, for the first time, when Katrina hit and the levees broke, people all around the U.S. turned on their TVs and saw the faces of the invisible race – at the Superdome, at the Convention Center, at I-10 and Causeway, being rescued from roof tops and flooded porches. They were of all colors, but mostly black. They were poor. They were elderly. They were sick. They were mentally ill. They were homeless. All the people we don’t usually see were there.

Some people who were not part of the invisible race got caught up in the fray. They, no doubt, felt like they didn’t belong. Some actually arranged to be evacuated before the invisible people that surrounded them, which is fine. We want everyone to be safe.

Last Wednesday, the Governor touted her evacuation of southern Louisiana. She said the state succeeded in evacuating 1.2 million people in 36 hours. It was a success because the only people it did not include were those who chose to stay behind and the invisible people we could not see.

Mr. Lewis, in his editorial, says that he was “one who found himself shoulder-to-shoulder with people whom I previously shared no commonality, or bond. Indeed, people I felt an inherent need to avoid throughout my life…,” and concludes with this:
Was it racism? Was it apathy? Was it incompetence? I think, be it one, two, none or all of those things to you as an individual reader, what it should be to us all, as a people, is a wake-up call.
We woke up after Katrina and saw the invisible race. As its members are now displaced throughout the nation, let’s not let them fade away again.

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