It’s a good thing no one actually reads my blog, because I might get in trouble with this next post.
It’s not as timely as it could be, but I’ll write it nonetheless. It has to do with hurricane Katrina. I had been thinking about the racial implications of what was happening those first few days and trying to decide if there was some weight to the argument that the slow response to aid the victims was due to racism. This CNN article on September 13 made me think about it again and I have come to a conclusion. Here’s my take:
From the perspective of the majority (typically white people, of whom I am a part), the slow response we saw to hurricane Katrina was not based on racism. However, the problem with the perspective of the majority is that racism is (usually) simply discrimination based on the color of someone’s skin. And of course, we in America are not so ignorant, so uneducated, so barbaric as to deny someone proper treatment simply because that person has a certain color of skin. No, we have come far past the trespasses of our ancestors and have put this kind of racism behind us.
However, what about discriminating on some other grounds? What about denying someone proper dignity and respect based upon his or her level of education? Based upon his or her economic status? Based upon the way he or she talks? Based upon the quality of housing he or she lives in? Based upon the area in which he or she lives? Based upon the structure of his or her family? What if we are discriminating against people because they live in a culture so different from our own that we do not even have the ability to perceive our own discrimination?
I have heard so many people say, “Why did they stay?… How stupid can you be not to leave?… If they would have just gotten out of there, we wouldn’t have to go save them…. If they would have followed orders and left, they wouldn’t have had to go stay in the horrid living conditions of the Superdome…” and the list goes on. You know what I’m talking about. The problem is that the people who are saying these things are putting themselves in the situation of those stranded in New Orleans rather than putting themselves in the situation as well as the status of those in New Orleans. Of course, if I lived in New Orleans in the life I am now living, I would have left, no questions asked.
But, if I lived in New Orleans for my whole life, if I was born there, if I had no father, if I had to watch friends die growing up, if I had to literally fight for my life to survive in my neighborhood instead of worrying about petty things like homework, if I couldn’t afford to go to college, if I didn’t know anything other than waking up in the morning hoping I would find a way to make a few dollars, if I didn’t have a car, if I didn’t have a credit card, if I didn’t have a bank account, if I didn’t know anyone outside of my neighborhood, if I had only one hundred dollars to my name, if that was me, then I would stay. Left to my own, I would have no choice but to stay.
And therein lies the problem. From the perspective of the majority, we aren’t racist because we don’t discriminate on the basis of the color of someone’s skin. How dare you call us racist. We only discriminate on the basis of someone being different than we are economically, culturally, educationally, socially, but not racially. Just because most of the people who we discriminate against in these ways happen to be black (in the case of New Orleans) isn’t our fault. All we know is that we aren’t discriminating based on the color of someone’s skin.
It’s time we wake up as a nation, and especially as a church, and see that racism goes deeper than the color of a person’s skin. Racism is still alive in this country because we are unwilling to do what it takes to take the perspective of the other, unwilling to see the world from their eyes, unwilling to understand what it is like to live as a minority that is stuck in a cycle of poverty, violence, and neglect.
I’ve often heard people say “I have no problem with black people. However, I don’t like when they wear those big saggy jeans down below their butts. I don’t like it when they talk the way they do. I don’t like the music they listen to. I don’t like the way they ‘pimp out’ their cars. I don’t like the way they act. If they just wouldn’t do all those things, I’d be fine. But I’m sure not racist.” The problem is that these people don’t see the fact that in saying these things they are rejecting the entire black culture rather than just an individual. The culture that those people grow up in tells them no different. They don’t know any other way to live. By asking black people to stop doing the above things, you are asking them to stop being black. This, my friends, is a tragedy. We need to realize that there is a whole culture out there that is completely different from anything we know, yet that is all some people know. That is their world. Our definition of racism needs to be expanded from only discrimination based on the color of someone’s skin to include discrimination based upon one’s culture being different from our own.
I would venture to say that the slow response to hurricane Katrina was in fact a problem of racism. It was racist because no one anticipated that that many people would still be left and have no where to go and no way to get themselves the help they need. It was racist because we thought that people were economically able to follow the orders they were given. It was racist because it was only the poor who were left.
So, it is our duty as Americans, and especially our duty for those of us who call ourselves Christians to first of all help these people who are completely and utterly different than us. Secondly, we are called to implement strategies to break the cycle of poverty, violence, and oppression, and truly give our minority brother and sisters an equal opportunity at this life. Hurricane Katrina was a sad reminder of how far we have to go, but hopefully it will be a catalyst for future positive change.
***Note: For anyone who does happen to stumble across this post, I am a white male trying to understand what it is I need to do to help my brothers and sisters across this world, regardless of culture or skin color. I may have made some inaccurate generalizations about those who were left in New Orleans as a result of hurricane Katrina, but I am using it to make a point. I do not want to lump all black people into one easily definable group. I know you are a much richer, more complex people than that. I am using specific, extreme examples in order to make a point that will hopefully result in a positive outcome for all minorities. I hope no offense is taken in my above post; if there is any, I apologize. Feel free to leave feedback if you disagree with me and can help me form a more accurate perspective of those who are discriminated against.***