|"I hate the way
they portray us in the media. You see a black family, it says, "They're
looting." You see a white family, it says, "They're looking for food."
And, you know, it's been five days [waiting for federal help] because
most of the people are black. And even for me to complain about it, I
would be a hypocrite because I've tried to turn away from the TV because
it's too hard to watch. I've even been shopping before even giving a
donation, so now I'm calling my business manager right now to see what
is the biggest amount I can give, and just to imagine if I was down there,
and those are my people down there. So anybody out there that wants to
do anything that we can help -- with the way America is set up to help the
poor, the black people, the less well-off, as slow as possible. I mean,
the Red Cross is doing everything they can. We already realize a lot of
people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way -- and
they've given them permission to go down and shoot us! [...] George Bush
doesn't care about black people!"
- Kanye West (September 2nd 2005)
West's "Gold digger" has been remixed by the rap duo Legendary K.O.
This remix which criticzes Bush is available as an mp3 here:
"No, I'm not an American. I'm one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism. One of the 22 million black people who are the victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy. So, I'm not standing here speaking to you as an American, or a patriot, or a flag-saluter, or a flag-waver - no, not I. I'm speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don't see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.... " — Malcolm X, April 3rd 1964
"They are not refugees. And I hope that everybody in this country and the world stops calling them refugees, because they are not. They are survivors and we, the people, will not let them stand alone. They are Americans." — Oprah Winfrey, September 6th 2005
For the past nine days America has been transfixed by the sight of people dying in the streets of New Orleans. The shock is overwhelming to many who had assumed that by some God Ordained Rule of the Universe stuff like this only happened in Africa or Asia or some other place where real people don't live. For the first several days the journalists were all bleating "I've seen this many times before, I just never thought I'd see it here."
And yet this is not Asia or Africa or some place that Americans like to think God has forsaken, nor is this "Mother Nature" or something alien intruding on the land of the free. No, this is a Real American tragedy, plain and simple. Not only because the U.S. is the main opponent of any effort to put the brakes on global warming. Not only because the U.S. trumpets this neo-liberal (same as the old liberal) ideology of not investing in infrastructure, just armies and prisons. But also and especially in the response, the leaving people to die, the racist media coverage and the faux-shock ("oh my god, it never occurred to me that those people might be poor!"), this has been a quintessentially American event.
A point of confusion enters the picture for many, because if this is indeed America, then why couldn't the good people of New Orleans be saved? Why could all the kings horses and all the kings men not even airdrop enough food, or airlift patients in critical condition, or even find out that there were people at the Convention Centre? I mean, duct tape or no duct tape, a lot of folks are thinking Homeland Security dropped the ball on this one. As right-wing loonie New Gingrich asked, "if we can't respond faster than this to an event we saw coming across the Gulf for days, then why do we think we're prepared to respond to a nuclear or biological attack?"
So to the likes of Gingrich, this "American nightmare", this "Made in USA" disaster that has unfolded in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast over the past nine days makes no sense at all. But to many of us it is perfectly natural. If you want to understand the response, just keep these things in mind:
Keep on repeating that to yourself, and the world begins to make sense.
And remember too that, in the spirit of efficiency, America tries to save on its hate by making sure these three categories overlap as much as possible.
Note that when i say "America" i mean the country, the nation, the ideal... as in "the American Dream", "the American Century", "American Knowhow" and "American Resilience"... both major political parties and all of the journalists ("liberal" and "conservative" alike)... you see, i mean what the country is all about. I do not mean people who happen to live there, or people who have been fooled into thinking that they and King George belong to the same nation, or at least not all of them. Certainly today there are many people living in America who must understand exactly what Malcolm X was saying in the quote above.
But for Americans, for the ones who love their flag and their nation and their faith and their history of blood and death, we know this must be an unsettling time. It is too dangerous to treat all these overnight homeless refugees the same way "normal" homeless people and refugees get treated - there'll be no "bum fight videos" starring the newly disposessed from the Big Easy, no detention centres or mandatory deportations, at least not until things simmer down a bit... and if there are, we'll be told to call them "news footage" and "shelters" and "relocation"...
For the moment it is too dangerous to carry on as usual because all of these angry people are together, too many other angry people are paying attention, many thinking "there but for the grace of god go i". You even have people with guns willing to take potshots at the army and cops! It has taken a lot of "benign neglect" and "integration" and "urban planing" and "liberal progress" (and police raids, and assassinations, and the CIA dumping drugs in the neighbourhood...) to try and destroy the Black community, all that effort to avoid precisely this kind of situation. At the moment America is like a thief in the night, and the person they are robbing has stirred in their sleep - America is nervous, it has got to be very very quiet right now and hope they think it's just a dream, got to hope they doze off again...
So the secret joy with which America greets the news of every homeless person who freezes in the cold or bakes to death in the sun (like 14 did in Phoenix earlier this summer) is going to be kept under wraps. The secret joy that America feels when Black people die is going to be hushed up. And the absolute glee, the orgasmic rapture, that America feels when poor neighbourhoods are destroyed will be muted. Just for the time being...
Some of the refugees (sorry, i don't want to insult them by calling them "American citizens") will "get on with their lives", and we'll be meeting them again on CNN or Fox or whatnot for the foreseeable future - we'll be told how they "turned adversity into opportunity", "overcame hardship" and yadayadayada. I mean, it doesn't take a rocket scientist, or even a meteorologist, to guess what is going to be on tv every Labour Day for the next few years. They'll be the proof that America "works", even if not as well as it does for Colin Powell or Condoleeza Rice. They may not get to spend $10,000 on shoes, but they'll make for useful propaganda nevertheless.
Of course, no matter how much the ruling class pretends otherwise, the majority will never feel like "this is working out pretty good for them." This is an unmitigated and previously unimaginable disaster in their lives, even for those who did not lose loved ones. We can only hope that as many as possible will recover, will be able to get their lives back, but we know that if they do it will be because of their own strength and their own traditions of resiliency, traditions and strength that America has tried time and time again to destroy. So those who get through this will do so despite America, not because of it; and sadly, we know that many will not be able to manage ok. But when we meet them again - as someone panhandling for change, or self-medicating, or fucked up from their trauma and their loss - they won't have politicians and journalists gushing about how "they are our fellow citizens". No, no, no! Because then they'll be people who live that way and behave that way because they have a "culture of poverty", because they come from "dysfunctional families", because they're part of this "intractable underclass". Trust me, it's all tried and true at this point...
There's some chatter about how this may be an opportunity to "turn things around", to "get our priorities right" and to finally educate people who "had no idea" about racism and poverty in America. Dream on! Poor people and Black people already know about racism and poverty, they don't need any wake up call, and America already knows too - i mean that's what makes their wealth so meaningful, that's what gives their lifestyles that added edge: it's the masses of people whose blood they suck. Their mentally damaged economists will tell it to you straight: "How can you be rich if someone else isn't poor?"
There's also been a lot of blathering on about bureaucracy and red tape, like the reason all of this happened was there were too many forms to fill out and too many regulations to follow. America the Shameless is saying "unchain me and this will never happen again"... but America is unchained - i mean have you ever seen an America as unchained and uninhibited and mad with power than this sparkling dying 21st century monstrosity? It wasn't Big Government or Bureaucracy that kept the "invisible hand" from maintaining the levees, any more than it was Red Tape that had sheriffs deputies shooting at refugees who were trying to make their way out of Floodtown. If you could travel ten years back in time and warn America about what was going to happen, do you really think it would have made a difference?
"If they stay, they get what they deserve" would have been the national refrain.
So we should see this for what it is: a big storm that needn't have killed a soul (Cuba managed to evacuate over a million people last year when a similar storm was heading its way.) A flood which did not have to happen (all of those levees could have been built up for a fraction of the money rich folks spend on stupid things every year). An emerging health disaster that is still preventable (but probably won't be prevented, just subsumed into "those people's" bad health).
In other words, this is something that is as American as apple pie.
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