September 2, 2005
Written by C.N.
You’ve probably seen the images of a devastated New Orleans and its desperate residents. Perhaps you’ve also heard that for whatever reasons, emergency help and relief supplies have been very slow in getting to those in need. Like a growing number of sociologists and other observers, I’d like to wonder aloud about the race/class dynamics of this tragedy and the recent events surrounding it.
New Orleans (NO) is a heavily Black city — more than one-third of its residents are Black. A large proportion of these Black NO residents are also considered low-income as well. Low income residents generally do not have the luxury of being able to evacuate (i.e., they are less likely to have cars and income to afford to stay at a motel, etc.) and therefore had little choice but to stay behind in NO. That is why a disproportionate number of those in desperate situations in NO are Black.
Second, why has the emergency relief response been so slow? I realize that the devastation is unprecedented and quite catastrophic. But we’re not talking remote villages in southeast Asia here — we’re talking about a major U.S. metropolitan area.
If we connect these two aspects, it inevitably leads to one question — is part of the reason why the relief response has been so slow is because such a disproportionate number of victims in NO are Black? I’m not suggesting that there is some evil conspiracy to let Blacks in NO suffer, but it’s looking more and more like the neglect here may be more than just benign.
Further, some of the media coverage of this tragedy has reinforced the racial overtones of the victims. For example, to their credit, last night the ABC News show PrimeTime Live had a segment that showed two news photos of looters — one was Black and the other was White. In the newspaper in which they were shown, the Black person was described as having just looted a store. In contrast, the White person was described as “having just found some food.” If that’s not racism pure and simple, I don’t know what is.
Yes, there’s been looting, much of it committed by Blacks, but when people are in desperate situations, there’s no help on the way, and they have to worry about such seemingly mundane needs as clean drinking water and food, what would you expect people to do? Just sit around and starve? Of course law and order need to be restored as soon as possible. But that would be made a whole lot easier if the hurricane victims were given the basic supplies they need.
Something tells me that if the majority of those in trouble were middle class Whites, the government response would not be as grossly inept and shockingly slow as it is for these Black victims.
Also, of particular note to Asian Americans, let’s not forget that there is a sizeable Vietnamese American population in Louisiana and Mississippi, many of whom work in the fishing industries that suffered the hardest hits due to the hurricane and its aftermath.
To make a donation to help the victims of this tragedy, please visit the American Red Cross.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Chaos and Injustice in New Orleans" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2005/09/chaos-and-injustice-in-new-orleans/> ().
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