September 24, 2004


The Political Sidelining of Blacks (Mike Davis, 9/24/04, Tom Dispatch)

The evacuation of New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Ivan looked sinisterly like Strom Thurmond's version of the Rapture. Affluent white people fled the Big Easy in their SUVs, while the old and car-less -- mainly Black -- were left behind in their below-sea-level shotgun shacks and aging tenements to face the watery wrath.

New Orleans had spent decades preparing for inevitable submersion by the storm surge of a class-five hurricane. Civil defense officials conceded they had ten thousand body bags on hand to deal with the worst-case scenario. But no one seemed to have bothered to devise a plan to evacuate the city's poorest or most infirm residents. The day before the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, New Orlean's daily, the Times-Picayune, ran an alarming story about the "large group…mostly concentrated in poorer neighborhoods" who wanted to evacuate but couldn't.

Only at the last moment, with winds churning Lake Pontchartrain, did Mayor Ray Nagin reluctantly open the Louisiana Superdome and a few schools to desperate residents. He was reportedly worried that lower-class refugees might damage or graffiti the Superdome.

In the event, Ivan the Terrible spared New Orleans, but official callousness toward poor Black folk endures.

Over the last generation, City Hall and its entourage of powerful developers have relentlessly attempted to push the poorest segment of the population -- blamed for the city's high crime rates -- across the Mississippi river. Historic Black public-housing projects have been razed to make room for upper-income townhouses and a Wal-Mart. In other housing projects, residents are routinely evicted for offenses as trivial as their children's curfew violations. The ultimate goal seems to be a tourist theme-park New Orleans -- one big Garden District -- with chronic poverty hidden away in bayous, trailer parks and prisons outside the city limits.

But New Orleans isn't the only the case-study in what Nixonians once called "the politics of benign neglect." In Los Angeles, county supervisors have just announced the closure of the trauma center at Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital near Watts. The hospital, located in the epicenter of LA's gang wars, is one of the nation's busiest centers for the treatment of gunshot wounds. The loss of its ER, according to paramedics, could "add as much as 30 minutes in transport time to other facilities."

The result, almost certainly, will be a spate of avoidable deaths. But then again the victims will be Black or Brown and poor.

On the fiftieth anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the United States seems to have returned to degree zero of moral concern for the majority of descendants of slavery and segregation. Whether the Black poor live or die seems to merit only haughty disinterest and indifference. Indeed, in terms of the life-and-death issues that matter most to African-Americans -- structural unemployment, race-based super-incarceration, police brutality, disappearing affirmative action programs, and failing schools -- the present presidential election might as well be taking place in the 1920s.

But not all the blame can be assigned to the current occupant of the former slave-owners' mansion at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The mayor of New Orleans, for example, is a Black Democrat, and Los Angeles County is a famously Democratic bastion.

So, in other words, none of the blame should be assigned to Massa Bush.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 24, 2004 11:39 AM

This gentleman seems unusually overwrought, even for a leftist. The things he decries are being brought about by the folks who suffer their depredations -- lower-class urbanites with even lower-class behavior patterns -- who are protected from scrutiny by the politicians he would routinely vote for -- Democrats. That suggests that he should adjust his political worldview, but, as usual with such persons, I wouldn't hold my breath.

Besides, isn't this year the fortieth anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act?

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at September 24, 2004 11:53 AM

I can't argue with his thesis, just the significance of it.

Posted by: J.H. at September 24, 2004 12:10 PM

The 50th of Brown v. Board, right? Looks like this guy needs an editor.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at September 24, 2004 12:38 PM

I loved this bit:

the poorest segment of the population -- blamed for the city's high crime rates

Whereas we all know that it's the middle class and the rich who are actually to blame for the high crime rate of New Orleans?

Posted by: PapayaSF at September 24, 2004 2:57 PM

Give this man a copy of Darwin pronto.

Posted by: AC at September 24, 2004 5:43 PM

I am old enough to remember when nobody would have been capable even of thinking about the political sidelining of black American citizens.

This morning, on NPR, there was an interview about a documentary about Shirley Chisholm, and a clip was played of Cronkite announcing that she had 'thrown her bonnet into the ring.'

The documentarian said Cronkite was 'marginalizing her.'

I 'bout popped a button.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 25, 2004 2:53 PM

If they hadn't been sidelined she wouldn't have needed to run.

Posted by: oj at September 25, 2004 4:56 PM

My point. Thanks.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 25, 2004 10:25 PM
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