Hurricane Katrina may mark a watershed in Black
perceptions of the African American presence and prospects in
the United States. "It could very well shape this generation
of young people in the same way that the assassinations of Malcolm
X and Martin Luther King shaped our generation," said Prof.
Michael Dawson, of the University of Chicago whose team conducted
a survey of Black and white reactions to the disaster between
October 28 and November 17, 2005. "It suggested to Blacks
the utter lack of the liberal possibility in the United States,"
said Dawson, the nation's premier Black social demographer.
Huge majorities of Blacks agreed that the federal
government's response would have been faster if the victims of
Katrina in New Orleans had been white (84 percent), and that the
Katrina experience shows there is a lesson to be learned about
continued racial inequality (90 percent).
But only 20 percent of whites believe that the federal
government's failure to respond had anything to do with race,
and only 38 percent think there is something to be learned about
racial inequality from the Katrina disaster.
|Federal Gov. response faster if victims had
lesson to be learned about continued racial inequality
The differences of perceptions based on an event
to which the entire nation was exposed in living color, are staggeringly
instructive. Blacks and whites saw the same images, but perceived
them differently. The Dawson poll, which included approximately
500 whites and 700 Blacks, shows a 64 percent difference between
Black and white perceptions on the federal response to Katrina,
and a 52 percent divide on the disaster's significance in terms
of racial equality in the United States.
A Grand Canyon looms between the way African Americans
and white people view the world, despite the fact that both groups
are privy to the same information and images.
However, there is a degree of murkiness in these
figures, just as exists in the minds of human beings. Dawson's
group surveyed Black and white reactions to the statements of
Kanye West, the rapper, immediately after the Katrina fiasco.
"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!"
Curiously, a large number of whites, although a
minority, agree with Kanye West, that George Bush doesn't care
about Black people. In light of other indicators, one wonders
what proportion of these whites is glad that the president doesn't
|Kanye West's comments unjustifed
It is clear that overwhelming numbers of Blacks
agree with Kanye, that Bush is hostile to Black people. The nine
percent figure who think that Kanye is out of line is just about
right for what we at BC call the "crazy
quotient" - the nearly indivisible number of African Americans
who are irrevocably lost to reality, like the majority of whites
(but certainly for different pathological reasons).
and whites see two different worlds," said Prof. Dawson,
whose team found that "Blacks are overwhelmingly supportive
to bring people home and restore the city, while whites are overwhelmingly
against federal government spending, and in favor of fiscal responsibility."
Fiscal responsibility is a code phrase. It means,
Don't spend money on Black folks.
"Fiscal responsibility is a code word for whites
for anti-Black policy," said Dawson. "Reagan used it,
Bush used it, and the people who overthrew Reconstruction used
it. It is one of the oldest code words in American politics. It's
right up there with ‘law and order.'"
The corporate media constantly speak of Americans
"coming together" in times of crisis. However, such
has never happened, across racial lines - because of white intransigence.
"I don't think that the Katrina disaster brought
people together," said Dawson. "I think it is abundantly
clear that Blacks and whites represent polar opposite views in
how to understand major social and political dislocations and
traumas in this country."
BC Publishers Glen Ford and
Peter Gamble are writing a book to be entitled, Barack Obama and the Crisis in Black Leadership.