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The Last Straw
9/12/2005 8:32:15 PM
The Last Straw
By Vaughn T. Aiken
If you were not sure of the racial-class divide in this country, it sure is evident now. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it’s a case of too little, too late. Why? The population of New Orleans is majority African-American and Latino-American. The response has been turtle-like. How could this happen?
Americans watching the tragedy unfold on TV asked, “Can this be America?” Even our closest European neighbor, England queried, “Why should hundreds die, mostly African-Americans, in a predicted disaster in the richest nation on earth?” Why? Another newspaper in France reflects, “These images reveal to the world the reality in the Southern states – the poverty of 37 million Americans.” Why? America, shame on you! This situation is unconscionable!
The absurdity deepens further even more as we hear Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary. He told NPR that he had “not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who didn’t have food and water,” while the average American TV watcher had been hearing of the plight of 30,000 helplessly stranded American citizens for over 24 hours. This was a predictable catastrophe! Why was it allowed to happen?
This is much more than the failure of a broken levee system. Don’t let anyone fool you. We watched with “shock and awe” as poor African-Americans grew more dehydrated, hungry, and despaired as public officials cautioned patience and promised “help is on the way”. Remember, twenty-eight percent of the people in New Orleans live in poverty. Of those, 84% are African-American. This is a graphic example of who gets left behind in our society.
This catastrophe was predictable! In 1927 widespread flooding on the Mississippi River left hundreds of thousands without food or water. In 1957 a twelve-foot storm from hurricane Audrey flooded areas up to 25 miles inland. The death toll was over 400. Again, in 1965, hurricane Betsy’s surge overflowed the levees, flooding parts of New Orleans. Higher levees were ordered, but they were never built. Now, 78 years later, hurricane Katrina breeched the eighteenth century levees and consumed the most vulnerable communities. Wake up America! Wake up, Black America!
Why are we looking to a government that doesn’t give a damn. “Is this what the pioneers of the civil rights movement fought to achieve, a society where many black people are as trapped and isolated by their poverty as they were by legal segregation laws?” asked Mark Naison, director of urban studies at Fordham University. One question Black Americans must ask themselves is if in the face of another natural disaster or terrorist attack would our cities fracture along the same lines? Probably.
African-Americans must rally to the call and reach out to one another. As a community, we throw money away on things that don’t matter. For example, expensive sneakers, jewelry, and cars. It’s time to rise up. It’s a time to re-examine where we have been and where we are going. We ourselves must create our future. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have a dream.” It’s time to make that dream a reality for our people, ALL our people.
Make education a priority for our children. Build stronger and more supportive family structures. Get involved at the local, state and federal levels. Reject the idea that becoming a successful, self-sufficient African-American is somehow related to an Uncle Tom image. We are one race, one people, one nation under God. We are Americans, too! Don’t forget it!
Hurricane Katrina is a wake-up call, America. We may build back the levees. But the extreme sense of isolation, devastation, and death experienced by the poorest African-American community is going to survive long after the physical rebuilding of New Orleans. This hurricane was the last straw!
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