It’s five years later and that national conversation on race and class in America that everyone talked about back then has never happened. We will talk about the New Orleans Saints, rebuilding efforts and Bourbon Street. We will even start the conversation by asking the lead in question “why?”
Why was New Orleans left in the lurch? Why were people directed to the Super Dome and then left to languish in the heat and die without food, water, sanitation or medical supplies for 5 days? With helicopters flying over the Dome from day 1; with large parking areas available to land to bring supplies; with the proper authorities informed from Day 1 of the dire circumstances; and dead corpses stacking up in the heat; why were so many in the 9th Ward (and other places) ignored for so long? And why are they still being ignored now?
Why are the many busloads of mostly poor black folks who were sent to cities hither and yon, unable to get the help needed to return to New Orleans? Sure, some folks don’t want to return. For some, the memories of the horror are just too painful. Other people have found work or they have various reasons for not returning. But, why are they not being contacted and offered the opportunity to return? Why do the wealthy and powerful want to keep them away?
Opportunistic developers and crooked politicians have always been a part of the Louisiana landscape, (as they have been in most other areas if we care to acknowledge it). But I believe there is something deeper and much more sinister at work in the answers to the question “why?”
As a nation, the Katrina disaster ripped the veil off the race and the classism problem (they are linked) endemic to the fabric of our country. The Katrina incident was like the person who just discovered the nose on their face. Racism has always been present in our country but we had been fooling ourselves into believing it was going away. By forgetting the great reveal called “Katrina” we all become co-conspiritors in the cover up.
When is the honest conversation about racism in America going to happen? I know White folks are tired of the “white guilt.” I know minority folks are tired of being accused of falling into the “victim mentality.” None of us want to admit we have a social inequity woven into the fabric of our nation and, as a result, our own psyche.
The truth is, I think we are ready. I think we need this conversation in order to heal our national soul. If we don’t have it soon, history tells us that things will eventually explode again. I, for one, am tired of the explosions and I’m tired of the racism. And I’m tired of the hypocrisy and the cover up–especially from my brothers and sisters in the church.
Jesus! We need an honest conversation around every table. It’s uncomfortable…it hurts…it implicates everyone…but we can’t escape it so let’s be courageous! As a memorial to the people of Katrina who died and suffered, how about today we begin that conversation? Start it in your home…your church…your classroom…your conference…your radio show…your blog site…your lunch room at work…please, let’s have that national conversation about racism and poverty in America. I’m so tired of the barriers that continually arise to separate us. It takes work to “love one another.” In the the words of Martin:
“If something isn’t done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed.”
April 3, 1968
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
(the night before he was assassinated)