was the infamous catchphrase of UK comedian Ali G Is
it coz i iz black? that perversely came to mind as
I watched the desperate scenes unfolding in the US in the wake of
was not the most politically correct thought to have, since Sasha
Cohen, the Cambridge-educated white man who plays Ali G, a misogynistic
black man, has been criticised for his strange brand of humour by
some black comics but in Katrina's aftermath his little adage
is worth considering.
put it another way; was the slow response by the US federal government
because those mainly affected were indeed black and poor?
feel convinced about this. Well-known Rapper Kanye West stated at
a recent benefit concert that George Bush doesn't care about
Jackson weighed in with his usual emotive language, comparing the
situation of many of the evacuees to Africans in the hull
of a slave ship. The reply from the US administration has
been to fob these criticisms off. Bush supporters brand such views
Leftie hatred for Bush and nothing more. But let's face it, the
initial response was pitiful. If the areas most affected were upmarket
Boston or even George W Bush's beloved Texas would there have been
such a lacklustre attitude? I doubt it.
I do not want to get too deep into the blame game. Although one
can blame Bush for many things, one cannot hold him responsible
for the weather. We also have to be careful, whether initial responses
were fuelled by racism or not, that all the finger pointing distracts
us from what Katrina really exposed the reality of hidden
America: black and on the breadline.
I watched the television reports I wanted journalists to ask one
question of the officials they interviewed: why were almost all
the television images of African Americans?
evasive response would be that 67% of New Orleans residents are
black, and much of the coverage focused on New Orleans. But anyone
watching the television coverage could see that it was not only
race that was an issue, but class, too. Nearly 30% of New Orleans
residents live below the poverty line, and these seemed to be the
people left behind. Some were too poor to get the money or transport
together to evacuate. They, unlike their affluent counterparts who
also lost their homes, will more than likely have no insurance to
help them rebuild and certainly no job to ease the burden when the
this is the great US; a place where race and class do intersect,
after all, despite the decades of official silence on the issue.
This raises the question: why are we so scared of talking about
the intersection of race and class, whether in South Africa, the
UK and Ireland or the US? Perhaps those with power and wealth, who
are mainly white, are too terrified to face the prospect that Ali
G's jesting plea might just be true.
the US administration batters on regardless, turning the disaster
into yet another call for patriotic action without a moment of reflection
or analysis. We, the American people, will get through this, assures
Bush. Fox News, the bastion of conservative America, responds with
telethons and its new TV logo, "America's Challenge.
What is the challenge, I find myself asking? To get things back
to the way they were? I think the challenge facing the US is bigger
Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis
of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its
relevance to South Africa on Polity, see http://www.polity.co.za/pol/opinion/brandon/.
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