Long rumbling, this storm barely registers on U.S. radar
No question that Hurricane Katrina (and her sister Rita) wounded us, but bigger storms have escaped our notice. For one thing, the whitening that continues to strike Louisiana.
That’s why you have to agree with the Black Commentator‘s Margaret Kimberley that Bill Bennett is doing us a favor, though he took quite a gamble letting his id out.
Kimberley recently wrote in her Freedom Rider column:
A brain hiccup from an enemy is always useful. It was useful that Pat Robertson called for the killing of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. He represents the views of Bush and his ilk and he told on them all when he spoke like a hit man.
Bennett is not alone in dreaming about dead black babies. Whether the thought is spoken aloud or not, the American fantasy is a world without any black people in it.
That’s coming true in the new New Orleans, and the way the mainstream press is covering this new diaspora of black Americans isn’t helping.
Yesterday’s big story in the New York Times about black refugees from New Orleans “scattered in a storm’s wake and caught in a clash of cultures” missed the point of the racial cleansing that’s going on. Reporter Isabel Wilkerson softened the focus to a blur, except for the black dialect, her employment of which gwine make me throw up.
Here’s a passage from her story about the plight of Louisiana black people being taken away to Arkansas and Oklahoma:
It was as if they had been hurled into another galaxy, a stubbled land of raccoon woods and Andy Griffith towns, Indian smoke shops and creased-faced cowboys in pickup trucks.
This is the way that supposedly sophisticated big-city newspapers cover the sticks. Well, I’m an Okie, born and bred, and I’m here to tell you that, for one thing, upstate New York is just as redneck and backwards as Oklahoma.
As for Noo York City, where I currently work, it’s a wonderful place, but the people in general — I’m talking about the overwhelmingly white class of elites that works on Wall Street and in media companies and newsrooms — are at least as provincial as similar ruling classes in such provinces as Kansas, Arizona, and Colorado. My little ol’ hometown, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, has more Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and has spawned better filmmakers (Terry Malick) than you can find in all of Long Island (even when the Hamptons are full of celebrities). Not that B’ville’s a mecca, you understand. Anyway, Kimberley continued:
As they passed from Arkansas into Oklahoma, the evacuees made little comment to their cheerful Presbyterian drivers, too exhausted to register an opinion. The convoy exited the highway at the billboard that said “Jesus” in big cursive letters. It passed Hog Creek and the tractor supply shop and rumbled along unmarked roads.
The land was becoming sparser and drier. They had passed the last traffic light miles ago. There were no other cars on the road and no more stop signs or signs of life other than cows resting under the locust trees. They had seen no other black people since leaving Arkansas. Now they saw no people at all. Some of the evacuees began to grow fearful.
“Where is they taking us?” Nitayu Johnson, a hotel maid with a young daughter, remembered thinking. “They trying to slave us. They going to make us pick cotton. We gon’ die.”
This Times reporter seemed to be channeling Octavus Roy Cohen, noted author of “humorous Negro fiction.”
Wilkerson made sure to capture the dialect — only that of blacks, not of the rural whites, who speak much the same way — but she ignored the racial component of this story. Oh, on the micro level, she appeared to tried to get to it in this passage about refugee Louis Green:
“I’m thinking about New York,” he said. “Or California. Or Indiana. I’ll just get me a ticket and get on out of here. This always was a rotten state for blacks. I remember when old Orval Faubus blocked the school doors in Little Rock.”
A white Arkansan sitting on a nearby bench overheard his ranting. “I think Fort Smith is one of the best places you could live in this country,” he said.
“Yeah?” Mr. Green said. “What factories they got here?”
“Whirlpool,” the man said. “Planters Peanuts.”
Mr. Green, still steaming, seemed not to hear him. “I knew this was a rotten state,” he said.
The local man got up. “We’ve treated those people terrific over here,” he said, and walked away.
Well, Faubus is dead, but his spirit lives on, and not just in the South. Let’s see what dat ol’ Margaret Kimberley says about Bill Bennett:
William Bennett is the intellectual representative of the right wing. He served as Secretary of Education in the Reagan administration and as “drug czar” in the first Bush administration. After his days of government service he created a cottage industry of conservative tomes to scold and moralize to the rest of us. His best seller, The Book of Virtues, was followed by a plethora of books with the words virtues, values or morals in the titles.
Like Rush Limbaugh, drug addict, and Bill Cosby, serial groper, Bennett lectures and condemns while reserving the right to be a freak in his own life. In 2003 Bennett’s gambling addiction became widely publicized. It was reported that he lost $8 million in Las Vegas and Atlantic City in a ten year period. We are fortunate that what happened to Bennett in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas.
We could use a CSI team for the current tasks of dissecting Wampumgate and the Iraq debacle, but Kimberley’s doing all right. She continues:
Like every other powerful conservative Bennett has his own radio show. A caller asked if social security would be on a safer financial footing if the fetuses aborted since Roe v. Wade had all been born and become tax payers. In his response Bennett proclaimed his pro-life, that is to say anti-abortion, views. He then proceeded to say that the argument might be made that the abortion of all black fetuses would insure a lower crime rate. He then slickly added that such an action would be “immoral and reprehensible.”
If Bennett really feels that aborting all black fetuses is immoral and reprehensible, the words would never have entered his mind. The comments were William Bennett’s own Freudian slip that gave us a frightening peek at the secret desires of many white Americans.
And not just that white guy in Fort Smith, Arkansas, who has “treated those people terrific.” Just take Bennett’s ignorant statement about black crime. Kimberley says:
Bennett clearly believes that black people are born criminals. His statement explains many things about his history. Bennett spent years warning about teenage “super predators” when the juvenile crime rate dropped. He continues to advocate for harsh sentences for drug crimes when rates of drug use have also dropped.
The black children that Bennett wants to do away with are committing much less crime than they did just a decade ago. According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, the homicide rates for black juveniles, both as victims and offenders, fell by 71 percent from 1993 to 2003, the greatest decline among all racial groups.
Another contributor to Black Commentator, Anthony Asadullah Samad, notes that the right-wing ideologues are definitely feeling it. This is how they roll. As Samad says:
Now whatever crazy, asinine, rhetorical diatribe, espousing their ideological bent, they can come up with, they’re bringin’ it.
Be it President Bush’s insistence that staying in a $200 billion War in Iraq is still right thing to do (even though all can see it’s not and that democracy efforts in a theocracy driven Iraq is failing), or his momma’s (Barbara Bush‘s) statement that underprivileged Blacks had it better at the Houston Astrodome than in their own (pre-hurricane) homes, or Rush Limbaugh’s Freudian slip of the tongue in his critique of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (calling him Ray “Nagger” — replace one letter and you get the point), or Bill O’Reilly’s rant (that poverty circumstance is the poor’s fault because they don’t want to compete in a capitalist society) at congressman Charlie Rangel‘s suggestion that the federal government take a renewed effort to eliminate poverty, or former FEMA director Michael Brown‘s assertion that the federal government’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina was because “Louisiana (governor and mayor) was dysfunctional,” the far right calling the poor and disenfranchised responsible for their own fates, is like the “pot calling the kettle black” — or hot — or rusty — or similarly situated. Rich, middle class, poor, or ideologically twisted, we’re in the same boat.
Samad catches his breath and then puts it together:
Ideological warfare in America is as much responsible for the socioeconomic conditions facing the now “permanent underclass” as the persons impacted themselves.
Republican “bootstrap” mentality has long been bankrupt of shoe laces. What are the poor supposed to pull themselves up with? By stripping government of its social welfare role that builds the infra-structure for emergency preparedness, the social safety net for children, seniors and the poor, the capacity for the middle class to rebuild their lives, runaway ideologues attack any solution that suggests we have the ability to do for ourselves — in America’s cities — what we seem to want to graciously do abroad.
These runaway ideologues are so blind to America’s social, political and economic vulnerability that they cannot see that their own fates are tied to those less fortunate.
The rich cannot run away from the conditions of the poor, though they may try.
This country is rich enough to fix all of its economic and social ills. But the ideologues that run this nation won’t let it. Isn’t this how the last “Great Society,” Rome collapsed — under the weight of its own decadence? Well, this one is fading fast because ideologues think what happens to the least of us won’t affect the rest of us. They need to think again, take responsibility — then action that’ll benefit the whole, not the few.
In case you’re wondering whether people like Samad are advocating a “welfare state,” let me point out, as I have here and there, that we already have one. It’s a corporate welfare state.
And now we have a chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, who’s a prime defender of corporate rights over human rights. Another such lawyer, Harriet Miers, is in the wings, probably with Barney.
Later this year, we’ll get another window opening onto our racial past, present, and future: We’ll see what happens when Congress takes up the extension of the Voting Rights Act.
Before then, check out how smiley-faced people like John Roberts stand on it. I’ll tell you: like his boot on your neck.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 10, 2005