I just began reading Michael Eric Dyson’s Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster. I chose this as the first of his books to read because I remember vividly the news accounts of the aftermath of Katrina along the Gulf Coast, and in particular the events in New Orleans.
I remember seeing the television news video of a mother holding her infant child tight to her breast, pleading for water and food for her baby. I was incensed that the national media could get journalist and crews to the survivors at the Superdome, yet it was reported that due to flooding, FEMA and the military could not reach these people in need to deliver essential food and water.
To this day I believe the failed government response to the poor Black community of New Orleans was in no small part due to deeply ingrained systemic racism. This is racism that many people then and now believe no longer exist in this country.
Anyone doubting how racism harms us as a nation need only look around them today. Political divisiveness is running rampant in the US. Party lines are now more than ever drawn as much on the basis of race, hatred, and the worst aspects of identity.
I offer the following passage from Professor Dyson’s book for your consideration of the state of American racism today.
My cousin hollered, “You’re shot.” I got up and tried to jump over the tree stumps in the street, and as soon as I got in mid-air another blast hit me in my back. And I fell on the ground again. Somehow, it was a miracle, I got up again, and I began to run. I heard [the white guys] saying, “Nigger, you gotta run.” I ran around a corner and I saw this black guy sitting on the porch, and I said “Man, help me.” And he said, “Come on,” but he was in the house with some white people. When I went to the back of the house, this white lady said “I can’t help you. You gotta get out of here.” So I ran away from their house. And I ran up to this truck with two white guys, and I said, “Please, please, please help me.” I felt like I was going to die. And the older white guy said, “Get away from my truck. We can’t help you. We’re liable to shoot you ourselves.” And they pulled off and called me a nigger. It’s like [white people] were using the opportunity nity to do something they’ve been waiting to do. And I’m thinking about racism and all that’s running in my head. I’m like, “I can’t believe lieve this.” After everything we’ve gone through, and everything I’ve been through, I would have never imagined this happening to me.
-Darnell Herrington, Katrina survivor
Dyson, Michael Eric. Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster, Basic Civitas, 2007, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0014ET26Y/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_awdb_1kjcAbZ5GX5EE.