Thursday, September 08, 2005

Keeping the little people in their places

I shall begin this rant of mine with a caveat: I love New Orleans. Of all the cities I've visited in the US, New Orleans is the one place I've ever felt more at home in than my hometown. I love the place. If I could afford to, I'd brave the mosquitos and the humidity and relocate to the Garden District. The damage done to this city strikes at my heart like a bladed weapon. In the hours immediately before and after the storm, I was literally unable to turn away from the television. Unlike so many natural disasters I've witnessed (And I covered a fair few of them in my time working for a media monitoring agency) this one felt personal. This one felt much the same as the 97 flood that took my house. I was indignant. How dare God and Mother Nature strike out at my beloved city? Damn the lot of them for not doing something before the storm hit. What would become of the museums? The restaurants? The cemeteries? The rows of stately houses, the clusters of little shops? Would any of it survive intact?

And then it happened. And it was the stuff of nightmares.

In the days following the tragedy I've seen so many people bitching about the lack of preparedness. About the poor performance of the Mayor and the Governor. About how evil President George failed to fly in, with his cape and tights, and rescue everyone. Because George hates brown people, ya know. And babies. Babies don't vote. He only cares about rich white men who vote, after all.

I will say this: Mayor Nagin is in full CYA mode, throwing blame everywhere but where it rightly belongs- on the local government, on its mismanagement of the period immediately before and after Katrina. Governor Blanco shames me as a woman. She makes fodder for every mysogynist pig who ever said women were too wishy washy and indecisive to hold positions of power. This is at least one woman I wish to hell had stayed home and baked some cookies. They fucked up big time. Pardon my language- but it is true. This was a fubar of amazing proportions. When the local emergency management sends Red Cross buses away full of supplies, when the emergency evac plan buses are left sitting in the water while people drown in their houses- This is Fucked. Up.

But I'm through castigating the government. What else did we expect? An elephant is a mouse built to government specifications. (Thank you, Robert Heinlein.) If you want to make something incredibly expensive and extremely inefficient, you put it in the hands of government. There was something more sinister at work here. Racism. And no, not the racism of the republicans, or even the racism of Ole George (who hates teh brown people.)

No. I'm talking about the subtle, insidious racism endemic to the democratic old south: The plantation mentality.

The people who had means to do so, got the hell out of New Orleans ahead of the storm. The ones left behind, by and large, couldn't. They had no cars. They had no funds. They had noplace to go. What they did have? Was faith. Faith that someone would come. Someone would rescue them.

And so these folks, with the blind faith of children, didn't plan ahead. They didn't plan their routes of escape. They didn't lay in a supply of water and foodstuffs and diapers for their babies. And why would they? The government was going to take care of them, just like they are supposed to. In a few hours, they would come, with their rescue choppers and their boats and such, and take everyone away to safety in the shelters. And then money would be made available to fix everyone's homes, and get the world started up again. Because this is how the world works, right?

Wrong. This is only how the world works if you're a child and the government is your Mama. The grownups, we all know that God helps those who help themselves. Because government is comprised of people, and people make mistakes. People get tangled up in red tape and don't always do the sensible thing. When the fit hits the shan, sometimes they fuck up. Sometimes, they do so spectacularly. So if you're going to rely on anybody, it ought to be yourself. Nobody else has as vested an interest in your own well being, as you do.

But we've spent decades telling these folks that they CAN'T do for themselves. That they're oppressed, that they're disenfranchised, that they start life out from behind the eight ball. And only the democratic party can save them. Only their congresscritters and senators and judges and social workers can put things right, can give them a leg up. Keeping them dependant has kept the democratic party in power for decades down south.

This is the racism of which I speak. The concerned, condescending racism of compassion. "We know better than you, we'll look after you, we'll take care of you."

Maybe I shouldn't call it racism. Maybe it should instead be called classism. Because it's not really about teh brown people. It's about class. It's not skin colour; it's economic background, it's educational level and, above all else, it's about levels of personal responsibility. You spend decades telling people you'll take responsibility for them; you shouldn't be surprised when they expect you to do so. You keep them in subsidised housing, on subsidised incomes; you give them bread and circuses to distract them from their misery, and you make them DEPENDANT. Like children. You rob them of their god-given incentives to do and be better; you rob them of the ability to think and do for themselves...

You keep them in their place.

And I think an awful lot of rich, upper class people (Largely white people, but not solely) like this. They like that the little people are in their thrall. It makes them feel powerful. It makes them feel safer. It keeps the crime confined to certain "bad" neighborhoods and keeps the class strata defined. How many congresscritters' kids play with the children of their constituents, anyway? How many of them even go to the same schools? Of course, they can't. Because the rich send their kids to private schools, and the poor send their kids to the schools mandated by the rich. To learn what the rich want them to. So they can reach a limited economic potential. So they can think what their masters want them to, and do what their masters tell them to...

And thus repeat the cycle. Keeping the top dogs on top, and the little people on the bottom. Where they belong. So they can keep propping up the layers of corruption that feed upon them for their power base.

I'm wandering far afield, here. But my point is this. If every single person who'd stayed behind in New Orleans thought it was THEIR OWN job to look after themselves, and not the job of their government- we might have fewer dead people in the water right now. The dead in New Orleans, they died of inept compassion, they died of politics. And not the politics of the republican party- but the politics of liberalism, the politics of welfare and subsidy, the politics of the plantation state.

Master will take care of you. Big Brother is watching. You don't need to think for yourselves, or look after your own. That's what your government is here for.

When I think about how these people died, waiting for help, hoping for rescue, it makes my blood boil. There were 2 days before the storm hit. There was time enough to get everyone out. It was doable. And no effort was put forth to motivate them. In fact, every possible effort was put forth in NOT motivating the poorest and most desperate of the citizenry. They were trained to wait, trained to rely on big government, and not upon their own resourcefulness.

"What you do to the least of these, you do to me."

I'm thinking about a bumpersticker I saw recently. "Jesus is coming, and he is pissed." I thought it was funny at the time.

Right now? I think it's probably pretty true.

No comments: