Hurricane Katrina's aftermath exposed more than a failed emergency response system or failure to upgrade the levees. Katrina blew through the Gulf Coast and exposed the 'isms' that plague our country on a daily basis – racism and classism. If that wasn't enough, the media and politicians seized the opportunity to exploit the situation and, worst of all, the people affected the most. The poor and underprivileged were left behind, most of whom are African-Americans.
Picture this: a young white male and female wade through floodwaters with food in their arms. The caption below reads, "Two residents wade through chest deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store…" Now picture a young black boy wading through those same floodwaters with a loaded garbage bag in one hand and a package of napkins in the other. His caption reads, "A young man walks through chest-deep flood water after looting a grocery store…" How is it possible during a state of emergency that a distinction can be made between "finding" and "looting" based solely on skin color?
Rep. Richard Baker, R-LA, was "overheard" saying to lobbyists, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did." Baker's misconception was a fatal one. What happened in New Orleans was not an act of God but an act of human negligence.
Barbara Bush, George W.'s mother, said "What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the area here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this-this [she chuckles slightly] is working very well for them." Was she seriously saying the thousands of African-Americans who spent more than five days in the Superdome with no food or running water, living among human feces and dead bodies while women and children were being raped around them, were better off? Better off than what, dead?
It's appalling that in the richest country in the world, human lives can be abandoned in such an inhumane way. Why were thousands turned away at gunpoint from walking the only safe route out of the city? Why are African-American families being torn apart and separated; children from their mothers, husbands from wives – as if slavery has started all over again? What's happened to the United States and the people that govern it?
The poor and underprivileged cannot be swept under the rug until election time. We have forgotten that underneath the skin and social standing beats the heart of an American. The Constitution and Declaration of Independence were promises to every American of their inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It's obvious that our government has defaulted on this promise where people of color, the poor and the disenfranchised are concerned. Just ask the African-Americans who watched as the National Guard flew overhead but offered no assistance as dead bodies, from infants to adults, floated in the waters beside them. One desperately held a sign up to the helicopters that simply read: "Just pretend we're white." Wake up America, this is your moral conscience calling.