Blogathon for Pearlington

Friday, August 25, 2006

Race, Poverty, Tragedy

The Hattiesburg American has a good editorial today about the slow recovery of the disadvantaged from Hurricane Katrina. We've all heard the complaints of racism in the relief responses, and I've been wanting to say something about this, but I haven't been quite sure what to say.

Katrina was no racist. Everyone in her path took the same beating. The resulting deaths and losses are not about race; they're about human beings. Yet we all know that when everyone is hurting a pecking order emerges, and some get help faster than others. My neighborhood is close to a main road, but it was a week later getting power back than my sister's more affluent neighborhood. These things happen. When there are so many needs, it is impossible to get to everyone at once. Someone has to come first, and someone has to come last.

Were priorities set in the Katrina recovery based on race? I don't know. Fortunately for me perhaps, I didn't see any of the TV coverage that has evidently infuriated the rest of the country. I was spared the feelings of helplessness in watching tragedies unfold that I could do nothing about because I was cut off from the outside world by that same storm. In the first few days after the storm, we heard very little news. Even radio towers had been knocked down. We were just busy cleaning up and figuring out how to get by. We didn't know what other people were doing.

Perhaps because of that I don't have the same sense of outrage at the government response that others have expressed. The first time I knew of any FEMA supplies coming to my town was on Thursday, three days after the storm. If I understand correctly, that's about when they really started getting people out of New Orleans as well. At the time, it all made sense to me. I don't think they could have gotten to us any faster. The roads were blocked with so many thousands of trees that I still see it as a miracle that they got to us when they did. New Orleans would have had the added difficulty of bridges being destroyed. In the best of times, there are only so many ways in and out of that city. With bridges out and roads blocked, the obstacles to getting help through to New Orleans were beyond measure.

Of course we all hope that the government has enough resources to save its own people in the wake of disaster. It seems like something could have and should have been done faster and better than it was. How much of that is about race or poverty and how much of that is about lack of preparation and lack of fortitude to make quick and forceful decisions, I just can't answer.

Regardless of all of that, though, the poor have less to draw on to help themselves recover. The poor have fewer resources to lobby for their own causes. Thus, government answers to rebuilding concerns have been slower to reach them.

What we need from the government now is not just help with housing but help with economic recovery. In many cases, like in Pearlington, Mississippi, the infrastructure to provide jobs so that the poor and the under-prepared can even begin to start helping themselves is just not there. Failure to address that now will only mean that problems created by Katrina, as blind to issues of race and class as she may have been, will continue to grow rather than to diminish as more and more time passes.


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