Sunday, September 25, 2005

In This Moment: A Brief Response to Katrina

In This Moment
by Max Gordon
September 23, 2005
(from the In This Moment series on Boyan's Blog - Published by the English Majors' Office at Brooklyn College)

In this moment, I am concerned about the United States of America, about myself as an American - a black American, a gay American. I was discussing the response to Katrina with a white male acquaintance of mine and he said, "If I am this angry about what has happened as a white person, I don't understand how you aren't burning buildings down right now." I told him the truth: That I exist in America's psychological basement, that I can't fall any further or experience another political or social heartbreak. I saw the shattered look on his face--the I-knew-it-was-bad-in-America-but-I-didn't-know-it-was-this-bad stare that right now some white people have as they watch the news - and I was reminded of a James Baldwin quotation: "The thing that most white people imagine they can salvage from the storm of life is really, in sum, their innocence. It was this commodity precisely which I had to get rid of at once, literally on pain of death.""

For me, Katrina is just another riff on what happened to the black vote in Florida in 2000, on what's been happening to the black community since this administration began, and as we continue to die in the war in Iraq. The only difference is that now, post-Katrina, the Bush genocidal plan for people of color is confirmed, fully exposed for what it is. The George W. Bush administration is the worst thing to happen to black people since Jim Crow, the Dred Scott decision and the Fugitive Slave Laws. I hesitated to write about Katrina at first because I prefer not to write about anything unless I can bring a fresh perspective. It all seems so hackneyed and predictable: the late response to the crisis by the administration, the press-conferences and photo-ops in lieu of real help, the broken promises, Barbara Bush's silver-lining statement that for people seeking refuge in Texas- people who were "underprivileged" anyway - things were "working out well," Laura Bush's lament that she knows her husband better than anyone else and that charges of racism are "disgusting," Condoleezza Rice, yet again, on television defending her boss and saying that people's dying has absolutely nothing to do with their being black, Colin Powell, although critical of the federal response, maintaining that race had nothing to do with the tragedy, but "economics," Cheney coming out of hiding "to help the rescue effort," Rove's usual attempts to spin the media coverage, and Bush's refusal to play the "blame game" while assuring there will be "an investigation." This is 9/11 remixed for 2005, and as a New Yorker I'm appalled only at myself, because I'm not appalled by anything in this country anymore.

I wonder what it will take to wake Americans up from our political somnambulism. I'm thinking about the term "mystification" - the political mind-process by which people are kept enslaved, not by force, but by acquiescence; where the oppressive aspects of a society are disguised and kept hidden until we are manipulated and finally convinced of our own powerlessness. The Bush administration is beyond politics now - it's like some Old Testament test that we need to pass, like Job or Jacob, proffered by God for our spiritual maturity, for us to continue as a nation at all. From where I stand, it looks as though we've flunked it.

copyright Max Gordon

This article can also be read at