This week I wrote a paper about racism that is revealed after natural disasters. While applicable to many natural disasters, I focused specifically on Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of her havoc.
I won’t bore you with the statistics, research methods, and mind numbing details, but here are the key points:
- A grassroots organization called Common Ground Collective (CG) brought in about 13,000 volunteers after Katrina struck. Almost all of the volunteers were white college students in their early twenties. While in New Orleans, several of the women were sexually assaulted (if women were only stronger, they wouldn’t get raped, amirite?). Every single perpetrator, except one, was a white, nonlocal man (i.e. a CG volunteer). So, how did the CG leaders respond to these incidents? Surely they put into place safety precautions to prevent more sexual assaults from happening within their volunteer organization, right? Wrong. They held meetings where they warned their volunteers, both men and women, about the local African-Americans who posed a threat to their safety. The African-Americans whose community they resided in for their short stay, the ones who were just hit by a devastating Hurricane. The African-Americans who weren’t raping the white women. CG Leaders recommended that no person walk alone through the community, day or night. They claimed that the locals (i.e. African-American men) couldn’t be trusted. The researcher, Rachel Luft, was present during these meetings. Are you following so far?
White nonlocal boys raped white women –> black local men blamed.
- One researcher, Dr. Forgette, concluded that the racism exposed after Hurricane Katrina was due to three main factors: Environmental vulnerability (more vulnerable in the quality and location of their housing), social vulnerability (the role of social networks and status), and partisan framing (party identification acting as an information filter for government evaluation of damage).
- After Hurricane Katrina, African-Americans were less likely to receive SBA’s, or small business administration loans. Many people applied for these to try to rebuild their lives and income after the hurricane.
- Since Katrina, twice as many local African Americans as whites said their lives are still ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ disrupted. Almost three-quarters of black respondents said they have had problems getting health care, compared to 32% of whites.
After droning on for ten pages, I, along with the five brilliant researchers whose work I studied, came to the conclusion that natural disasters don’t create racism, they rip off the blinders and reveal racism that was present, but in hiding. Or maybe not even in hiding. Maybe our societal norm involves the continued, longstanding acceptance of discrimination of those who are not white. When people are in crisis and panic mode (e.g. after a natural disaster), their capacity to shield their prejudices and discrimination becomes onerous. Inequalities are also revealed in the form of geographical disadvantages of minorities.
This leads me to the revelation I had today.
America, the country in its entirety, has suffered a natural disaster in the form of Donald Trump. Please note, I’m not placing blame on Donald Trump at all– that is not the point of this post. Donald Trump is the natural disaster, but as discussed earlier, natural disasters don’t cause discrimination– they reveal it. They provide unique opportunities for communities to see where their infrastructure benefits one race or social class over another, whether it’s purposeful or not. There is no time for pleasantries and no time to find our masks– we run out into the street screaming and bloodied and point fingers at the ones we are scared of and distrust most. We say things like, “there are good parts of the storm too, those are the parts I support, not the destructive parts that kill people.” Natural disasters give a glimpse into the military’s priorities and fears when it comes to”the other.” [To read more on this, check out Zeitoun by Dave Eggers]
The United States has suffered a catastrophic event that didn’t rip the roofs off of our homes, yet it gave us a look into the mindsets of the people living in those sturdy homes.
This natural disaster didn’t flood our streets, but it did bring a flood of people out into the open who have been in hiding for an undisclosed amount of time.
The storm has been brewing for many, many years. It’s been sitting out in the ocean for so long that we forgot it was even there. There have been historical periods where the storm made landfall and revealed our shortcomings as a nation, but it eventually receded back into the ocean, licking its wounds. I’ll do better next time, she promised. When the storm cleared, we surveyed the damage, did surface level repairs, and went back to our daily lives– blissful
ignorance systematic discrimination.
So now, we are in the days after the natural disaster. All 318 million of us. Some are rejoicing that the storm actually worked in their best interest– its strong winds dropped a safe full of millions of dollars on their front lawn, how cool! These people wear their privilege like a security blanket, hidden from their own eyes but obvious to others.
While some are rejoicing, others are weeping into their pillows at night and in the shower before work wondering what happens next? Wondering how half of the United States can so openly accept discrimination of our fellow citizens not on a small-scale, but in an astronomical way. In a let’s-make-this-guy-the-leader-of-the-United-States way.
In the wake of our natural disaster, we are able to clearly see the blatant discrimination or acceptance of discrimination (I do not believe all Trump supports discriminate) that our country holds tightly between her red and white stripes.
So, in a sense, I’m thankful for this storm. I’m thankful that we can look at the damage in front of us and hopefully do something about it. How else would we be so harshly forced to look at our disfunction? We can’t deny it now– look at the shiny, sparkling discrimination! Everyone, come see! It may burn your eyes, but please don’t look away. I beg you, don’t look away.
Here’s the problem with the research I’ve done concerning the racism and discrimination that are revealed after a natural disaster: The articles often end with questions and concerns or facts and data, and no plan or solution. And this essay is no different. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to look at where we are, our racism and discrimination laying naked and grimacing on the table in front of us, and make this better.
I also don’t want our natural disaster to slip quietly back into the ocean without anyone noticing, only to return with its vicious winds and rains in another ten years. I want to take advantage of this destruction and refuse to rebuild on a surface level, again returning to the societal norm of discrimination is fine as long as it’s not against me and those who look like me and act like me. I want us to level our homes, blow up our roads and railways, and set fire to our secret hideouts. I want us to start from scratch. But how?
I don’t know. But I am going to start small, try to make a small dent in my own social circle and community. I’ll see where that takes me.
What can they do to you?
Whatever they want..
They can set you up, bust you,
they can break your fingers,
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can’t walk, can’t remember.
they can take away your children,
wall up your lover;
they can do anything you can’t stop them doing.
How can you stop them?
Alone you can fight, you can refuse.
You can take whatever revenge you can
But they roll right over you.
But two people fighting back to back
can cut through a mob
a snake-dancing fire
can break a cordon,
termites can bring down a mansion
Two people can keep each other sane
can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation
a cell, a wedge.
With four you can play games
and start a collective.
With six you can rent a whole house
have pie for dinner with no seconds
and make your own music.
Thirteen makes a circle,
a hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity
and your own newsletter;
ten thousand community
and your own papers;
a hundred thousand,
a network of communities;
a million our own world.
It goes one at a time.
It starts when you care to act.
It starts when you do it again
after they say no.
It starts when you say we
and know who you mean;
and each day you mean
One thought on “Running Into The Storm”
I’m no writer but I wanted to say: You are brilliant. I’m so glad you are in our lives. We, as a family, experienced our first racist/xenophobic encounter (aimed at us) two days prior to the election. I have no doubt that some people think it is okay to bring their racist views and intimidation out in public now. Although I have always been aware they were there it does feel scarier now. We won’t be going back to the place we had the experience. I hope the economy feels the effects of the fear because money seems to matter even to those who don’t care about “others”.