The Race Canard
A letter to the editor of the Oregonian, in Portland, Ore., said of Katrina: "I am deeply disturbed and angered by the number of reports claiming racism has something to do with the delay in the relief effort. These claims are unsubstantiated and a complete lie. To even suggest that our government would allow people to die simply because of the color of their skin is despicable. ... In a time of national crisis, another media-driven race war is the last thing this country needs."
Amen to that. The usual racemongers played their usual role. Jesse Jackson said the scene in New Orleans "looked like Africans in the hull of a slave ship." Carol Moseley Braun, the former Democratic senator from Illinois, said the scene in New Orleans was similar to the fatal neglect of blacks after Reconstruction. Morning show hosts at a New York City rap station detected "genocide" in New Orleans. On a slightly more respectable level, black members of Congress, judges, and activists stoked racial polarization. "This is a racial story," said an attorney for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. A black judge in Arkansas said Katrina revealed the "ugly, stinking, pus-filled sores" of racism.
A common charge was that aid would have come more quickly if New Orleans had been predominantly white. There is no evidence for this at all. Across-the-board incompetence at every level of government is a far more compelling explanation than racist intent or behavior. The hard-hit mostly white parishes around New Orleans waited just as long as the poorest wards of the city did for help.
Double standard. Evidence-free assertion of racism seemed everywhere. Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville said Katrina "disclosed our racism in multiple ways," none of which he bothered to mention. The most poisonous statements were the ones linking failure in New Orleans to racist violence of the past. "You'd have to go back to slavery, or the burning of black towns, to find a comparable event that has affected black people this way," said University of California-Los Angeles sociologist and African-American studies Prof. Darnell Hunt, thus positioning the disaster in New Orleans as similar to some of the worst racism in history. This kind of rhetoric has an effect. Two thirds of blacks polled say they see racism as a cause of the failures to cope quickly with Katrina.
The mainstream media played a role, too. Several TV anchors and interviewers prodded or invited black officials to say they spotted heavy racism in New Orleans. Comedian Nancy Giles, on CBS Sunday Morning, announced that Katrina victims went without food and water for days simply because they were black.
Racial charges were endlessly recycled. Rapper Kanye West's claim that "George Bush doesn't care about black people" has been published more than 400,000 times, according to a Google search. Almost as famous are the captions of similar photos of a white man "finding food" in New Orleans and a black man "looting." The captions were taken everywhere as evidence of racism. An editor in Kenya thought they were.