For stealing land and whitening up a place.
Vaguely humanitarian superhunk Brad Pitt made headlines recently when he announced
that he would be offering up money to back eco-friendly designs for the reconstruction
of New Orleans - which is great, really, because isn't it about time that the
residents of New Orleans gave a little something back to an environment that's
treated them so well?
All kidding aside, I generally see no problem with Pitt trying to make the
reconstructed city greener; his countrymen are already working double time to
make sure it's whiter. "Reconstruction" is, of course, a tragically
ironic term for what's quickly becoming the grossest manifestation of American
apartheid since Birmingham, too, was flooded (by firehoses).
Just a few days after the star of Ocean's Twelve - all this water imagery these
Americans have got! It's a wonder Maude Barlowe thinks they're going to steal
ours! - hit the newswires with his eco-philanthropy, the New York Times reported
that FEMA was cutting housing-voucher benefits to African-American refugees
from New Orleans. Meanwhile, a disenfranchisement of black votes that makes
Florida look like a state full of freedom riders is going on in the Big Easy's
municipal elections. It's now official: musician Kanye West's Katrina-benefit
assertion that "George Bush doesn't care about black people" was a
hysterical understatement. The goings-on around Katrina continue to play out
like DVD commentary for The Birth of a Nation.
So, whence springs this crisis in black America? The Dalai Lama, darling to
the Free Tibet left, famously quipped that since all things are karmic, the
residents of New Orleans (or their past incarnations) would had to have had
something to do with it (his thoughts were later echoed by another spiritual
leader speaking in enigmatic riddles, Curtis " 50 Cent" Jackson).
The ever-luminous and Jello-filled Bill Cosby has chastised New Orleans' black
residents, as is his wont, claiming that they "were impregnating our 13,
12, 11-year-old children" before the hurricane hit.
Personally, in my capacity as a white man, I am inclined to look for the causes
of African-American crises in rap music - particularly the tendency in hip hop
which glorifies a self-destructive and unhealthy lifestyle, often revolving
around living in cities that will be hit by hurricanes. All it takes is some
gold-toothed rapscallion to convince these kids that getting drowned in a hurricane
is cool (or "dope" as they say) and suddenly everyone wants to be
driven out of their homes. For more on my anthropological musings on our dark-skinned
neighbours, please refer to my upcoming master's thesis "Pimp my Levee".
Canadians are nicer
But enough about what white people - and folks like Cosby, so vicious that
they may as well be white - think. Sane black progressives such as the luminaries
at The Black Commentator are
lucidly but urgently making the case that Hurricane Katrina is the salient expression
of black disenfranchisement for this generation. And the cutting of the FEMA
housing vouchers, as well as the municipal elections, outline the continued
existence of racist structures that most white North Americans like to believe
died just before Martin Luther King, Jr. In white mythology, the civil rights
movement eliminated structural apartheid and racism migrated to the world of
personal prejudice and sometimes-unpleasant anecdotes.
But this isn't some Korean shopkeeper eyeing his black customers more than
his white ones, or an old man using the term "coloured" in salon conversation.
This is a massive collusion of municipal, state, federal and private sector
forces in order to take advantage of a semi-natural disaster and transform it
into the expulsion of black people from their own land.
All this, of course, is reason for we Canadians to feel smugly superior to
American whites. After all, we wouldn't ever think of doing something like that
up here. If we wanted to, say, steal Indian land, we wouldn't cynically wait
for a massive flood or high winds to drive the natives out. We'd just send in
the Ontario Provincial Police. Or, if we wanted a whole bunch of land, we could
host the Olympics. But we'd never resort to using a hurricane. That's sick.
Charles Demers is a Vancouver comic and founding editor
of Seven Oaks Magazine.