Saturday, September 03, 2005

The New Orleans race vampires

Like something that came crawling out of the flooded cellars, the ugly side of right-wing extremism has surfaced in the wake of the disaster in New Orleans -- and, as usual, it's beginning to seep into the discourse from mainstream conservatism too.

Unsurprisingly, leading the charge is David Duke, a longtime New Orleans resident, who himself lost his home in the flood while he was away, stirring up racial hatred in Scandinavia. (That particular loss might be calculated as one of the few positives from the flood.)

Duke has been claiming that white genocide is occurring in the city, and earlier described its "descent into savagery":
Most people have seen videos depicting the brutality and inhumanity of the African tribal uprisings and lawlessness. Now you don’t have to watch a video shot in Africa, just look at the many videos from an historic and once beautiful American city, New Orleans.

... One must ask, is this a story about tribal brutality in Uganda…the raiding by bandits of a children’s hospital?

No, its happening in one of the most beautiful and historic of American cities. And my dear friends, it is only a foretaste of what’s ahead for the multicultural America of the future.

... Differences do exist and these differences can be seen consistently across racial lines around the world. Take for instance Japan. Japan suffered a series of devastating earthquakes, and yet the Japanese people in these communities pulled together, rooted by their common heritage, culture, and racial unity and they helped each other. There was no anarchy, no bands of simian-like Japanese in cars trying to raid nursing homes!

Meanwhile, over at the "academic" white supremacist organ, American Renaissance, they're busy pushing the same line. The prominently feature a piece from American Spectator editor George Neumayr penned a piece describing what a cesspool New Orleans was, with hopes that the flood would give the city a clean slate, while the rest of the site touts the Duke line that the violence isn't a result of the incompetence of disaster-prevention and -relief officials, it's a result of the race of the victims.

Like Duke's site, it also prominently features a piece from a black Jamaican journalist who has decided that the race of the victims is at the root of all the mayhem.

So it's also not a surprise that you'll find comments like these floating around the Web. Here on this site, a commenter named Jeeves parroted the Duke line:
Enough of this bullcrap. Why hasn't Mr. Neiwert posted a log entry on the complete anarchy that has befallen New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina? He also can compare it to the flooding that has devastated many European countries...

... I would love to hear why there are two vastly different reactions to disaster of the "flooding" variety? Is it because the US and Europe are different or possibly because the people involved are? Mr. Neiwert, your silence on this issue is deafening.

I'm not alone. In the response to Jane Galt's commentary on the flood, a commenter named Mark J offered the following note:
I guess I'm one of those "closet racists" noticing that it seems to be almost exclusively black people who are doing the looting. I also noticed it during other previous disasters and riots - '92 Los Angeles, Hurricane Andrew, etc etc etc. I guess we're supposed to ignore the evidence of our eyes and continue repeating the mantra that race has nothing to do with behavior. But what if there really IS a correlation between race and a tendency to amoral, selfish, violent behavior? Wouldn't it be suicidal to ignore it just because it is unpleasant that life might actually be ordered that way?

I just feel sorry for any white people left in that city. I saw video of some white tourists walking aimlessly, dragging their suitcases behind them, looking for help. They said they hadn't seen any police. What a nightmare...white people abandoned in a lawless city full of black people with no police in sight, and no firearms to protect themselves. You can talk all you want about how awful it is to be a racist, but they are the ones who are finding out firsthand the brutal realities of race in this country.

Meanwhile, the same meme is spreading to mainstream conservatives, though less obviously. You can find posters at Free Republic blaming "gangsta culture", or in an echo of David Duke's post, Clayton Cramer referring to the victims' "savagery". On MSNBC, Tucker Carlson asked Al Sharpton to call for an end to the looting, as though it were a phenomenon emanating from the black community.

As Riggsveda at Corrente observes, these people seem to be from another planet, or at least another time (say, turn-of-the-20th-century America). It never occurs to these folks -- including the Jamaican journalist -- to blame white culture when heinous crimes are committed by white people (see, e.g., the Green River Killer, or the Enron debacle). That only happens, it seems, when the perps are black.

I thought Colbert King had the right response when a Washington Post reader asked him why black people loot:
The people caught stealing on camera in that majority-black city weren't doing it because they were black. Just as raiders of corporate treasuries don't do it because they are white. Skin color has nothing to do with the urge to take what doesn't belong to you. Poverty also isn't the reason liquor gets stolen in a storm-ravaged city.

The looter on Canal Street in New Orleans and the corporate looter on Wall Street have a similar motive: greed. That is their taproot. And greed is no respecter of pigmentation, income, status or social class.

But it seems likely that this meme is going to spread, in no small part due to the behavior of the national media. As Alan Wolfe points in Salon:
Remarkably for a society as modern as the United States, a surprising number of commentators find themselves attracted to the raw brutalities of nature revealed by Katrina. For them, the fact that so many of the victims are black is not just an accident; Africa, and by implications African-Americans, have traditionally been viewed by whites, especially by whites in the South, as one step removed from nature. The ever self-righteous pundits on Fox News find that images of black young men walking off with plasma-screen televisions are just too convenient to ignore. Humans as depraved as these barely deserve our help. "It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that's 7 feet under sea level," as House Speaker Dennis Hastert put it. "It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed."

This probably won't be the end of it. As it becomes increasingly clear that the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress played a significant role in this disaster -- particularly for their failures to adequately fund levee upgrades and federal disaster relief, and to provide National Guard equipment and manpower that have instead been deployed to the wasteful war in Iraq -- look for them to respond as they always have whenever their mal- and misfeasance is pointed out: Blame the victims.

And the easiest way to do that, of course, is to suggest that their race (we'll hear a lot of talk about "black culture") is the real cause of the violence and the looting -- instead of the desperation and chaos brought about by the Bush administration's incompetence.

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