There is an email meme going around about a “true story” of a doctor who went to the New Orleans Convention Center to help Katrina victims, and was assaulted and insulted by angry, complaining, foul-mouthed people who should have been grateful to see him.
In fact, there is no such doctor. He doesn’t exist. The email’s melodramatic content is easily accepted by people who want to believe that New Orleans’ poor (read “black people”) are spoiled welfare brats who starve their children in order to have satellite television. Empowered by Reagan’s “welfare queen” rhetoric, those who hate both people of color and the poor are having a field day with the aftermath of Katrina.
Unfortunately, Louisiana’s reputation for corruption and political chicanery makes it even easier to attack New Orleans during a crisis. People are justifiably worried about what kind of new chaos the state will put itself into in the wake of such a terrible catastrophe. I live in Louisiana, and I certainly do not trust some of the state’s more ignorant and backward citizens (better known as the legislature) to create sensible solutions to our new problems. But the people who were too poor, too sick, and too disabled to get out of the city when the storm approached have become the very unfortunate symbol of deeply held racial bigotry.
Good news or bad–the contempt is now spreading to white people. Last night, in a sucession of phone calls to our temporary post-hurricane radio channel, people expressed displeasure at how Louisianians cannot do anything but complain, complain, complain about FEMA. “They’re doing the best they can,” “All you people in south Louisiana can say is ‘give me, give me’,” “People in Louisiana are just greedy.”
The fact of the matter is that FEMA is still doing practically nothing at all; the personnel changes have meant little to hurricane victims. People who returned to their houses are being told that they cannot get money because they were “not displaced,” grants have suddenly become loans, the agency has failed to show up at community meetings (and in one case, sent a Texas contractor who kept people in line for hours filling out applications that were invalid and had to be trashed), promised FEMA money was never sent to desperate Plaquemines Parish, and the Blue Roof program has made it next to impossible for many people to get their leaking roofs covered.
Obviously, someone in Washington is busy creating these “lazy black people” and “whiny white people” memes. I don’t know who it is, but the whole project certainly has Karen Hughes’ imprint all over it. This was the tactic Hughes used to smear Governor Ann Richards during the Texas gubernatorial election, and I have long suspected that Karl Rove has gotten a lot of credit for dirty work that is really more Hughes’ style.
Many of the citizens of southeast Louisiana who still have their houses are nevertheless at their wits’ end, with moldy walls, leaky roofs, no electricity, no jobs, no phones, and no way to get help. Attempts to cover up the massive failures of the federal government by blaming the victims is beyond shameful.