Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Cornel West Interview about Hurricane Katrina

*******DEFINTELY worth the read!*****************

Cornel West: Exiles from a city and from a nation

It takes something as big as Hurricane Katrina and the misery we saw
among the poor black people of New Orleans to get America to focus on
race and poverty. It happens about once every 30 or 40 years.

What we saw unfold in the days after the hurricane was the most naked
manifestation of conservative  social policy towards the poor, where the
message for decades has been: 'You are on your own'. Well, they really
were on their own for five days in that Superdome, and it was Darwinism
in action - the  survival of the fittest. People said: 'It looks like
something out of the Third World.' Well, New Orleans was Third World long
before the hurricane.

It's not just Katrina, it's povertina. People were quick to call them
refugees because they looked as if they were from another country.
They are. Exiles in America. Their humanity had been rendered invisible
so they were never given high priority when the well-to-do got out and
the helicopters came for the few. Almost everyone stuck on rooftops, in the shelters, and dying by
the side of the road was poor black.

In the end George Bush has to take responsibility. When [the rapper]
Kanye West said the President  does not care about black people, he was
right, although the effects of his policies are different from what goes
on in his soul. You have to distinguish between a racist intent and the
racist consequences of his policies. Bush is still a 'frat boy', making
jokes and trying to please everyone while the Neanderthals behind him
push him more to the right.

Poverty has increased for the last four or five years. A million more
Americans became poor last year, even as the super-wealthy became much
richer. So where is the trickle-down, the equality of opportunity?
Healthcare and education and the social safety net being ripped away -
and that flawed structure was nowhere more evident than in a place such
as New Orleans, 68 per cent black. The average adult income in some
parishes of the city is under $8,000 (£4,350) a year. The average
national income is $33,000, though for African- Americans it is about
$24,000. It has one of the highest city murder rates in the US. 
From slave ships to the Superdome was not that big a journey.

New Orleans has always been a city that lived on the edge. The white
blues man himself, Tennessee Williams, had it down in A Streetcar Named
Desire - with Elysian Fields and cemeteries and the quest for paradise.
When you live so close to death, behind the levees, you live more
intensely, sexually, gastronomically, psychologically. Louis Armstrong
came out of that unbelievable cultural breakthrough unprecedented in the
history of American civilization. The rural blues, the urban jazz. It is the
tragi-comic lyricism that gives you the courage to get through the darkest storm.

Charlie Parker would have killed somebody if he had not blown his horn.
The history of black people in America  is one of unbelievable resilience
in the face of crushing white supremacst powers.
This kind of dignity in your struggle cuts both ways, though, because it
does not mobilize a collective uprising against the elites. That was the
Black Panther movement. You probably need both. There would have been no
Panthers without jazz. If I had been of Martin Luther King's generation I
would never have gone to Harvard or Princeton.

They shot brother Martin dead like a dog in 1968 when the mobilization of
the black poor was just  getting started. At least one of his surviving
legacies was the  quadrupling in the size of the black middle class. But
Oprah [Winfrey]  the billionaire and the black judges and chief executives
and movie stars do not mean equality, or even equality of opportunity
yet. Black faces in high places does not mean racism is over.
Condoleezza Rice has sold her soul. Now the black bourgeoisie have an
even heavier obligation to fight for the 33 per cent of black children
living in poverty - and to alleviate the spiritual crisis of hopelessness
among young black men.

Bush talks about God, but he has forgotten the point of  prophetic
Christianity is compassion and justice for those who have least. Hip-hop
has the anger that comes out of post-industrial, free-market America,  but
it lacks the progressiveness that produces organizations that will
threaten the status quo. There has not been a giant since King, someone
prepared to die and create an insurgency where many are prepared to die
to upset the corporate elite. The Democrats are spineless.

There is the danger of nihilism and in the Superdome around the fourth
day, there it was - husbands held at gunpoint while their wives were
raped, someone stomped to death, people throwing themselves off the
mezzanine floor, dozens of bodies.

It was a war of all against all - 'you're on your own' - in the centre of
the American empire. But now that the  aid is pouring in, vital as it is,
do not confuse charity with justice. I'm not asking for a revolution, I
am asking for reform. A Marshall Plan for the South could be the first

Dr Cornel West  is professor of African American
studies and religion at Princeton  University. His great
grandfather was a slave. He is a rap artist  and
appeared as Counsellor West in Matrix Reloaded and
Matrix  Revolutions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

as usual Dr. West has an answer. I am glad to be alive today to read and see this Brother try his best to educate all. It is sad that Dr. West will not at this time step up and be THE LEADER we young black americans are looking for. I commend you and thank you Dr. West for taking the time for this message and all the previous ones I have been able to see on TV and read in your books. THANK YOU!