Friday, February 10, 2012

Looking back on Katrina during Black History Month

Remember this?

Following the devastation of April 2005's Hurricane Katrina, "Watch the Throne" rapper, Kanye West, made the bold statement that President Bush doesn't like black people.  Newspapers, broadcast news and the internet, quoted West for weeks after his "publicity stunt." I was about 14 during Katrina and I could remember watching several segments on television discussing the rapper's allegations. One in particular was this debate on Show Biz:

Now what I would like to do is highlight some of Mark's ideas towards race, class and the aftermath of Katrina and then discuss how I believe this situation illustrates the status of my people in today's society. 

For one thing, he opens his argument by stating the fact that people have known for years that New Orleans was prone to something as catastrophic as what occurred 7 years ago in April. He then says that the people victimized by the tragedy were not smart enough evacuate the city and relied on the government to rescue them. He said that these people have been trained to be "passive" in seeking the government to do everything for  them and thus they didn't have the intellect to leave the city to help themselves. 

When I read things about people, good things or bad, I can't help but put myself in those situations. Somebody wins the lottery, of course, I'm thinking about how I'd be if I was awarded that amount of money. And then when something as heartbreaking as Katrina occurs, I can't help but wonder what I would do if I was in that circumstance. So here I am, considering myself in New Orleans during the time of said events. Mark Williams says that the people weren't smart enough to leave but if that had been me, with the income that my family makes (which is barely enough to pay bills each month) it wouldn't be a matter of my intelligence but my inability. An unexpected trip like that would be incredibly hard to manage depending on the time of the month and I can imagine that this same scenario was a far to real factor in the case of evaluating New Orleans. So for him to make this assumption these victimized people were not "smart" enough says a lot about what I think Kanye was trying to showcase during his rant on live TV. Race is a big factor in our society and it took what happen in April to bring that issue to light. I disagree Mark obviously, and I think his view point is a firm demonstration of a lot of views of us in America. He goes on say something I thought was completely diminishing.  

First Williams said, 

" I will tell you, the only role race plays in this is that the American black population has been the prototype for an entire race of people being, being turned into a group of dependents of the government.  And these people, you saw them at the Convention Center, the people who are trapped there.  Trapped -- I'm using that word very loosely -- are screaming, "We want help, we want help!" for four or five days, yet they didn't bother to even try to help themselves...Unfortunately, in this country, the Democrat party, the same party that fought a civil war to keep slaves, [3] filibustered a hundred years to prevent the implementation of civil rights, has now completed the re-enslavement of blacks by turning them into passive, totally dependent economically, and for the simple common sense to walk out of the way of a hurricane on the government..."

Before I go on, let me post this link to a video I happen to stumble on while researching this topic. It comes from an artist and native of New Orleans named Eric Arceneaux.

You're definitely encouraged to view parts 1 and 2 of his video series but I chose the last installment of his account of the storm because he voices a depressing realization that in his time, he experienced a true racism that he had only heard about from the times of civil rights and the slave trade. This 20th century disasters had unveiled a demon that had longed been hidden over time. A demon that Mark Williams so absentmindedly backed with his historically based perception. "...a group of dependents of the government" is the label he places on black America.  Whether purposely or not, to me, Mark portrays himself as the one West should of pointed out as hating black people. In his allotted time on nation television, he had began making accusations about an entire race of people and then contradicts himself when he later says that Kanye West is an idiot that doesn't know whether Bush hated black people or not. 

What Mark failed to pinpoint, while he was discussing the democratic role in the development of black America, is that our ancestors were brought here against their will to build this country free of charge. Slavery occurred from the 1640's to 1865 (1865 is the year the KKK was founded and began terrorizing and killing blacks) and then racial segregation lasted from 1876 to 1965. With those facts, I have come to the conclusion that whites have had centuries to establish themselves in this country while we had to struggle for our place in the land of the free. This country was founded by white men, for white men and we were the instruments they used to build the United States of America. So even if there is a black president now, it took how many years for us to finally see that day? Yes, we have come a long way as a people but look what we came from. Look at the remnants of our ancestors and our great times 20 grandparents who had to suffer from physical and most of all mental abuse. While white people were getting the benefits of free labor then trying to find ways to keep us out of their way when forced to free us and then trying to demise us when we fought for our human rights, this session of sheer hatred and determination created invisible divisions when there could no longer be tangible ones. Nowadays, I think that we just don't acknowledge those divisions because we have became accustomed to living in them. 

I am not going to be naive and say that they're aren't places in this country where white and black people intermix with one another, but as far as the leadership and the media, black people aren't prominent as our white counterparts. According to the 2010 Census,

 "The overwhelming majority (97 percent) of the total U.S. population reported only one race in 2010. This group totaled 299.7 million. Of these, the largest group reported white alone (223.6 million), accounting for 72 percent of all people living in the United States. The black or African-American population totaled 38.9 million and represented 13 percent of the total population." 

I've heard an argument that our government and our media reflect America's population. Look at all the presidents we've had before Barack Obama. And then turn on the television and see the color of the faces being show on it. Yes, they may be true in some respects but...and before I make this statement, I want to share something I observed the other day when I was watching television on a rare occasion. A friend of mine was watching a reality show with some rich white lady getting her boobs down on VH1 and then when she turns to A&E, there is a reality show about a police station that plants cars around some city like Birmingham or Atlanta, then wait for someone to try and steal it. Most of the people trying to steal it was of course black. I know that is just one show but think about the impact that has on the people in our country. Whether we know it or not, the things that we are fed in the media goes somewhere in our subconscious. So when you have group that rarely intermixes with one another and broadcast things about each, each group begins to develop ideas about the other especially because they don't truly know them. So how can we have country that is concerned about us when the person leading it doesn't truly understand us or has an concern to understand us because they are use to where they have grown up in. Remember those invisible divisions I mentioned before. This is where they come to play. If you think about the life of President Bush, you find no indication that he had much interaction with black people. So when something like Katrina happens, why would this wealthy man from a distinguished family in Texas, be super concerned about people that don't necessarily benefit him. Kanye might have over exaggerated a little when he said the man hated us, but I believe that there is a feeling of indifference that might simply be unconscious. 

So now that I've tied my research with my theme, where do I go with all this? I think that we as a people are still being mentally enslaved by a lot of factors. Yes one is the history of how we've became established in this white male dominated society and then there is the interracial problems that we've created for ourselves. At one point in time, black people had to hide to read a book and nowadays, we rarely read one at all. People like Vivian Malone had to endure hatred daily when she was one of the first black students to interrogate schools and today we have an increased amount of high school dropouts, unwed teenage mothers, incarnated men and deadbeat fathers. Rap music has become one of our trademark art forms and nowadays it is an exploitation of women and emphasis on men being thuggish, "hood-rich," sex crazed individuals. I'm not going to lie and say I don't listen to rap music because I have since I was child and I continue to listen to it to this day. I think it would be hypocritical to object. But I can see where this type of influence has done to us as a people. I think its funny that Kanye made the statement that Bush doesn't care about black people because he's made songs that exploit the mothers of the race, black woman. So Bush could say, "Hey Mr. West. You don't care about black woman, yourself! At least I'm not sexist!" Because even if the media has a majority of white people in it, when they show black people, Kanye West and others like him are amongst the rare representation we have so who are our young people looking up to? Rappers in a lot of cases. I wished that there had been more Oprahs and Michelle Obamas on television growing up. Or in places of authority so I could look up to. I wish America hadn't allowed the videos demising woman to be shown but they were and I can't help but to consider that maybe this lack of positivity was the reason why we've become the way we are. 

You may not agree with me but this is my view. Stay tuned for more of my blogs on other topics!