Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Monday, October 24, 2005  

Opinion: Family should return to New Orleans

Reaction to a feature story in Saturday's Washington Post highlights the difference between those with an understanding of the dilemma facing African-American hurricane evacuees from New Orleans and those without. Most commenters at The Brothers Judd, a Right Wing blog, are in favor of a New Orleans family displaced to Austin, Texas, remaining there. I disagree. The family profiled, the Smiths, are precisely the kind of people who should be encouraged to return to New Orleans. The Smith family is stable, with elders, a young father and children living together. (The mother died of cancer last year.) Ryan Smith had employment with the federal government. Like half of residents of New Orleans, the grandparents, Delores and Earnest, owned their own home. Of even greater significance, they had flood insurance, providing some assistance for rebuilding. All of these factors support a return to the city where salt of the Earth working-class people are needed for its revival.

The article describes the decision the adults in the Smith family must make: Whether to return home and, if so, when.

At 63, Deron's grandmother Dolores Smith is the self-described matriarch of a clan that can trace its roots in Louisiana back at least 120 years. Her one-story house on Kennon Avenue in the Seventh Ward was a center of family life. The house is going to be condemned; at the height of the flood it was awash in seven feet of water. But Smith counts herself as lucky to be alive. Three neighbors drowned. Smith also had flood insurance.

When she can wrest the phone from her grandson, Smith spends her days talking to friends and family scattered across the country. On a recent day, she was consoling a relative in Mississippi.

"We gotta get back," she enthused emphatically. "We gotta get back and get our lives together."

Ryan, also, misses the community, his friends and the "weekends when we all get together and do something." His wife, Deon, died a year ago after a six-year battle with cancer. He had a job with the Department of Agriculture.

Predictably, the children, boys eight and ten, have adjusted to school in Austin after only a few weeks. (However, there is a troubling reference to placing hurricane evacuees in special education, a hint at Texas' long history of discrimination in education. And, remember, less than half of black and Hispanic children finish high school in the state. Louisiana is also a state with less than stellar schools, but not as bad as Texas.) One suspects that the children would just as easily readjust to a new school back home.

Despite the information in the article, commenters at the Brother's Judd rely on racial stereotypes to make their argument the family should remain in Texas.

Travis County's unemployment rate for September was 4.9 percent, which is .8 percent below the statewide average for last month. So there are definitely jobs to be had there, though given the system in New Orleans the Katrina refugees had to grow up and live in, the available jobs may not match their current training level (though Lord knows any one of them could do a more competent job as Travis County District Attorney than the office's current occupant).

Posted by: John at October 22, 2005 11:16 AM

There's nothing in the description of the Smiths that suggests they've been harmed by 'the system' in New Orleans. They seem to have been satisfied with their lives before being victimized by a natural disaster. Nor was unemployment rampant in New Orleans before August. The greater problem was low wages. Unless evacuees can earn more in their relocations, they will not be financially better off elsewhere. Louisiana and Texas both have the same level of unemployment (between five and six percent this year) and the same minimum wage,the federal rate of $5.15 per hour.

Two other Right Wing bloggers cite Barbara Bush's claim that a cot in a stadium is superior to a home in a low-income neighborhood approvingly.

Didn't Barbara Bush get in trouble for saying what Principal Fabelo said?

Posted by: Jim Miller at October 22, 2005 12:59 PM

Jim Miller:

Partly a problem of timing.

Barbara Bush said it too soon.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 22, 2005 01:55 PM

The biased response to the article is a reminder of why it is important for people displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to investigate their options thoroughly and then make rational decisions for themselves. In much the same way that dehumanizing stereotypes were used to hamper rescue operations during the crucial first days of Katrina, similar prejudice could influence decisionmaking about whether evacuees should relocate or return to their home areas.

Of course there is also an unspoken reason why Right Wingers would want evacuee families dispersed. In Louisiana, minority voters have sufficient numbers to influence public policy. In many of the states they've been dispersed to, including Texas, the voices of minority voters are barely audible. The Republicans benefit from the depopulation of New Orleans. The interest of the commenters has more to do with maintaining the inequities that have worsened under the Bush administration than concern about the evacuees.

What's the art?

A photograph of a sculpture titled "Black Family," from the Dean Mars gallery.

Reasonably related

Michael Herdegen, one of the commenters at The Brothers Judd, reveals that he has no grasp of history at his blog, Hubris.

After all, if blacks had never been taken from Africa, then almost all blacks now in America would have to live in Africa. If we compare the current value of being an American citizen, raised in American society, with the value of being a citizen of a West African nation, we see that American blacks have gotten the equivalent of 4,000 acres, and a 20-mule team.

You would think common sense would suggest to him that, in the absence of slavery, colonialism and imperialism, Africa would not have the problems it does today. Furthermore, African-Americans are not Africans. The population the comparison should be made to is white Anericans. In indicia of well-being, from health to education to income, blacks are still hampered by the vestiges of slavery. African-Americans are twice as likely to be poor as white Americans, their families often having gone from slavery to share cropping to minimum wage jobs, while being excluded from work that pays reasonably well. Suffice it to say the blogosphere is not an exception to the saying that 'common sense isn't so common.'

posted by J. | 4:45 PM