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TFT Analysis: Post Katrina

No More Shelters of "Last Resort": Building Communitarian Ethics

Photo: http://www.sfgate.com/c/pictures/2005/09/04/mn_evacuation_superdome2.jpg

"So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working out very well for them." - Former First Lady Barbara Bush, visiting the SuperDome after Hurricane Katrina

In an effort to avoid the treatment of marginalized groups that was spotlighted in the days, weeks, months, and possibly years, we are obligated to reshape the discourse that has marginalized these groups throughout history. Public dialogue positions discursively the poor as lazy, evil, and liminal figures that threaten our long standing puritan ethics; this same dialogue perpetuates the Manichean philosophies that made the creation of the "old racist lie" possible: "The 'old racist lie'...involves...the...notion of whiteness as purity (Dyer 1997). Whiteness as purity, in the sense of racial integrity, was the presumption that made the thought of black rapists and captors of color so sinister" (Carol Mason, "The Hillbilly Defense", pg 46). The "old racist lie" extends beyond captors and rapists, classifying people of color as being inherently predisposed to criminal behavior, and thus unable to be trusted. When the long standing, subconscious assumption that poor people are lazy and evil and people of color are criminals that cannot be trusted, it is no surprise that the government, and the figureheads we associate with the government, sees the treatment of the poor and Black communities in the fallout of Hurricane Katrina as acceptable. These assumptions make it possible for the priviledged to give no consideration to the evacuees' communities and attachment to their homes, some of which had been in the same family for generations, and claim eminent domain, taking away the physical component of their communities. The public discourse, in tandem with these classist and racist assumptions, places the survivors of Hurricane Katrina - at least those who are not white, wealthy, or involved in the political arena - as objects, outside of anymeaningful discussion about their treatment, their displacement, their ability or inability to return to their homes, and how the nation can effectively help them to rebuild their communities. By positioning these marginalized groups as objects and rendering them unable to speak on their own behalf, we, societally, avoid being confronted with our involvement in the oppression of these people, and "[rob] them of their historical and political agency" (Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism Without Borders, pg. 39).

 


Now, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath is largely ignored by the news media, despite the fact that so many struggles still continue. The families that have returned to the area to rebuild their homes are facing various struggles: many are struggling on one income, usually the man's income - men will make more, even in low paying construction jobs, than women will -, while the women stay with the house, struggling to clean and rebuild, an enormous task with which to saddle one person. The families that have not yet returned are struggling with the negative identities that their "host" communities have assigned to them, and struggling against internalizing these identities (lazy, criminal, and often an exaggerated version of "the welfare mother", to name a few). Having been denied their voices and their agency in public discourse, the struggles of the Hurricane Katrina survivors are far from the minds of the many Americans that were moved only enough to write a check in the weeks following the storms landfall. Public discourse continues to roll along, unchanged, few people having made the horrific realizations about the marginalization of the poor and Black communities, long before the storm, that amplified the descimation of New Orleans: "Now it wasn't on the nightly news no more/Suddenly it didn't matter to you no more/In the end almost nothing changed/What the hell, what was that for?/(Seems like we don't even care)" (Jay-Z, "Minority Report").

Public discourse can be shifted; by breaking ourselves of the assumptions that allow us to objectify marginalized groups, by discontinuing our abjection of "other" communities, we can open space for the marginalized to reclaim their agency and become subjects that speak to their own needs on their own behalf. Developing a discourse that discourages homogenizing and does not objectify marginalized communities, we can develop a discourse that allows for communitarian ethics, that is not motivated by the profit margins of our everexpanding capitalist interests and our neoimperialistic, evangelical government and social institutions.

Published Dec 05 2006, 10:15 PM by archive
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