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What's the 411? —An ACT of Cowardice
by Preston S., MSW
2005-10-01

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'God Bless the Chile that got his own, that got his ooown!'

— Billie Holiday

Hurricane Katrina, the most devastating storm in American history, has surely left its mark on the 21st century. It has caused havoc and affected us all in the most haunting ways. Yet, the subtext could be labeled a tragic tale starring the haves and have nots of the Deep South.

Like many Americans, I recoiled in horror as tears welled in my eyes and rolled down my face in horror as the category five, turned four hurricane struck. Within hours, the waves devastated the Gulf Coast communities, especially New Orleans and Biloxi. Like so many concerned folks, I immediately called to New Orleans to make sure that my loved ones were not caught in the storm and to see what I could do to assist others. I, like many other families, was told that my loved ones did make it out of the storm's path. However, like other coastal families and communities, my loved ones lost everything, including their way of life.

The inhumane travesty followed Katrina's wrath. Thousands of disenfranchised United States citizens ( appropriately 67% African Americans ) were instantly destitute, without food, water, shelter, or sanitary conditions for days that probably felt like an eternity for the victims of Katrina. Many families without ample means to evacuate sought refuge in the New Orleans Superdome and Convention Center. Ironically, it was a trauma within itself as putrid conditions were revealed on national television along with countless rapes and attacks upon young girls.

Latino scholar, Arturo Madrid, shared that Americans downplay the significance and consequence of otherness. Dominant culture's insensitivity regarding minority populations may stem from the belief that 'others' is often synonymous with 'unequal' or 'undeserving'. On United States waters, citizens were again being treated less than animals, left to fend for themselves.

Some Americans reactivated their stereotypes regarding the mostly Black New Orleans citizens, deeming the folks as animalistic and dangerous 'looters'. Unfortunately, this belief was reinforced by some media outlets. The Americans discovered that many traumatized people were trying to feed and clothe their starving families due to the lack of governmental action. Clearly, some individuals did take advantage of the catastrophe, but not the majority of survivors. Opportunists were not exclusively made up of one racial group, despite the one-sided media images that had been captured.

But, in the end, the negative stereotypical view—generated to describe otherness in a pejorative fashion based upon the color ideology in the sweet land of liberty—prevailed.

How could this preventable catastrophe occur in the land of milk, honey, and plenty? The destitute and weak had the least power and practically no voice, despite their constant cries for assistance. Politicians may have simply considered the Katrina survivors as collateral damage and chose not to move quickly. The victims were not only ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, but further disregarded by an apathetic government—as if they were refuse.

I was enraged and embarrassed that the federal government stifled response to assist our own disaster victims. I, then, signed up to volunteer my time by helping out on a local hotline trying to round up resources for relocated families. It was not much, but at least it was a small way that I could help others and simply just talk.

Many may wonder, why should the LGBT community take notice and pay attention? I just heard that a local religious minister declared that Hurricane Katrina was God's wrath on New Orleans for hosting Southern Decadence and Mardi Gras!

The LGBT community must take heed to this pain because we experienced the same apathy during the initial AIDS crisis in America. Once upon a time, the American government deemed countless infected gay men, Haitian refugees, intravenous drug users, and sex workers as collateral damage and allowed them to die needlessly due to their inaction. Repeatedly, President Bush and Michael Brown, [ now former ] President of the Federal Emergency Management Agency ( FEMA ) , reassured all that assistance would be coming quickly. The survivors were promised before fellow Americans and God that the United States had been acting in good faith to assist the ailing, displaced and the dying.

As I looked at the countless stranded men, women and children living in dire straits, literally begging for assistance, it reminded me of the our countless HIV-impacted folks begging for governmental intervention. Cameras captured the horrific conditions and toxic waters littered with debris, excrement, urine and the dead bloated bodies for all to witness in the world's richest nation. There wasn't anything powerful nor super about our country's lackluster response. Time passed—hours turned into days and the overflowing, blood-filled waters rose in the land of dixie.

American citizens continued to die, suffering in squaller just like AIDS-infected persons who also waited and expired in the early '80s. The American government went missing in action, only caveat here was that a different Republican was in the White House.

Both events were deemed unfortunate, as unworthy and disposable human cargo paid the price, so long as the mainstream culture was not affected. Where was the humanity? Where is the love? Is there any love now? When Americans saw no swift decisiveness regarding the catastrophe, we were sickened and shocked as a nation. Only then did the guilt-ridden President try to save face and help the evacuees after the world and fellow Americans criticized his inhumane treatment.

How could this happen again in the land of the so-called free and home of the brave? How could the Jazz Mecca, the original soul of the South, end up resembling a third-world disaster? New Orleans was left to drown in toxic waves when the White House knew about the sinking levees but chose to go the 'cheap route' by allocating only $40 million instead of the $105 million New Orleans asked for in 2004? Now, the nation is paying more than $120 billion in disaster relief, which promises to rise in the coming months!

The incredibly slow response to Americans, mostly of African descent, in utter despair is despicable, as the leader of the 'greatest nation in the world' repeatedly told its citizens that the federal government was moving as quickly as it could in response. Should it matter that many of the New Orleans, Biloxi, and Gulf Coast citizens were trapped living in poor dwellings and in some cases living paycheck to paycheck, as millions are being given to special interest projects in Alaska?

In the year 2005, we are left to wonder—why? Why did this have to tragedy have to happen? It appears that socioeconomic status and race still are factors in the land of freedom. If our commander-in-chief only had a brain ... or a heart. ... or the courage to act justly ... Just Wicked. Just Wicked.


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