Monday, September 19, 2005

Race and Katrina (And why Kanye West doesn't know what he's talking about)

Americans are talking about race again in the aftermath of Katrina. As a black man, it's hard not to look at the faces of those who were trapped in the Superdome and the convention center and not wonder if the color of those faces was a factor in the slowness of response by the authorities.

So was Kanye West right when he said on national television that "George Bush doesn't care about black people?"


Bush might be a lot of things, and I'm certainly not one of his adoring fans, but he is far from a racist. You can't be a racist have a black woman as your Secretary of State who took that post over from a black man. Bumbling boob, yes, racist no.

Richard Cohen has an excellent piece where he sheds some light on the whole Bush-is-a-racist meme. Read the whole piece, but here's a snippet:

Bush, in this case, was an equal opportunity bungler -- but that it rests on a stereotype: Republicans tend to wear lime green pants in the summer and dislike black people all year round. There was more than a little truth to this at one time. The GOP, after all, became a safe haven for Southern bigots who fled the Democratic Party (as Lyndon Johnson knew they would) in the civil rights era. The fight for the rights of blacks turned Dixie as Republican as it once was Democratic. To its everlasting shame, the GOP continues to benefit from raw bigotry.

But Bush is not cut from that cloth. He is a contemporary Republican, a person of another generation who, you may have noticed, has a black woman as secretary of state and had a black man before her. Under him, the GOP began an outreach to black Americans, and unless the Democrats wake up it will ultimately succeed. As Karl Rove well knows, all he has to do is pick up a small percentage of the black vote and he ends the current 50-50 electoral split. Bush, who won an impressive 27 percent of the black vote in his reelection bid for Texas governor, could have been the man to do this. His task is a lot harder now.

Bush messed up in how the feds responded to Katrina, but so did the state and local officials, some of which were black.

I'm not one who thinks that racism is no more, but I'm not looking for bigots under beds either. Let's deal with trying to make sure what happened in the Big Easy never happens again and stop with the petty name calling.


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