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Volume 71, Issue 12, Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Opinion

Storm shines light on class issues

David Salinas
Opinion Columnist

Friday night, during a live telethon on NBC, rapper Kanye West strayed from a prepared script and expressed an opinion many others had espoused this past week. With a dumbfounded Mike Meyers standing by, West, the usually pompous performer, seemed humbled and emotional about Hurricane Katrina, mostly about the initial response. In his tirade, West lambasted the media for depicting blacks as looters, and said, "George Bush doesn't care about black people." 

While his statements were generalized and a little less than thoughtful, his sentiment was shared by many others who saw that the people left unprotected in the first few days after Katrina all seemed to be of one group. Though race definitely plays a big issue here, the reason so many victims of the hurricane were left behind was because of class. West should have said George Bush doesn't care about poor people.

Racism is always an underlying issue we will have to deal with. From the O.J. Simpson verdict to police brutality, there is usually a divide in how people view these matters, and the divide is skin color. The initial media coverage of the hurricane aftermath was no different. The infamous photo captions that have been circulating through the Internet give an example of this. Although the captions came from two different news organizations, they were of similar photos. One had a white person carrying a loaf of bread through the water, and the other had a black man carrying a 12-pack of soda. But while the white's caption described how the man was returning home after "finding" his food in a grocery store, the black's caption said he was returning from "looting." 

Another critique of the media this week dealt with how they described the people who were forced to leave because of the devastation. They were called "refugees," as if they had just come off the boat from Cuba or Haiti. Most media outlets have changed the term to "evacuees," however. You may think this criticism is petty, but if you have never dealt with racism, it would be hard for you to understand where the tension comes from. Even though this is a big issue, it's not the main one that has risen to the surface in the wake of Katrina.

There has long been a debate about the haves and the have-nots. In this past election, Sen. John Edwards mentioned how the disparity between the wealthy and the poor has widened to historic levels, but that was cast aside as "class warfare," a red herring not worthy of debate. But if anything of value comes out of this tragedy, I hope it is a real discussion about the issue of class and how our economic system and ideology has left so many elderly citizens and children to drown because they couldn't "pull themselves up by the bootstraps."

In 2002, The Times-Picayune of New Orleans published a five-part report detailing what would happen if a hurricane like Katrina ever hit the city. Almost everything predicted in the article came true. In the three years since, why was nothing done? It's not like the hurricane came out of nowhere; why weren't these people evacuated on buses before the roads were flooded instead of being sent to some glorified parking garage? It's because up until that point, they didn't matter. Sure, we hoped they would be all right wherever they were, but if they couldn't get out on their own, they were lucky they could find any shelter in the first place, right? They're poor. It wasn't their choice to stay; they had to. Nor was it a choice for them to be poor. Here is where you can insert the race issue again. 

We like to hold up our capitalist, survival-of-the-fittest system as some glorious beacon for the all the world to follow, but is it really giving everyone an equal shot? Yes, capitalism is by far better than any other economic theory out there, but capitalism that was built off the backs of slaves is not fair. 

There is a disproportionate amount of black people who are poor, and it isn't because they are dumb or lazy. If capitalism is a marathon, then not only were blacks told to wait a couple hundred laps before starting, along with other minorities, they had to give piggyback rides to those with the head start. 

Until we correct this problem, we have to care a little more for the disadvantaged, whatever their race may be. Imagine if instead of cutting taxes twice, we invested in state and city infrastructures, like in New Orleans, and prevented hundreds, if not thousands, of needless deaths. 

Yes, the most important thing right now is to make sure the victims of this hurricane are taken care of. But unless we want to see this happen again, we need to deal with all the problems that caused this. 

With all of this criticism, it is important to remember that during this tragedy, there have been many people with a selfless dedication to help others, and their courage and strength has not been overlooked.

Salinas, an opinion columnist for The Daily Cougar, 
can be reached at davidcsalinas@yahoo.com.

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