The effects of Hurricane Katrina, a natural disaster, has the whole world talking. And it appears there is enough blame to go around, particularly when it comes to our U.S. government. In addition to the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama becoming victims of this natural disaster, another nightmare began after the hurricane passed out of the gulf coast. People of the gulf states were now being referred to as “refugees,” as if they were not American citizens.
Since the majority of the people affected by the hurricane were Afro-American it became glaringly obvious to many of us that the word “refugee” was insensitive, because the only time this word is used in the media is to describe someone fleeing from other countries. We think of refugees as someone who has fled his native country, not leaving the states of Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama. When last I looked, these states are still part of the USA.
Can you imagine an earthquake in California destroying Beverly Hills where many rich and famous personalities live and calling them refugees? Imagine seeing Brad Pitt, Mel Gibson, Elizabeth Taylor or Julia Roberts standing on their rooftops and some media person calling them “refugees.”
The Jewish community will not allow news reporters to define them in a negative way. The Jewish motto is “never again.” Black folks could use “racism over and over again.” It continues to raise its ugly head, and we are expected to ignore it or pretend we didn’t see or hear what we did.
Semantics. This is what you will hear many non-blacks say. “Why are you people all caught up in semantics? It’s irrelevant. The people are victims of mother nature.”
My answer to this is, “Words do hurt.” First of all, you have this terrible hurricane, but the victimization started after the hurricane. So now we have people who, through no fault of their own, are left without transportation, food, shelter or clothing. Then you have fellow Americans calling them “refugees.” Already feeling vulnerable, newspapers, TV commentators and radio hosts are using “refugee” eagerly and explaining it away by saying, “You people are too sensitive. You see racism in everything.” So it’s like driving the knife in further after already being stabbed.
When racism slaps you in the face, how can you help but not see it? Too often in this country when black Americans play by the “rules,” the rules are often changed. And although “refugee” has been used to describe people fleeing foreign countries, we now have certain people who want to “change the rules” and change the meaning of “refugee.”
I heard a Chicago radio host last week on one of the 50-thousand-watt stations say, “I’ll wrestle Jesse Jackson about the word ‘refugee’.” The radio host states he can defend his use of the word and will not stop. Of course, this same radio host has a track record of saying unkind things, especially about Afro-Americans. The station loves black callers who play the “shuffling, misspeaking” idiot. As reported Sunday in a Chicago Sun-Times column by Neil Steinberg, another well-known Chicago radio host suggested a new “French Quarter cocktail with chocolate babies bobbing in it.” What kind of human beings are these folks?
Even President Bush’s mother, Barbara, showed her insensitivity after touring the Astrodome in Houston last week. “What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.”
Just because everyone did not own a car, does not mean they were not homeowners and taxpayers. Barbara Bush is a lady of privilege, I doubt if she even changed her children’s diapers. Her statement indicates just how out of touch she is with people who were not born with a silver spoon in their mouths, or happened to marry money, which has often come through families like hers and her husband’s because of the free labor Hurricane Katrina’s victim’s ancestors provided.
I think we all have seen by now the AP photos of the white and black individuals walking in chest deep water. The black person was said to be looting, the white individuals were said to be finding bread and soda from a local grocery store.
The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) last week cautioned media outlets with the following statement from their president: “The NABJ Copy Editing Task Force examined the origins and usage of the word ‘refugee,’ being used occasionally to describe those fleeing New Orleans and other areas in the aftermath of the hurricane. Because of its imprecise connotation and more specific application in the context of those seeking political refuge, the association encourages editors to instead choose more accurate terms such as ‘evacuees,’ ‘victims,’ or ‘survivors.'”
Why must we African Americans continue to prove ourselves to the larger community? We have fought in every war, we helped build this country, we have been loyal, we are taxpayers, homeowners, parents and patriotic. Yet we should accept second-class citizenship because of an act of mother nature?
The hurricane was mother nature; the treatment afterward was human nature.