Where the Bayou meets the Back Bay…

For about a week now, I’ve been hearing people say things like, “If a disaster the size of Katrina hit an upper-class, white community, you’d see Bush move a lot faster.” and “Bush only moved so slowly because those people were poor and black. That would never have happened in a wealthy, white area.” I’m sure we’ve all heard variations on the theme.

As for myself, I’ve been saying since before the disaster how obvious the benefits of wealth are in our society. It’s not a race issue but a class issue. The lines of FEMA’s aid are split as clearly as a poverty line.

Still, when I write for this site, I usually look for something to spur me on. So, I was going to leave this issue for some place else… unless I found that “OC Connection”, of course.

Leave it up to a college student in Maine to give me the opportunity. The Bowdoin Orient, a college newspaper in Brunswick Main, printed the following opinion in this week’s paper, “It would be foolish to ignore the roles race and class play in this tragedy. If a similar disaster had occurred in Orange County, California, or a similar wealthy, white bastion of conservatism, it’s safe to say that help would have been sent immediately. Conservatives and liberals alike will try as hard as they can not to talk about class, but it is both irresponsible and unavoidable in this situation.”

My first thought was the unavoidable, “DUH!”… but then, I got to thinking. How obvious is this, really? Is there a flaw in my reasoning and that of the Bowdoin writer? What do you think? How fast would the government react to a disaster here in Orange County?

One more note: This from Colin Powell: “…I think it’s economic,” Powell said. “But poverty disproportionately affects African-Americans in this country. And it happened because they were poor.”

3 Comments so far

  1. bearanyburden (unregistered) on September 9th, 2005 @ 11:01 am

    I doubt the federal response to an Orange County disaster would be much better than the response to Katrina. I would guess, however, that the state and local response would be much better.

  2. cd (unregistered) on September 11th, 2005 @ 1:46 am

    I’ve been watching Katrina coverage with two friends from England. One asked about the affluence question: if this happened somewhere white and rich, would it really have been different?

    I told him that New Orleans and other gulf coast areas were affluent – or at least had affluent parts to them. All major cities have rich and poor parts. 80% of New Orleans residents did get out, or at least, that was the last number I heard.

    In the OC, I’d imagine Newport Beach would be empty and less tramatized than, say, Santa Ana or certain parts of Anaheim. In San Francisco, where I live, Pac Heights and Nob Hill have the resources to get out, so the only faces left on TV would likely be those in Bay View/Hunter’s Point – a largely African American area.

    This isn’t to say the class line isn’t horrifically real. But the fact remains, New Orleans isn’t 100% poor and black. That’s what was left and what’s on TV. The same scene might’ve played out in any other major city.

  3. No One of Consequence (unregistered) on September 12th, 2005 @ 12:25 pm

    So many things happened and didn’t happen that have some connection to race and class, but the connection is not one of “cause and effect”.

    For the sake of comparison to Orange County, let’s say that we kept the class and race demographics the same but reduced the population to that of New Orleans. Now, do something stupid like put the bulk of the land below sea level on one side of the city and farther below the level of a huge lake on the other side. Would the catastrophy still happen in Orange County?

    Would the voters of Orange County have voted to spend tax money to build and upgrade a sports stadium and let the levees crumble and decay? (I hate tax funded sports stadiums, so I hope not.)

    Would our elected officials have developed a disaster preparedness plan that pre-supposed federal response within 3 days for the ACTUAL evacuation AND THEN not coordinate that plan with the federal government? (I hope not)

    Are as many of the people of OC so addicted to government assistance that they are entirely dependent on it to protect them and rescue them? Would as many of us simply go to our rooftops and wait for the obligatory chopper ride to our new digs?

    Would there be as much looting and rapes and murders and shooting at rescue choppers that hampered the initial feeble rescue attempts?

    I think the New Orleans tragedy is one of those so-called “perfect storms”, where the worst of everything combine to make everything as bad as it can be: a city with a high poverty level, built largely below sea level near a hurricane-prone seafront and large lake, surrounded by water, where the few evacuation roads all go over water, and the local and state governments are among the most corrupt in the country.

    The poverty meant that many were dependent on assistance to evacuate and probably felt that if they left their house, their nextdoor neighbor would probably be the one to rob it first.

    The problem was caused CAUSED by the decisions people made to live there and local and state governments. The federal government MIGHT have been in a position to reduce the impact of those failings, but still today, the state government is preventing federal assistance from reaching some parts of New Orleans.

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