Racism in America doesn’t dress up in a cowl and flowing white robes anymore. Instead, it dons an immaculate blue suit and tie and conceals itself behind the lofty language of democracy, freedom and human dignity, but its racism all the same.
We’ve seen an explosion of racism in America since George Bush took office. It started out after 9-11 and was aimed exclusively at Muslims, a vulnerable group with a paltry voice in government. The administration took full advantage of their political weakness by tossing whomever they chose in prison without due process and without concern for their personal health or safety. Many, of course, were brutalized and traumatized by a system that still boldly touted human rights from the presidential podium.
It was all lies.
The cruelty and inhumanity has steadily escalated over the last five years, the predictable outcome whenever sadism and arrogance replace the rule of law. The chronicle of abusive treatment at American facilities across the globe is vast and extensive, and stories abound of the imaginative and finely detailed methods of maximizing human suffering. Although they may have failed at everything else, the Bush administration has proved to be an astute practitioner of torture.
The primary target of these crimes has been Muslims. There are no Christian or Jewish inmates at either Guantanamo nor Abu Ghraib. In fact, there are especially lenient laws for Israeli spies who steal top-secret information from the Pentagon and pass it on through their respective lobbies. Both of the indicted leaders of AIPAC, the American-Israeli lobby, have been released on bond while Muslims, who have been charged with no crime at all, continue to languish in Guantanamo Bay. This is the current state of America’s apartheid judicial system.
New Orleans adds a new chapter to the Bush digest of calculated bigotry. While the wealthy white families were able to beat a hasty retreat out of doomed city, the poor and black were left to sink in the toxic stew unleashed by America’s greatest natural disaster.
No one who saw the televised footage of the Convention Center and the Superdome had any misgivings about what they were seeing. America’s long lost companion, racial-hatred, had stuck its ugly head up into the camera lens and was pouring out onto living rooms across the land.
Bush critic Michael Moore may have summarized the feelings of the nation best when he noted, “C'mon, they're black! I mean, it's not like this happened to Kennebunkport”….”Can you imagine leaving white people on their roofs for five days? Don't make me laugh!”
Moore’s right. The brunt of the catastrophe was directed at society’s castoffs -- the poor and black who couldn’t simply load up the $40,000 SUV and take off. They were left to face the rising waters and the government neglect without any prospect of real assistance. When you can’t buy your way out, you’re left to rot; that’s how the “invisible hand” of the free market operates. The message is clear: if you have nothing, you are nothing.
Americans have been patting themselves on the back for years about the great strides that have been made in civil rights and social justice. It’s all rubbish. Just take a look at the faces of the people who were left to drown in the noxious soup of a Category-4 hurricane. We all know who these people are: they are the “other America.” The America that is scrupulously kept out of the media so that the narrative of prosperity, equality and justice can flood the airwaves like the effluent coursing down Bourbon Street. Nothing has been accomplished in civil rights. Even the band-aid programs like bussing, welfare and affirmative action have been dismantled by people who believe that we all begin life on a level playing field.
There’s no level playing field any more than there is “compassionate conservatism.” Bush proved that by withholding food and water from starving people for three days.
What we all saw last week on national TV was the moral equivalent of the Rodney King beating multiplied times 30,000; that’s the number of people who were locked away in the feces-infected Superdome. It gave us a good look into America’s dark heart, where the evil secret we keep tucked away in a vault can always be denied: racism.
Abandoning those people during a national tragedy was the most blatant, despicable act of racism I’ve seen in my 53 years of life. The beating of Rodney King pales by comparison.
Presently, the African Americans who were stranded in New Orleans are being trundled off to the four corners of the Western states where they’ll be disposed of quietly in filthy encampments or religious facilities. Their rage and frustration sent shivers of distress through the body politic and put a hefty dent in our collective sense of self-esteem. Once again, Bush and his vindictive troupe have proved that it is always possible to sink ever lower in the bottomless well of moral corruption.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* The All-Too American Tragedy of
New Orleans by Paul Street
Other Articles by Mike Whitney
* Rehnquist Paved the Way for the Imperial