copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
Racism, in reality, is fear of the unknown. It is apprehension for what is alien to us. A bigot is often one who claims to be colorblind. However, indeed, he or she is more likely colormute. Rarely do persons who think themselves tolerant speak of the scorn they feel for those who differ from them. Often the intolerant are not aware of the rigidity that rules their lives. Few amongst Anglos in America, since most appear as they do, consider what the life of one whose complexion is cause for rejection experience. However, in an exposé, A.C. Thompson muses of what most rather not mention. The author addresses “Katrina’s Hidden Race War.”
Through the tales told, after a tumultuous tempest, readers learn of what they may know, and just not discuss freely. In this land of the free and home of the brave, few people of color are truly free. Yet, these same individuals are genuinely brave. They have to be.
It is common to hear Caucasians say, “Some of my best friends are Black, Brown, Yellow, or Red.” People hope to create an impression. Most wish to prove they willingly accept those unlike themselves. However, the acquaintance they speak of may be the one and only person of color that they know. People may think the person that they associate with is the exception to the rule. He or she is a good gal or gent. All other folks who do not don a pinkish hue are not to be trusted.
In this country, to publicly proclaim a hatred for a person whose complexion is dark is just not done. That is unless a person can conceive of a circumstance that allows for a reasonable abhorrence. Hurricane Katrina afforded such an opportunity for white residents of Algiers Point, Louisiana.
Algiers Point has always been somewhat isolated: it’s perched on the west bank of the Mississippi River, linked to the core of the city only by a ferry line and twin gray steel bridges. When the hurricane descended on Louisiana, Algiers Point got off relatively easy. While wide swaths of New Orleans were deluged, the levees ringing Algiers Point withstood the Mississippi’s surging currents, preventing flooding; most homes and businesses in the area survived intact. As word spread that the area was dry, desperate people began heading toward the west bank, some walking over bridges, others traveling by boat. The National Guard soon designated the Algiers Point ferry landing an official evacuation site. Rescuers from the Coast Guard and other agencies brought flood victims to the ferry terminal, where soldiers loaded them onto buses headed for Texas.
Facing an influx of refugees, the residents of Algiers Point could have pulled together food, water, and medical supplies for the flood victims. Instead, a group of white residents, convinced that crime would arrive with the human exodus, sought to seal off the area, blocking the roads in and out of the neighborhood by dragging lumber and downed trees into the streets. They stockpiled handguns, assault rifles, shotguns, and at least one Uzi and began patrolling the streets in pickup trucks and SUVs.
The newly formed militia, a loose band of about fifteen to thirty residents, most of them men, all of them white, was looking for thieves, outlaws or, as one member put it, anyone who simply “didn’t belong.”
The Nation Magazine, in the January 5, 2009 issue, recounts tales as told by those foreign elements who, while residents of the broader community, were shot as though they were criminals. Their crime was perhaps only their skin color.
The way Donnell Herrington tells it, there was no warning. One second he was trudging through the heat. The next he was lying prostrate on the pavement, his life spilling out of a hole in his throat, his body racked with pain, his vision blurred and distorted.
It was September 1, 2005, some three days after Hurricane Katrina crashed into New Orleans, and somebody had just blasted Herrington, who is African-American, with a shotgun. “I just hit the ground. I didn’t even know what happened,” recalls Herrington, a burly 32-year-old with a soft drawl.
The sudden eruption of gunfire horrified Herrington’s companions–his cousin Marcel Alexander, then 17, and friend Chris Collins, then 18, who are also black. “I looked at Donnell and he had this big old hole in his neck,” Alexander recalls. “I tried to help him up, and they started shooting again.” Herrington says he was staggering to his feet when a second shotgun blast struck him from behind; the spray of lead pellets also caught Collins and Alexander. The buckshot peppered Alexander’s back, arm, and buttocks.
Herrington shouted at the other men to run and turned to face his attackers: three armed white males. Herrington says he hadn’t even seen the men or their weapons before the shooting began. As Alexander and Collins fled, Herrington ran in the opposite direction, his hand pressed to the bleeding wound on his throat. Behind him, he says, the gunmen yelled, “Get him! Get that n*gg*r!”
Persons who were presumed guilty, merely by their presence, were neighbors from another section of town. The poorer people sought safety and shelter after the storm placed them in a precarious situation. Contrary to reports, the Black population did not loot or engage in thievery. African-Americans did as the Anglos who were also chest-deep in floodwaters. They “found” food and fluids to drink from a local grocery store after Hurricane Katrina destroyed all they had. However, trepidation distorts perception. Frequently, white Americans are apprehensive when they consider African-Americans.
From birth, children are taught not to talk to strangers. Little ones are cautioned to beware. Different is dangerous. Perchance, the Associated Press Reporters or Editors who covered the Katrina story were Anglos. Hence, when Journalists, just as the residents of Algiers Point, saw persons who look as they do, they defined their actions as honorable. However, the sight of a Black individual in a similar situation was not viewed through a clear lens. The question might be asked, in America will it ever be.
Please ponder the images. Then, consider the captions.
Shared By Dustin
Some, of every complexion, did take possession of life’s littlest necessities. In a few neighborhoods, not Algiers Point, white persons were benevolent towards those “others” of color. However, Caucasian citizens might contemplate the reality that, before Katrina, the plight of Black Americans was hidden, and it is again.
The depth of poverty experienced by many African-Americans, the people whose ancestors physically built this nation, was not realized until a natural storm churned up a crisis so critical.
White Americans acknowledge that in some areas, a bridge was built. Yet, few wish to admit this association only appears in a time of crisis. While a scant few channels were opened another, many more were closed. In other locales, where dark skinned persons were presumably welcome, the Anglo inhabitants roared with resentment. Reports offered the rationale for what in America is the conventional wisdom of an apprehensive Anglo populace. Karina victims are to blame for an increase in Houston crime. Certainly, these same “undesirables” would propagate misdeeds wherever they may be; hence, we have Algiers Point.
Granted, pinkish persons in other neighborhoods, even in New Orleans, opened their hearts. A restaurant proprietor, aware of the depth of destruction, 80 percent of the city was under water, opened their eateries to anyone in need.
Tommy Cvitanovich, co-owner of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, is but one of what might be many. This sympathetic fellow spoke of the reason he, his family, and his staff felt they must serve all survivors. For the entrepreneur, there was no reason to fear. Mister Cvitanovich, when confronted with the circumstances of his fellow man, felt he could not turn away. Nor could he, his kin, and the folks they worked with grab a gun and shot at persons who sought food and a safer shelter. The tale is beautiful and worth a peek.
“For eight weeks we gave away meals. People were waiting in line,” he says.
For five weeks, the meals were given outside the restaurant. When the restaurant reopened, Drago’s moved the effort to Lakeview where the need was greater.
“There were no fast food restaurants, no convenience stores or grocery stores open,” he says. “Most people brought food (from outside the area) Food sources were non-existent.”
In a moment of horror, what is often hidden, good, and bad is revealed. Honorable Americans such as Tommy Cvitanovich are to be thanked for what their endeavors can teach. Some persons pale of skin felt the pain of the poorer, less protected population. However, when the waters receded, might residents of the United States inquire; would benevolence still prosper.
Several, such a Tommy Cvitanovich might show compassion as they had done in the past. Yet, we cannot be certain.
In America, sweetness is often subdued by racism. Much is restrained, not realized, or hidden from view when consternation is prevalent. When people react to anxiety, rather than act and discover we are not that different, we have what we had in Algiers Point, guns ablaze
Inside and outside of a New Orleans enclave, Caucasians are challenged to conceive that persons of color did not seek to violate the law. Indeed, white vigilantes victimized those who have, for centuries, been casualties in a civilized American society.
What received less attention from the press and from the paler people is Whites Sought More Katrina Aid Than Blacks. African-Americans, too often buried by the burden of bigotry, did not know that they might be able to apply or appeal a decision for inadequate assistance. Nor did some have the means before the tempest to secure property or proper insurance. What also was and remains out of sight are the financial abuses brownish-purplish persons are victim to. Credit is not colorblind.
In America, privilege is a white man’s prerogative. Prosecution is reserved for “other” races.
Tulane University Historian Lance Hill, who runs Tulane’s Southern Institute for Education and Research, has studied the city’s racial divide. He understands why Algiers Point gunmen have avoided arrest. “By and large, I think the white mentality is that these people [the Anglo lawbreakers] are exempt–that even if they committed these crimes, they’re really exempt from any kind of legal repercussion.” People of color only commit crime, in the mind of many.
Professor Hill ponders and proclaims; “It’s sad to say, but I think that if any of these cases went to trial, and none of them have, I can’t see a white person being convicted of any kind of crime against an African-American during that period.” Such is the sound of silence. When people are blind, or white, racism becomes a more colorful spectrum.
The stories of Algiers Point, and the plight of Katrina, tell a tale too terrible to imagine. Perchance, that is why in America people prefer to remain colormute. To report as The Nation did is to attest to what most prefer to hide. Racism remains rampant in the land of opportunity. In a country considered great, bigotry is not criminal. Fear is not a felony. Trepidation, even with a gun in hand, and shots fired, is fine in United States.
Apparently, as long as Caucasian citizens transgress only against the unfamiliar, the supposed unruly, persons whose only crime is that his or her skin color is not white will suffer fates so ghastly, even storm waters will not wash the stain away.
Please peruse the portrait of America, “Katrina’s Hidden Race War.” Ponder what might be too true. If Americans do not love thy neighbor, if fright rules, no one is authentically free and fewer are brave.
References for Racism . . .
- “Katrina’s Hidden Race War,” By A.C. Thompson The Nation.December 17, 2008 – January 5, 2009
- Racism on Yahoo News, By Matthew Wheeland. AlterNet. August 31, 2005, 10:47 AM
- Racism. Flickr.
- Katrina Victims Unwelcome in Fresno. Fox News. October 4, 2005
- Katrina Victims Blamed for Houston Crime, By Paul J. Weber. Associated Press. The Washington Post. August 15, 2006
- Whites Sought More Katrina Aid Than Blacks. CBS News. October 24, 2006
- Black Americans given less access to credit, report finds, By Gail Liberman and Alan Lavine. Market Watch. April 15, 2008