Thursday, September 22, 2005

When Missing Class = Missing the Boat

Or when the lipstick of race is put on the class pig... Oh just go read the October 3, 2005 issue of The Nation. Adolph Reed Jr. cuts through the bullshit of Bush/FEMA/Katrina vs. NOLA like only Mr. Reed can.
What happened in New Orleans is the culmination of twenty-five years of disparagement of any idea of public responsibility; of a concerted effort--led by the right but as part of a bipartisan consensus--to reduce government's functions to enhancing plunder by corporations and the wealthy and punishing everyone else, undermining any notion of social solidarity.

The abstract, moralizing patter about how and whether "race matters" or "the role of race" is appealing partly because it doesn't confront the roots of the bipartisan neoliberal policy regime. It's certainly true that George W. Bush and his minions are indifferent to, or contemptuous of, black Americans in general. They're contemptuous of anyone who is not part of the ruling class. Although Bush and his pals are no doubt small-minded bigots in many ways, the racial dimension stands out so strikingly in part because race is now the most familiar--and apparently for many progressives the most powerful--language of social justice. For roughly a generation it seemed reasonable to expect that defining inequalities in racial terms would provoke some remedial response from the federal government. But for quite some time race's force in national politics has been as a vehicle for reassuring whites that "public" equals some combination of "black," "poor" and "loser"; that cutting public spending is aimed at weaning a lazy black underclass off the dole or--in the supposedly benign, liberal Democratic version--teaching blacks "personal responsibility."
Class will almost certainly turn out to be a better predictor than race of who was able to evacuate, who drowned, who was left to fester in the Superdome or on overpasses, who is stuck in shelters in Houston or Baton Rouge, or who is randomly dispersed to the four winds. I'm certain that class is also a better predictor than race of whose emotional attachments to place will be factored into plans for reconstructing the city.

Race is too blunt an analytical tool even when inequality is expressed in glaring racial disparities. Its meanings are too vague. We can see already that the charges of racial insensitivity and neglect threaten to divert the focus of the Katrina outrage to a secondary debate about how Bush feels about blacks and whether the sources of the travesty visited upon poor New Orleanians were "color blind" or racist. Beyond that, a racial critique can lead nowhere except to demands for black participation in decision-making around reconstruction. But which black people? What plans? Reconstruction on what terms? I've seen too many black- and Latino-led municipal governments and housing authorities fuel real estate speculation with tax giveaways and zoning variances, rationalizing massive displacement of poor and other working-class people with sleight-of-hand about mixed-income occupancy and appeals to the sanctity of market forces.

The only hope we have for turning back the tide of this thuggish Administration's commitment to destroy every bit of social protection that's been won in the past century lies in finding ways to build a broad movement of the vast majority of us who are not part of the investor class. We have to be clear that what happened in New Orleans is an extreme and criminally tragic coming home to roost of the con that cutting public spending makes for a better society. It is a shocking foretaste of a future that many more of us will experience less dramatically, often quietly as individuals, as we lose pensions, union protection, access to healthcare and public education, Social Security, bankruptcy and tort protection, and as we are called upon to feed an endless war machine.


Kate said...

Of course in New Orleans class is defined by race too. Not true for the outlying areas, but for the city it is.

Has Adolf written anything personal about the demise of New Orleans? I'd love to read it if he has. I can imagine he has a number of childhood stories that would illuminate what's been happening there.

Take care y'all...we ought to get together again soon, 'kay?

the professor said...

Actually, unless I'm reading you wrong, you seem to be agreeing with Adolph's central point, which is that the victims of the flooding throughout the Gulf region generally and the state of Louisiana in particular, were disproportionately the poor, regardles of race.

Adolph's got another piece coming out in the Progressive on the hurricane. He doesn't to my knowledge have in print autobiographical stuff on New Orleans--for some of his accouts of the way his activism and scholarship come together you could look at his collection Class Notes.

and yes, let's get together

red rabbit said...

Hmmm...I thought Adolph was saying that class was "a better predictor than race of who was able to evacuate, who drowned, who was left to fester in the Superdome or on overpasses..." etc. While it is clear that this forgotten class in New Orleans is disproportionately black, Adolph is very careful to point out his own "very well connected, petit-bourgeois family in New Orleans" who were able to evacuate and were "fortunate but hardly unique among the city's black population, and class had everything to do with the terms of their survival." Isn't he arguing that talking about this disaster in racial terms is just a diversion from the underlying problem of corporate greed and the government that feeds it endlessly while ignoring its responsibility to the rest of us?

Kate said...

I was agreeing with Adolph's point. I'm sorry if it sounded like I wasn't! I don't think it's not bad to talk about race too, of course, given that so much of what happened afterwards was related to race, like the New Orleanians who were refused entry into Gretna by a handful of sheriff's deputies. The two white people with that group said it was about race because some of the law enforcement officers made racist remarks and because out of the 150+ people on the bridge, all were black except for the two of them.

I hope we talk about corporate greed and the ongoing robbery by Bush's corporate thugs. It's outrageous!! I fear, though, that no matter how horrendous our government's reaction to Katrina was, nothing will change until we get a new administration. They're a bunch of gangsters. They'll continue to hand out money to their friends and pillage the country until they're thrown out.

Thanks for the tip to Adolph's book, Prof. I'll definitely check it out. I was just hoping he'd written something about the city after the hurricane. I'd much rather read his recollections than Anne Rice's or John Grisham's. Oh well!