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Hurricanes Are Handy!

For stealing land and whitening up a place.

By Charles Demers 10 May 2006 | TheTyee.ca

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Vaguely humanitarian superhunk Brad Pitt made headlines recently when he announced that he would be offering up money to back eco-friendly designs for the reconstruction of New Orleans - which is great, really, because isn't it about time that the residents of New Orleans gave a little something back to an environment that's treated them so well?

All kidding aside, I generally see no problem with Pitt trying to make the reconstructed city greener; his countrymen are already working double time to make sure it's whiter. "Reconstruction" is, of course, a tragically ironic term for what's quickly becoming the grossest manifestation of American apartheid since Birmingham, too, was flooded (by firehoses).

Just a few days after the star of Ocean's Twelve - all this water imagery these Americans have got! It's a wonder Maude Barlowe thinks they're going to steal ours! - hit the newswires with his eco-philanthropy, the New York Times reported that FEMA was cutting housing-voucher benefits to African-American refugees from New Orleans. Meanwhile, a disenfranchisement of black votes that makes Florida look like a state full of freedom riders is going on in the Big Easy's municipal elections. It's now official: musician Kanye West's Katrina-benefit assertion that "George Bush doesn't care about black people" was a hysterical understatement. The goings-on around Katrina continue to play out like DVD commentary for The Birth of a Nation.

Karma blows

So, whence springs this crisis in black America? The Dalai Lama, darling to the Free Tibet left, famously quipped that since all things are karmic, the residents of New Orleans (or their past incarnations) would had to have had something to do with it (his thoughts were later echoed by another spiritual leader speaking in enigmatic riddles, Curtis " 50 Cent" Jackson). The ever-luminous and Jello-filled Bill Cosby has chastised New Orleans' black residents, as is his wont, claiming that they "were impregnating our 13, 12, 11-year-old children" before the hurricane hit.

Personally, in my capacity as a white man, I am inclined to look for the causes of African-American crises in rap music - particularly the tendency in hip hop which glorifies a self-destructive and unhealthy lifestyle, often revolving around living in cities that will be hit by hurricanes. All it takes is some gold-toothed rapscallion to convince these kids that getting drowned in a hurricane is cool (or "dope" as they say) and suddenly everyone wants to be driven out of their homes. For more on my anthropological musings on our dark-skinned neighbours, please refer to my upcoming master's thesis "Pimp my Levee".

Canadians are nicer

But enough about what white people - and folks like Cosby, so vicious that they may as well be white - think. Sane black progressives such as the luminaries at The Black Commentator are lucidly but urgently making the case that Hurricane Katrina is the salient expression of black disenfranchisement for this generation. And the cutting of the FEMA housing vouchers, as well as the municipal elections, outline the continued existence of racist structures that most white North Americans like to believe died just before Martin Luther King, Jr. In white mythology, the civil rights movement eliminated structural apartheid and racism migrated to the world of personal prejudice and sometimes-unpleasant anecdotes.

But this isn't some Korean shopkeeper eyeing his black customers more than his white ones, or an old man using the term "coloured" in salon conversation. This is a massive collusion of municipal, state, federal and private sector forces in order to take advantage of a semi-natural disaster and transform it into the expulsion of black people from their own land.

All this, of course, is reason for we Canadians to feel smugly superior to American whites. After all, we wouldn't ever think of doing something like that up here. If we wanted to, say, steal Indian land, we wouldn't cynically wait for a massive flood or high winds to drive the natives out. We'd just send in the Ontario Provincial Police. Or, if we wanted a whole bunch of land, we could host the Olympics. But we'd never resort to using a hurricane. That's sick.

Charles Demers is a Vancouver comic and founding editor of Seven Oaks Magazine.  [Tyee]

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