Sunday, September 11, 2005

The poor are a race apart

The race card is on the table in the wake of Katrina. What a tricky card it is. Everyone is treading tippytoe around it, scared to opine lest their words are taken as racist. I still see the refugee issue of New Orleans (ooh, dear, mustn't say "refugee", so many Americans get upset about it - they don't like refuge, preferring "evacuee" which sounds like a bowel movement) as a class phenomenon. The poor are always the ones who have it hard. No matter what their colour. The poor were stuck without transport and without instructions. There are many reasons why people are the underclass and I would always assert that education is common factor. There may be some blacks in the US whose chips on their shoulders are so heavy that they weigh them down. But we have that sort of underclass here, too. Just in much smaller numbers, because we are such smaller numbers. There are also people who are trapped in a cycle of poverty and disenfranchisement. They have known nothing else. A few clamber out and are dazzling. But that is not the issue of the moment. What I am seeing in the post-Katrina coverage on cable is a media which is in a shock of its own at having to report on the inequity of its country. The terrible scale of it. It was not that New Orleans was ill prepared for the disaster or that the Federal authorities were red tape-ridden and incompetent, it was that no one had ever paused to consider that the scale of the underclass in the US is a major disaster in its own right. A proud and confident capitalist country is simply blinkered towards welfare. It's response to its social inequality was the invention of the word "loser". America is about winners. So the losers are swept under the carpet - until something hideous such as Katrina washes them out, and the cosy middle class has to look at them all in their daunting numbers. Shocked and appalled. What they need to know is that most among these displaced masses are good people, loving, kind people. Vital people with interests and skills of their own. And if you want proof of the sweetness and generosity of the poor, just go door-to-door charity collecting. The rich will slam the door in your face. The poor will ask you in, offer a glass of water and scratch around looking for something to give.
If I wished anything from this catastophe, it would be that it became a wake-up to that great nation to review the social welfare, education and health systems so that the poor were not left so helpless.
Black or white, the poor are a race apart.

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