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The fury in all of us

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, September 7, 2005

As popular news media these days are saturated with images of refugees fleeing destroyed homes and servants providing solace and hope to those afflicted by natural disaster, one must contemplate difficult questions. These queries range from the divine to the political. How would a good God permit such suffering? Why was the federal government so tardy in its relief response?

After a short time, however, our modern American sensibilities prohibit such investigation and demand that constructive energies be directed toward providing aid rather than probing difficult realities. Those who deny “sensible” responses and continue their questioning are considered irresponsible, insensitive and even irreverent.

Yet, I believe that at a time like this, national unity and support must mean more than simply sending checks and resources to folks that need them. While that activity is paramount and cannot be ignored, assistance in a time of crisis often demands that leaders lend their voices to the troubling truths that lay beneath the rubble.

While cursory television coverage chooses to focus narrowly on the malevolent behavior of a few, harsh societal facts go unnoticed. Why it is that much timidity surrounds the assertion that most of the refugee population affected is not only African-American but also low-income? Is there something fundamentally wrong about making this claim? Such a statement would be irrelevant if its emphasis was solely descriptive.

Unfortunately, however, a claim of this magnitude penetrates a substantive truth about the reality of race relations in the United States, and inner cities in particular. Do you know, for example, that close to one-third of New Orleans lives below the poverty line? If I were to tell you that 93 percent of the students at schools in the city are African-American, what would you think? Does it trouble you that residents living up-river on higher ground tended to survive the flooding while those living down-river in shoddy housing units tended to succumb to the water’s fury? Would it be unreasonable to add that the former demographic was largely middle-income and white, while the latter was mostly lower-income and black?

Reflect and permit the anger of these truths to motivate your actions in a positive way.

If popular news is going to continue to cheapen its coverage of this disaster through narrowly framed images and rigidly censored programs (Kanye West was silenced, by the way, for his assertion on NBC’s victims’ tribute program that President Bush does not care about blacks), then our collective responsibility as citizens is to reflect on this tragedy in a more honest, constructive way.

Many will construe my words as politicization of a non-political issue; know that we are the first to say that concern for the victims, regardless of wealth and color, should be primary. Our concern should always motivate our positive actions for those who suffer, and I think that it is operating right now.

Paul Kralovecsenioroff-campusSept. 6