Thursday, September 08, 2005

Thoughts on Katrina Victims

There's a lot of speculation coming out of the situation in New Orleans; it's led me to do some thinking of my own.

Two very different views from Orthodox Christians can be found here and here regarding the state of the thousands of victims that were stranded in New Orleans.

As usual, I find myself somewhere in the middle in terms of what I stress in these situations.

I, for one, find it inconceivable that, in the face of such a potentially fatal catastrophe, a man would not, even if desperately poor, sell all he yet had if only to buy bus fare out of town for himself and his family. I suppose this comes from the example given to me by my dear mother, who worked two jobs all through my K-12 years in order to afford the small apartments I grew up in. We were not rich by any stretch of the imagination. On the contrary; we were, relatively speaking, rather poor. Yet I saw in that woman an absolute resistance to adverse situations that, though she perhaps did not always act in the most prudent or practical manner to resolve said situations, absolutely drove her to do what was necessary to make ends meet. It is from this upbringing that this incredulity springs; I simply cannot fathom why so many would stay, citing insufficient funds as a reason. The mere thought of my family being destroyed by anything would drive me to do whatever was needed to avoid it.

Yet there is, undoubtedly, an unlevel playing field when it comes to certain groups of people and generationally-engrained approaches to life. Tragically, this often is marked by race, especially in the South, where the infamous and evil blight of slavery--which forbade that blacks learn to read, write or "cipher"--began a habitual neglect of rigorous academic pursuit among many African Americans. Of course, we know the great achievements of Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison and many others; there is no denying that African Americans from poor upbringings can achieve and have achieved academic heights that rival and often surpass those of privileged whites. Yet it seems--and I say this as a schoolteacher whose students are almost all black--that many of the poorer black students are addicted to the idea that all things must come easily (for they are poor and lack the means to gain the finer things in life) and that, if it does not, it is not worth struggling for (for such a struggle would inevitably end in failure). These students are perfectly content to slide by, barely passing (if that), and many times refuse to believe in themselves enough to give themselves a fighting chance.

I do wonder if this had anything to do with why many poorer citizens of New Orleans did not undertake the admittedly daunting task of preparing what little they had and fleeing by any means possible. Perhaps there was doubt as to whether they could actually raise enough money. Perhaps the doubt lay in whether they could arrange for a suitable place to stay outside the city. I do not know, but I believe this reluctance to actively and aggressively engage adverse situations is a cross. For any impoverished African American, young or otherwise, who comes from a home life which discourages academic success and higher levels of thinking, it will not be an easy road. Perhaps assistance from outside sources--church, government, etc.--will be needed, as is often the case (even Christ had a Simon of Cyrene at His side). Yet perhaps by bearing this cross redemption can come.

My apologies if I have offended anyone by this message. Your thoughts would be appreciated...

7 comments:

alana said...

These are things I wonder myself. I look around and scratch my head. We live in a poor neighborhood (partly so that we can afford to have me stay home, and partly because we refuse to keep up with any Joneses), and the school my kids go to is academically "below standards". We had the option of sending them to a different school, but choose not to, because my children themselves are academically excellent. It seems home environment REALLY makes the difference in whether a kid can learn well or not.

I would hazard to say that perhaps in the case of hurricaen Katrina, it never occurred to some people to leave, and it possibly never occurred to the government or private agencies to offer a means by which the very poor could leave...Just because it's never been necessary before.

When a person (or a culture/society) is "depressed" one looses the ability to think creatively about problem solving, even/especially in a crisis situation. It's like you bump up against the same wall over and over again and you can't see to take two steps to one side to go around it. You forget/don't know how to look at different options. I think there was a good bit of that going on as well.

It's not politically correct to point fingers at a traditionally poor culture (no matter what the race) and say: "Geez, why don't you do XY and Z to overcome this cycle of poverty. It would take one generation, dude!) but from the outside looking in, sometimes it seems that simple. But for the persons trapped in that, it's not so simple. It'd be like someone looking at me and saying: Just do X, Y, and Z and you'll be thin. I have a whole string of reasons (excuses?) why X,Y, and Z...or at least MY VERSIONS of X,Y, and Z) don't work.

Might the same apply?

Anthony said...

While I think that there may have been an element of not putting every ounce of energy into leaving, there is the option that many of the people literally had nothing to gather up and leave. My guess is that may have been the case with many.

I do appreciate your example of the cycle of poverty (why try hard if every attempt at trying hard leads to failure). One thing I've often thought of is that many people (and I include myself, I am shamed to admit) point to adults in "poor communities" and point the finger at them all while we feel sorry for the children. My question is at what point do we stop feeling sorry for those children and begin pointing fingers? Or, when do the guiltless children become adults who carry blame?

Philippa said...

Byran Peter, some of what you wrote I agree with. Some of I completely disagree with.

I agree that it is beyond comprehension that a man would not do all he could to get his family and himself to safety. I cannot fathom why the Mayor of New Orleans did not have a forced evacuation with all the predictions about Katrina's strength. Now he has the forced removal of people from their homes and still some refuse to leave! Ludicrous!

I disagree about the unlevel playing field. I do not agree that slavery began a habitual neglect of rigorous academics. There were too many people in slavery who went against what the plantation owners rule was and learned to read in secret and then taught their children in secret. When someone wants to learn, they find a way! Outside assistance is a good idea. But I am sure it's been offered. It will only work if the people who need it, accept it. And many don't think they need anything!

I disagree that it is only poor black children are addicted to the idea that all things must come easy. I think it is wrong to single out the race in that way. I think it is ALL of our current generation and that which comes behind us that has that "sense of entitlement" and race doesn't even come into the picture.

My children were quite content to slide by in school and both have high IQ's, one at 140. That one has flunked out of college! If it was a lot of work, neither one wanted to do it. They are lazy. And it is not because we parents are lazy. Not at all. It is not because they weren't taught to work hard because they were. It is the generation of "instant gratification." The microwave age. I want my chocolate cake and can have it in 15 seconds. If I have to wait for anything, then God help the person who made me wait for there shall be hell to pay when I get whatever I was waiting for. Why should kids struggle? They get cell phones in elementary school, Ipods, Sega, or whatever the latest fad gadget is. Heck they are having sex in elementary school, buying dope, wearing Hilfiger and everything else!!! And their parents do the same thing!

I think the blame is placed on economics, and the good Lord knows that economics plays a big part in what people can or cannot accomplish. But that being said, more than a few people, all of who you list, rose above the poverty. My grandparents did. My father did. My mother did. I was fortunate enough to not suffer poverty, nor have my children. Sometimes I can't help but wonder if we should have. The best Christmas we ever had was when we didn't have anything to give because the hubster was out of work.

Our local paper interviewed a young man who lived in New Orleans but was a native of PA. He has returned home because his home was lost. He said he didn't believe all the media hype about how bad the hurricane was supposed to be, thus did not evacuate. I blame this on the media and weather prognosticators. They blow everything into some huge proportion all the time so that when something huge comes along, no one listens.

Don't always cry wolf because when the wolf comes, no one will believe you. THAT I think is a major part of the issue.

David Bryan said...

Philippa,

Thanks for your well-thought-out post. Some comments on your comments, which are in bold:

I disagree about the unlevel playing field. I do not agree that slavery began a habitual neglect of rigorous academics. There were too many people in slavery who went against what the plantation owners rule was and learned to read in secret and then taught their children in secret.

This is definitely true (and admirable), but I would see this much more as the notable exception rather than the rule. There's a reason many slaves who were educated in secret were called "uppity n*****s." It's what's called the "Crawdaddy syndrome" in the South; when one starts to climb out of the bucket, the others often pull them back in. While some have seen past the added hardships of prejudice from those in power and economic disenfranchisement, many slaves accepted the label given them of poor, stupid men and women who were doomed never to rise to the level of their former masters.

I disagree that it is only poor black children are addicted to the idea that all things must come easy.

I disagree with this idea, too; it was not, if I remember correctly, the idea I put forth. I said that the idea was present among many generationally poor African Americans; I never said it was exclusive to said group.

I think it is wrong to single out the race in that way.

The only reason I focused in on African Americans was because the current racial strife in New Orleans is centered on accusations of help not coming ASAP because poor black people were the ones involved. I freely admit the problem is equally there in poorer white and Hispanic communities, but these latter two were not the subject of the matter at hand.

Heck they are having sex in elementary school, buying dope, wearing Hilfiger and everything else!!! And their parents do the same thing!

I think you hit the nail on the head with that last sentence; it was the point I made in my post; the attitudes of the parents are what primarily determines how kids act. The fact that many affluent kids are lazy is an entirely different issue: the poorer kids don't think they have the power to do anything with their lives, while the richer kids know they have the resources to avoid having to do anything with their lives themselves.

I think the blame is placed on economics, and the good Lord knows that economics plays a big part in what people can or cannot accomplish. But that being said, more than a few people, all of who you list, rose above the poverty.

I said it could be done. What needs to be acknowledged is that this is often the praiseworthy exception to the rule. Said rule usually ensures, however, that the majority of those it oppresses will remain in discouraging ignorance until something drastic happens. Maybe not even then.

He said he didn't believe all the media hype about how bad the hurricane was supposed to be, thus did not evacuate. I blame this on the media and weather prognosticators. They blow everything into some huge proportion all the time so that when something huge comes along, no one listens.

Funny; I heard that the media's downplaying of Katrina's intensity is what caused many to stay, as well as what (supposedly) caused the delay in the Feds' response to Katrina's aftermath.

Philippa said...

Thanks for the feedback and dialogue Bryan Peter. I appreciate them. I shall continue to think about what you wrote. I obviously don't know much about southern thinking having been a "Damn Yankee" all my life! :-)

David Bryan said...

Hey, thanks for commenting! And don't feel bad: nobody's perfect. ::grin::

Paige said...

Philippa,

In my experience, the only thing that people from up North need to understand about Southerners, but don't, is that Southerners are generally happy to be Southerners. I read a great paper once (should've written the bibliographic information down, but didn't) about how a hugely disproportionate number of TV and movie families live in either NYC or California, leading folks in those areas to assume that the rest of us want to live there. Of course that's silly--it's a free country and I could move to New York this afternoon if I felt like it--but I've encountered that attitude myself from New Yorkers.

Regarding media coverage, I tend to blow off storm warnings because of media hype. You can only spend so many nights in the basement for no good reason before you stop believing the tornado warnings on TV. Hurricane coverage is even worse. I mean, Katrina was all over the news beforehand, but so were half a dozen storms this year that barely did anything.

As an aside, a few years ago my hometown was hit by a serious tornado. People died, and homes and businesses were destroyed. The only semi-local TV station didn't have weekend news at the time, and relied on an un-manned satellite feed and pre-recorded local stuff for weekend programming, so there was no mention of a tornado at all from them. The local radio station was also on sattelite feed for the weekend, so nothing there either. Not that I would've done anything had a warning been issued, but it would've been a nice gesture.