Friday, September 02, 2005

Re: Triage after New Orleans. It's not about Race

It’s Not About Race

By Fred Owens

For the people directly involved in helping the victims of the disaster in New Orleans, it’s very important to think clearly. For the rest of us, watching the news, organizing donations, and answering the call to do more than we think we can – we also have to think clearly and make sound judgments.

The faces at the Superdome are black, the refugees trudging in the heat down Interstate Ten are black. “They’re all poor people, they’re all black people,” I found myself saying. But that’s not thinking clearly, because I was taught not to look at people with my eyes. The eyes can fool you into making a harmful distinction.

I was inspired by the civil rights movement of the 1960s which abolished the legal doctrine of racial segregation. At that time I believed we were headed towards a color-blind society and that no law or regulation would ever again make a racial distinction. But just when I thought we had reached the dawn of a new day, our liberal leaders introduced the confounding doctrine of affirmative action.

Words that I understood, words that inspired me – like integration and brotherhood and that all men are equal – these were put aside and replaced with a complicated vocabulary of preferences, quotas and set asides. Tolerance was no longer the goal, but we were supposed to become “inclusive.” I guess we gave up on tolerance because that was too hard. Then we gave up on integration and the melting pot and that silly old slogan “e pluribus unum” that said out of many we will become as one. Instead we turned around and became multi-cultural or multi-confusing, or you live in your neighborhood and I’ll go live in mind. I couldn’t understand it.

Affirmative action became a government industry – clerks were hired, regulations were compiled, computer programs were installed, budgets were drawn up, lawyers sued and counter-sued. But the good will of the people was ignored. There was a golden opportunity in the 1960s, after the civil rights struggle, for people to make a genuine change of heart – for people to truly learn that you can’t see people with your eyes. Many people did improve their character in that way – even though the government programs were working in the opposite direction.

Affirmative action was a very bad idea and one of the reasons liberals aren’t running the country anymore. But I know we’re going to hear those voices during this national crisis, which is the tragedy of New Orleans, voices that cry, “They’re poor and they’re black, and we need to do something special for them.”

No. Hurricane Katrina, the flooding of New Orleans, the evacuation, and the long, long reconstruction – it must never be about race. It’s about people in trouble and how we can help them. It’s about making clear and unbiased distinctions. Looters are criminals who must be dealt with severely. Profiteers and price gougers deserve our contempt. People who are gaming the system to get a little more for themselves – something as simple as cutting in line – those people need firm handling. People with small needs must tough it out on their own.

That leaves a very large number of people who will need help to get back on their feet. I have never seen or faced a 140 mph wind, but I bet it can knock you down pretty good. I know I can help in a small way – I’ve been talking to friends in my community about what we can do. We’re all going to help these people who got knocked down, and they will get back on their feet and resume responsibility just like the rest of us. But it has nothing to do with race. We can do now what we should have done back in the 1960s – make this effort color blind, make it about brotherhood, and make it about one family helping another family. It’s hard to be good, but it’s pretty easy to know what being good is.

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