Monday, September 12, 2005

Handout or Hand-up?

The Bush administration bristles at the very mention of race playing a factor in the slow response to the disaster on the Gulf Coast of the United States. They find it simply unfathomable that anyone would even mention it. The American people are deeply divided on this subject. Two thirds of African-Americans believe that had this occurred in a predominantly white neighborhood the response would have been faster. On the other side of the coin, two-thirds of white Americans believe that race was not a factor in the slow response. Why the disconnect?

I have to agree that the Bush administration didn’t fall asleep at the switch because a majority of the people stranded were black. I also agree with rapper Kanye West when he says that President Bush doesn’t care about black people. How, you may be asking, do I reconcile those two statements? Simple! Bush didn’t neglect the stranded people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama because they were black; he neglected them because they were poor (and black).

How do I know Bush doesn’t care about black people? How do I know the sun is going to rise tomorrow? I just know. If Bush cared about the African-American community he would recognize that a staggering percentage of the poor people in the south are black. If he cared about this he might consider rolling back his tax cut for the richest 1% of Americans (or as he calls them; his base) and using that extra money to launch a massive anti-poverty initiative, kind of like the one he is funding in Iraq.

This initiative would not have to be the government handouts that Republicans so often rail against (unless it is a handout designed to bail out one of their rich friends, think tax cuts here!). The effort could be designed instead as a “hand-up”. Invest in urban and rural poor communities to improve the educational systems and provide grants and interest free loans to people who want to focus on economic redevelopment in these communities.

Poverty and all of its side effects cannot be alleviated until we get serious about sharing the American Dream with all people in this country. Poverty is not a race issue. There are many, many poor people of all races, but we do need to stop and ask why so many of the people stuck in New Orleans were black. We do need to ask if the situation would have been bungled as badly if the people in New Orleans had been white. Would the genocide in Rwanda have been tolerated if the people had been white? Would the genocide in Bosnia have been tolerated if the people being executed and buried in mass graves had been Christian and not Muslim? These questions are important to reflect upon.

I believe the best way to eliminate poverty is to enable people. Everyone has heard the cliché about giving a man a fish and he eats for a day and teaching a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. Community empowerment and redevelopment sends a compelling message to poor neighborhoods that we are committed to helping them help themselves. Give them pride of ownership and you will find that the crime, vandalism and gang violence that blight poor neighborhoods will decrease. But government investment in communities cannot simply be on beautifying neighborhoods and creating new jobs. We cannot continue to simply slap on a new coat of paint and pretend like the problems have gone off down the yellow brick road.

If there are no educated and skilled workers in these communities then the businesses will either fail or move away. This effort needs to be accompanied massive infusions of capital into education and worker training programs. We need to build more and better schools, and yes I agree with George Bush, we need to hold teachers accountable. But if they are to be held accountable, then we need to equip them with the tools they need to succeed. There is nothing worse then an unfunded mandate coming out of Washington, especially when states and local communities (particularly those that are struggling the most) have no hope of funding these programs themselves.

We need to pony up to the bar and pay the tab. If a couple of rich spoiled Laguna Beach brats have to pay double tax on their inheritance, so be it. More on that soon…


Anonymous said...

Its me, Anish. I agree that Bush neglected that region because most of the voters there are poor, black and Democrat. It is plain to see for anyone with a pulse.

Keep up the great work! I love reading your blogs.

Katrina said...

Good piece, little brother!

Mom said...

Right on.

Eric the Papa said...

This is a good piece, but we know that the US (like most countries) underinvests in infrastructure. Sometimes that just means bumpy roads, but when a city is under sealevel, the consequences can be much more dire.
I think blame for the slow and confused response to the warnings and the actual storm has to be shared at all governmental levels: city, state, and federal. Most of New Orleans' governance is by elected or appointed black (or creole) officials. Most of the people in the city are black and many are poor. So conspiracy theories don't work too well.
Whether the American "model" of cutting the public sector including emergency services, appointing political cronies, underfunding public infrastructure, etc. needs rethinking, I do not doubt. But I also am not holding my breath.