The race men are at it again, turning the tragedy of New Orleans into a morality tale about racism in America. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Rep. Maxine Waters (who qualifies, despite her gender), rapper Kanye West, and a host of lesser-known black leaders and spokesmen were quick to see racism in the agonizingly slow evacuation of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Jackson compared the situation at the infamous Superdome to "the hull of a slave ship." West ranted that "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Even Sen. Barack Obama, who initially said that class was the biggest factor in why many New Orleans residents failed to make it out of the city before disaster struck, seemed to blame the president for racial insensitivity. "I mean, it's puzzling, given his immediate response during 9/11, that he did not feel a greater sense of empathy towards the folks that were experiencing this enormous disaster," Obama said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday.
But if there was any real lesson about the effects of racism to be learned from this tragedy, it is that American generosity is colorblind. Americans of all colors have opened their hearts, their pocketbooks and their homes to those who have lost everything to nature's fury. To date, Americans have donated nearly $1 billion in private aid, and the federal government has committed an additional $60 billion to the victims, the most visible of whom were the mostly black residents stranded in New Orleans.
Even the pictures that emerged as victims were being rescued belied any hint of racism. Most of the National Guardsmen and other military personnel saving lives were white, while most of those being saved were black, not surprising given the demographics of the respective groups. Blacks made up 68 percent of New Orleans' population, but only about 20 percent of all military personnel and an even smaller proportion of National Guard troops.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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