How, in the Katrina debate, can we be talking about racism?

Posted: Sep 12, 2005 12:00 AM

"The charges of racism-inspired foot-dragging isn't just nonsense. It's pernicious nonsense."

This is how the New York Daily News called it regarding charges, from the usual circle of black leaders, that the rescue efforts in New Orleans were slow because the victims were black. The Daily News is right. Except it's even worse than the paper appreciates.

What we are witnessing is a well-honed black political public-relations operation geared to obfuscation, stoking hatred and fear, and nurturing helplessness and dependence among black citizens. Such efforts keep black politicians powerful, diversity businesses prosperous and blacks poor.

The fact that the handling of the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina was a massive botch job at all levels of government is beyond the doubt of any sober observer. Such operations demand precise cooperation and coordination among local, state and federal authorities. It appears evident that the performance at and between each of these levels of government was abysmal.

However, government incompetence isn't news. And, unfortunately, it's also not news when black politicians call it racism when the unfortunate victims of this incompetence, because they are poor and unprepared, are largely black.

It is inconceivable that there could have been some all-knowing racist guiding hand orchestrating the chaos and disorganization that characterized what occurred. Furthermore, how, when black politicians themselves played a prominent role in what happened, can we be talking about racism?

The first line of authority in emergency management, all agree, is local. It appears that Ray Nagin, New Orleans black mayor, was grossly negligent. Existing and detailed written evacuation plans for New Orleans were ignored while the mayor made sporadic decision after decision as if there were no such plans. A fleet of school and transit buses that could have evacuated 12,000 citizens per run was not used and left on low ground and flooded.

Where was black congressman William Jefferson, who has represented New Orleans for eight terms in the U.S. House of Representatives?

Floodwaters poured into New Orleans when the 17th Street Canal levee burst. It had been known and publicized for years that New Orleans was at risk because this levee was not capable of withstanding a Category 5 storm. Making the necessary investment to upgrade this levee required federal funds, and therefore in Jefferson's area of responsibility.

In an interview on "Hannity and Colmes," Jefferson indicated he had been involved in failed efforts over the years to get these funds. However, given the risks to which his constituents were exposed, one would think that the congressman would have been making a lot of noise about this.

But Jefferson is a busy man. He's been the target of an FBI sting operation investigating possible public corruption and the possible illegal pocketing of hundreds of thousands of dollars in payoffs in an international business deal. In a raid on his house, the FBI found a large stash of cash in his freezer. Jefferson's lawyer told the press, "The congressman has lots of contacts. He's involved in advancing a lot of businesses on behalf of his constituents and states and in a number of countries throughout the world."

It's too bad Jefferson couldn't have used his acumen for getting deals done to get the 17th Street Canal levee upgraded.

"Hannity and Colmes" co-host Sean Hannity persisted and asked Jefferson, given his knowledge of the condition of the levee, when "we knew the storm was coming, why didn't we get the people out?"

The congressman's reply: "Well, I'm not sure I know the answers to all those questions."

Jesse Jackson is now touring through Louisiana. Where was he as Katrina thundered toward New Orleans, with a population almost 70 percent black and poor? He was in Venezuela embracing President Hugo Chavez, who the week before was in Cuba visiting his good friend Fidel Castro and who also includes among his friends Zimbabwe's despot, Robert Mugabe.

It's time for those who really care about the condition of blacks to ask hard questions and be honest about the answers.

Our government mechanism for dealing with emergencies must be repaired. The emergency management task for blacks is to get ourselves out of poverty.

If we allow political opportunists to again allege racism to deflect our attention from solving the real problems of fixing our families and educating our children, surely more tragedy awaits us.