Friday, August 29, 2008

Katrina, Obama, and the Civil Rights Industrial Complex

Today is the third anniversary of Katrina. My husband's entire family lived in New Orleans (and my family is just a couple of hours away in Lafayette, La). His childhood homes, his mother's house and his grandparents' house, are both in the 9th ward, not far from the Industrial Canal. Both homes were lost. My mother-in-law, three years later, still hasn't recovered. She may never again live in the city she's left only a handful of times since 1936. His entire faimly may never again live in one place, as they have and so many other Gulf Coast families have, for generations. That fact is profoundly heartbreaking, not just because it is happening to my family, but because it is needlessly happening to thousands of families. That's what's on my mind as I think about who I want to be the next president of the United States.

Last night, after Obama's amazing acceptance speech, I was watching Tavis Smiley's show on PBS and saw Cornel West and Julianne Malveaux express their disappointment, even their disdain, for Obama's words. Because he didn't mention King's name (though he did invoke his memory and quote his words) and because he didn't mention the anniversary of Katrina (though he did chastise a country and government who allowed a city to drown before its eyes) they saw him as running awy from history and memory and "whitewashing" his legacy. I yelled so much at the television that I woke up the baby and had to be sent to bed.

Ta-Nehesi Coates, has this to say:
What I see there is a reaction more out of anger than any real consideration of strategy. The thing about Barack is that for all his rhetoric, he's a pragmatist, and he's a politician. Half the reason for having John Lewis, for having the film of MLK, for having MLK's kids is so that Obama is free to focus on winning the election. I don't think you do that but making the speech a paean to MLK--God bless him. How many votes is that going to get you? When you're on the battlefield, you don't pause put down your sword and sheild to praise God for allowing you the privelige of being there. Do that after the battle's won.

Let me add this: people continue to assume that Obama is capturing the black vote simply because he walks around with brown skin. That's bullshit. He's capturing the black vote because he recognizes that black people in 2008 have dreams too. I don't dream only having my child judged by the content of her character rather than the color of her skin. I also have a dream that I can pay the mortgage, that I can afford to bring sick children to the doctor, that I will be able to put my kids through college, that my girls will have a clean, healthy planet to live on, that we elect leaders who will prevent us from living in an Octavia Butler novel. It seems petty and short-sighted (not to mention horribly bad strategy) to think that his acceptance speech was the time for Obama to beat the drum of blackness. Black people heard him and understood. We want him to win, not because he's black, but because we want to live in a different, better country than the what we have now. The beating of the drums can come later.


Carleen Brice said...


Anonymous said...

and amen!