By Eyitayo Onifade, MSW
Director of Social Policy Advocacy Initiative
So it begins, the finger-pointing, the pointed denials, the scapegoating. We are less than two weeks into what will go down as the worst natural disaster in American history, a natural disaster compounded by human error on a galactic scale. Estimates of the dead number in the tens of thousands. We sit, stand, and pace while transfixed by digital images of dozens of brown bodies floating in stagnant oily water. Whilst pundits wax eloquent about accountability, the difference between refugees and evacuees, and the likely future of pets left behind; we are told that the damage to New Orleans will likely cost us in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Public health officials issue edicts, warning of coming epidemics like cholera that read like a Michael Crichton novel or worse yet, a World Health Organization report on a village ravaged by some unidentified microbe that jumped from beast to man. And to hear some tell it, imminent domain laws may be used to seize the land of these victims; the mind is not eased when one considers the fact that many of the survivors have been shipped as far away from New
Orleans as Michigan. No wonder many of the elderly have decided they would rather stay in the disaster area than become refugees. After all what rationale being would prefer to be resettled by human forces, one neither sees nor is recognized by as anything more than a looter or refugee.
And all of this has left Black Society bewildered, frustrated and finally angry.
Black Society’s communal psychology has had moments of sanity. We challenged the use of the term refugee to describe American survivors. We quickly identified the government’s role in exacerbating this disaster.
And now we are in fact holding the responsible parties accountable by calling for the dismissal of FEMA head, Mike Brown, at the very least or as much as the impeachment of George Bush.
However, while we are justified and in fact correct in identifying the external factors that caused so much calamity for our fellow Americans; we must not stop there. As hard as it will be, Black Folk have to consider the
real ramifications of “Bush not caring about Black people.”? If we truly do not believe that our chosen government has our best interest at heart, how can we in good conscience continue relying on it for survival?
We must start asking ourselves tough questions, like why when the Federal Government drug its feet in responding to this crisis, did we have to fall back on the Red Cross to take care of our people? Where was the NAACP, Urban League or the G-Unit in our greatest moment of need? This is not so much a question predicated on a criticism of their response, as much as it is an invitation for us explore the whys and wherefores of how come our premiere social action organizations lacked the capacity and expertise to deal with a foreseeable threat to the very people they proclaim to protect. Why are we
not using our resources to protect and take care of ourselves?
For the most part, our leadership has been reduced to mere
“commentators” on our conditions, competing for airtime with the likes of rappers and stories about lost pets. We as a people are in a strange place right now. We are watching brothers and sisters quarantined in Football stadiums, like foreigners in a strange land as though “these people” do not have families that can spare them a soft bed and hot meal.
When the attacks on 9-11 occurred, our country drew together in mourning and commitment to action. From innocuous displays of patriotism like emblazing US flags on our automobiles to Acts of Congress re-organizing our system of securing the homeland. Will Black Folk wrestle some positives from the clutches of this tragedy? Will we don black empowerment pins or detail our cars with stickers of Black fingers balled together into a fist symbolizing the power of unity. More importantly, will we use our half trillion-dollar economy to mobilize all our intellectual capital in the form of environmental health scientists, urban planners, politicians and professionals to form Policy Institutes and Social Action Organizations that form the backbone of any strategic thinking peoples? Or, will we continue to know and understand, “Bush doesn’t care about black people’? yet depend on his ilk for our very survival?
Eyitayo Onifade, M.S.W, Director of Social Policy Advocacy Initiative is a graduate student in the Community Psychology Department at Michigan State University. He amy be reached at email@example.com.