Subject: USA/Africa Dialogue, No. 1084: Black leadership and the hurricane
Date: September 6, 2005 3:49:39 PM CDT
To: Recipient List Suppressed:;

Anthony Agbali:

I think for the first time I can absolutely agree with Professor Ayittey. However, I think that race still matters and it would be too early to discard it as seemingly insignificant. My assumption is that it cannot be simply discounted but neither can it be absolutely relied upon as a total and convenient explanatory of the current situation. These are cogent questions, which I was asking myself once I began to read Dr. Morris' piece in this dialogue. Then I opened Ayittey's and here they are textually scripted. On a personal note, became cognitively aware that such absolutization of race, constitures a faulty attitude, if and every situation become entangled with it.

I realized this faulty nature of this line of argument, when it becomes totalizing, some years back while taking a class on Urban poverty and segregation when it was fanatically underlined that "racial residential segregation" constitutes the fundamental reason for the incidence of concentrated poverty in many American inner cities, especially in the North and specifically Midwest. I felt that even degraded the ability of black people to develop and adapt creatively and resilient as social actors capable of transcending despicable situations in doing amazing things. I questioned myself how many whites did Charles Drew, need to be residentially around to evolve his blood plasma scheme that has led to blood transfusion today? How many affirming whites enabled Rosa Park to act creatively and help mobilize civil rights as a movement, and later as a legislature? How many whites did Muhammed Ali had to live with to make his name in boxing- I know that his blackness and conversion to Islam (Nation of Islam specifically was a problem?

I wondered out loud then, why it is that when whites move out of an area, a death decree is already passed, given that black residents of such areas act to script. Why can blacks not develop on their own, but must depend on whites, I often mused. Yet, I understood the historical trajectories intellectually, though sometimes at the emotive level confused about the real situation. However, the effect of long years of subjugation, integration of negativity and inferiority complex, systematic manipulation of hegemony based on race and class politics, all boosts the accurate predictability of such assumptions. One only has to glimpse at East Austin, East St. Louis, East Cleveland, Southside Chicago, and Inner city Detroit to sadly agree.

Yes, while understanding the dynamics that made race a significant reason for the development of concentrated poverty, I realized that the fact that I do not live with someone from my own race and ethnicity does not lead in fact to my virtual lack of development, if I use my values and social capital to build my community, alongside others. Yet, in spite of such thoughts I realize that race remains a factor, in terms of the mode of the distribution of resources and the use of hegemonic order to construct the domains of relevance and those considered irrelevant.

I was faced with the same question, when seeing the images of the looting on the TV I saw that most of these were being carried out by those supposedly in despair and desperately in need of help, at least basic survival. Initially, seeing this "Baghadadized" situation on American soil, typically imagined as a third world phenomenon- of which New Orleans and other afflicted cities have been equated-was shocking. I came to one conclusion that desperate people, regardless of the complexity of social organization, the assumed stability and integration of a democratic culture are capable of anything, under the most dire situations.

Yet, I was appalled by the incessant news of rape and other violations of bodily integrity. I could not, for the life of me, fathom how people left to die would begin to hurt themselves and demean themselves rather than constitute a kind of Durkheimian "organic solidarity." Rather, what we saw was disgusting. Relief workers and helicopters were shot at, making life even more difficult for the already suffering and abandoned people of New Orleans. I was speechless as to the level of human degeneration in the midst of a deploration situation such as those of New Orleans, and other affected cities like Bay St. Louis, and Billoxi.

I realized that these militia groups are no different from the militant insurgents in Baghadah, except that this was all happening on American soil. Again, I made back to history as to the nature of the perception of Americanness and the possibility of its skin-deep integration, once the basic contract between the citizens and the state is disrupted. What we saw was the Feds, the visible representation of the state being shot at, whereas, some of the hardworking and traumatic New Orleans Police officers were handing over their badge, because they found it impossible to believe not the enormity of the disasater but the disconnectedness of their political institutions.

Yes, there is a failure of the political institution and the President himself owned up. Recent news seem to show that there was no visible plan or efforts to ensure relief gets to the stranded. Rather, the first instinct was the attempt to blame those left behind in New Orleans, as if "good for you, you got the warning to leave town, you decided to remain, that is your issue." Thus, rather than quickly discard race as a factor, it would be interesting to await an investigation as promised by the President. The President noted he wants to 'get on top" of the breakdown. Now, was FEMA and its leadership incompetent? Was the state of Lousiana to blame? Or is it the New Orleans city? Was the city not aided quickly by the Feds because of political reason, given that the governor is Democrat, as the city too? There are quite a lot of dimensions that only a veritable investigation should help us understand what happened here.

I agree that private individuals, organizations, and corporate groups need to assist and that our black leaders should be more pro-active and visible. However, we must be quick to assert that the contract between the citizens and the state is such an important one, and so the criticism against the government and its institutions is not a misplaced one. Evidently, given the noted Hurricane vulnerability of New Orleans and other cities mainly in the South, the Fed government and the city should have long worked on a city evacuation plan when a disaster of such magnitude came calling.

Thus, in the aftermath of the noxiously majestic drive of Hurrican Queen Katrina- I think that our feminists should not just get angry just yet, given that the feminization of this hurricane is one associated with such magnititude of destructions. The masculinized Hurricane Andrew sometimes ago equally wrecked much havoc- the porosity of such relationship has become unmasked. Americans are wondering and asking appropriate questions of their government, knowing that in the near future, they too might be subject to similar situations and be left stranded. Black leaders, while they need to be responsible, do not necessarily have to be as accountable as the government to the people with which they are contracted and bound to protect.

Nonetheless, black leaders are not to left off the hook. As acclaimed leaders, they need to be there with these dejected people giving them hope and offering solace. They need not only talk the talk of political convenience, inducing racism at the slightest opportunity, they need to walk the road of compassion, empathy, and responsibility alongside these people. The convenience of inducing the race-cards and they playing the class-card is not simply acceptable. You know, I do not want to name names, but Dr. Ayittey did. I remember the day Michael Jackson was acquited by the jury of his molestation charges. I was in the hospital in a patient room, and all through the hallway, black employees congregated peeping at the TV inside pt's room. As each charge was dismissed as not-guilty, I could hear the hissed shouts of "Thank you, Jesus." Rightfully so, they stood for their person, a celebrity, assumed racial icon, and a fictive kin (without direct blood lineage connections). Now, I wonder how Michael Jackson is standing with these folks. Not long ago, Oprah Winfrey, went to a Paris Harold store and sang the dirges noting that she was racially discriminated against, hoping to mobilize some members of her race constituency to volley her rancous rally against the store, and maybe the French. Now, is the real time to rally her folks, those not so lucky to earn her GM car hand-outs. On this note, Ayittey has driven a nail into a matter long avoided but fervently significant.

The reality is, it is time for everyone to work together to offer hope and service to those displaced, and to give honor to those who have died following this incidence. All must help, so must we, in any way that we can, and I know we have the capability and resilience.