By Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe

Thursday, September 14, 2005


The slimy and toxic water covering much of New Orleans does not stink nearly
as much as the slimy and toxic accusation that help didn't reach the victims
of Hurricane Katrina quickly enough because most of those victims were

It is a sickening slander, especially since there is no evidence to back it
up. Worse than sickening: It is hateful. It is a libel spread not in a
spirit of constructive criticism, but to inflame racial bitterness --
bitterness toward American society generally and toward the Bush
administration in particular. Already, a new poll by the Pew Research Center
finds that two-thirds of black Americans think the government would have
responded faster if most of the victims had been white.

Why wouldn't they think it? For nearly two weeks that false charge has been
leveled over and over, sometimes with breathtaking malice and

(*) "I saw 5,000 African Americans on the I-10 causeway," Jesse Jackson
told CNN. "It looked like Africans in the hull of a slave ship." He later
repeated that incendiary comparison on ABC's "Good Morning America," adding
the ugly allegation that when churches were contacted about helping some of
the victims, the first thing they wanted to know was, "Are they black or

(*) Randall Robinson, the former head of TransAfrica, wrote at The
Huffington Post, a left-wing blog: "It is reported that black hurricane
victims in New Orleans have begun eating corpses to survive . . . . This is
what we have come to. This defining watershed moment in America's racial
history." He continued in that vein, concluding that America could finally
be seen "for what it really is. A monstrous fraud." Robinson later retracted
his insane cannibalism charge -- but said that he continues to "stand behind
everything else I wrote without reservation."

(*) Rapper Kanye West went on a tirade during NBC's hurricane relief
telethon. "I hate the way they portray us in the media," he began. The
arrival of National Guardsmen in New Orleans meant that "they've given them
permission to go down and shoot us. . . . George Bush doesn't care about
black people."

(*) A syndicated cartoon by Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta
Journal-Constitution showed a crowded bus upended in the floodwaters, Uncle
Sam at the wheel and a US flag emblazoned on its side. While black
passengers drown in the vehicle's submerged rear, the whites up front stay
dry and safe. That this is no accident is made clear by Luckovich's Jim
Crow-evoking title: "Back of the bus."

This America-as-lethally-racist theme is as factually dishonest as it is
morally grotesque. No one denies that most of those stranded in New Orleans
were black, but that is because two-thirds of the city's residents --
326,000 out of a population of 485,000 -- were black. By the same token,
most of those who got out before the disaster struck were also black.

Katrina devastated more than black-majority Orleans Parish. Four other
Louisiana parishes and three coastal Mississippi counties, all with
substantial white majorities, suffered heavily too. Government relief
reached them no faster than it did New Orleans. If this were truly a racist
country, it would have.

But those with an interest in perpetuating the idea that the chief cause of
black misfortune is an American culture that "doesn't care about black
people" decry racism whether it exists or not. "The ugly truth," declared
Democratic chairman Howard Dean, "is that skin color, age, and economics
played a significant role in who survived and who did not." Likewise US
Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat: "If anyone ever doubted
that there are two Americas, this disaster and our government's shameful
response to it have made the division clear for all to see."

Well, there are two Americas, all right. One is the America of Lee, Dean,
and Jackson, in which color is paramount and no time is the wrong time to
play the race card.

The other is the America that has opened its hearts and wallets in a torrent
of generosity and compassion for Katrina's victims. As of Monday, reports
the Chronicle of Philanthropy, more than $800 million had been donated, a
pace of giving without precedent in American history. And that includes only
the monetary contributions. There are also the immense offerings of in-kind
goods of every description -- clothing, food, medicine, dishes, telephones,
toys. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers have enlisted in the relief
effort. Americans across the country have opened their homes to evacuees
from New Orleans. In the words of a Red Cross spokeswoman, "People are just
pouring their hearts out."

*And all without the slightest regard to race.*

Americans of every color are helping Americans of every color , loving their
neighbors as themselves, and proving by their selflessness yet again that
racism is dead as a force in mainstream American life.

(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)