Sunday, September 04, 2005

Katrina Viewed From Abroad

Time and time again, America has been forced to wake up to the racial injustice which has been its historic curse. It was the source of a civil war in the 19th century and of repeated battles through the 20th. From the desegregation and civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s to the Los Angeles riots and even the OJ Simpson trial of the 1990s, America has undergone periodic reminders that it is in the relationship between black and white that it has failed to honour its own, animating ideals.
Crookedtimber (post by an Irishman):
And then you see what’s happening in New Orleans. Where a natural disaster has shone the light on what’s ugly and usually hidden in American life; the inherent and unconsidered racism, the casual brutality, the values that prize property above people. You see people being blamed for being poor. You see black people penned in like animals and made to live in their own filth. You see in America people dying of thirst. Of thirst. You see people pushed beyond civility, beyond reason, beyond any imaginable breaking point, to be met with gun fire and the self-serving response ‘there, do you see how these people really are? It’s the war of all against all down there.’ You wonder what the Christian right might have to say, and fear it’s not ‘whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me’, but rather; ‘devil take the hindmost’. Which he clearly did.
But in another way, as a non-American I feel more shocked, disappointed and let down than maybe even some Americans do. We, too, can barely believe this is really happening in America. We can hardly believe that we are (gladly) opening our wallets to the poorest people of the richest country in the world. For so many people who live outside the US, America truly is a beacon of hope, a real if flawed exemplar of how new ideas can set people free. We’ve had our own myths too.
That last paragraph makes me think of all those people I've met (many of them Asian) who have come to America with nothing but hope and determination and built wonderful futures for themselves and their families. America can inspire people and bring out the best in them in ways that no other country can. But does it have to come at the cost of the normally hidden 'dark side' of poverty and selfishness?

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