January 30, 2006
Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina And the Color of Disaster
We still don't know how many people died in the wake of Hurricane Katrina: a natural and man-made disaster. After the utterly incompetent Bush Administration federal response, Bush put himself in charge of investigating what went wrong. It was kind of like putting a burglar in charge of finding out how he broke into the house and then reporting back to himself.
And now, he won't even fork over the complete reports of his administration's bungling.
Adding to the discourse are the first post-Katrina postmortems -- and, so far, they are not kind to Bush or our nation's abandonment of the poor, especially economically disenfranchised individuals who don't happen to be white. So, yes, we are talking racism and economic injustice here. Does anyone doubt if those were white Republicans in the Superdome and New Orleans Convention Center that they would have been abandoned? Uh, we kind of doubt it.
Michael Eric Dyson is a hot writer, very hot. He takes on big issues of race, class, and poverty with an authoritative, but distinctly contemporary tone. This is a guy who wrote a book that took on Bill Cosby. He penned a biographical, sociological book on Marvin Gaye. He's a minister and he's a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
So, here is a book that Michael Moore advises "every thinking, caring American [to] read....Should we fail to heed its warnings, the next storm we face will involve more than just wind and rain."
Actually, what Dyson so brilliantly reveals is that the aftershocks of Hurricane Katrina involved much more wind and rain; in a way, it was a momentous symbolic moment that placed the issues of class, race and poverty before us, even if but for a brief break in the news cycle.
Dyson's book is dedicated to making us digest the implications of the Katrina disaster as a society, and to ensure that the debacle just doesn't get lost in the wake of the daily churning of media stories.
He doesn't mince words, of course, about Bush: "The proof of Bush's lack of political care of blacks before Katrina is equally distressing: under his presidency black poverty has increased, black unemployment has risen, and affirmative action has been viciously assaulted....By seeking to cut the food stamp budget by $1.1 billion over the next decade, the Bush will douse even further the fortunes of black poor."
Publisher's Weekly writes: "The first major book to be released about Hurricane Katrina, Dyson's volume not only chronicles what happened when, it also argues that the nation's failure to offer timely aid to Katrina's victims indicates deeper problems in race and class relations....His contention that Katrina exposed a dominant culture pervaded not only by 'active malice' toward poor blacks but also by a long history of 'passive indifference' to their problems is both powerful and unsettling. Through this history of neglect, Dyson suggests, America has broken its social contract with poor blacks who, since Emancipation, have assumed that government will protect all its citizens. Yet when disaster struck the poor, the cavalry arrived four days late."
The publisher of "Come Hell or High Water" tells us: "Michael Eric Dyson offers a searing assessment of the meaning of Hurricane Katrina. Combining interviews with survivors of the disaster with his deep knowledge of black migrations and government policy over decades, Dyson provides the historical context that has been sorely missing from public conversation. He explores the legacy of black suffering in America since slavery and ties its psychic scars to today's crisis. And, finally, his critique of the way black people are framed in the national consciousness will shock and surprise even the most politically savvy reader."
Yes, this is a very important, compelling, provocative analysis of the implications of Hurricane Katrina to the body politic.
Michael Eric Dyson, an ordained Baptist minister, is the author of Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves & Demons of Marvin Gaye; The Michael Eric Dyson Reader; Open Mike; Holler if You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur; Why I Love Black Women; I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr.; Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line; Between God and Gangsta Rap; Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X; and Reflecting Black. Now the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, he lives in Philadelphia.
"The Catastrophe is Not Over," Washington Post, January 28, 2006