Saturday, September 03, 2005

Katrina thoughts

So I promised more travails in the aftermath of Katrina. Being African-American--like American Express-sometimes has its benefits. After reading a fellow alum's BS post about how 'we' had no use for Kanye West's comments--which I saw after the fact on CNN--I feel compelled to address this recalcitrant notion that race is not playing a role in this unfolding crisis.
OK- so today, I ventured out of the house again. Though I fully expect to be denied, today I went to apply for emergency unemployment benefits. Before I got there, I stopped at the local Red Cross shelter. The volunteer there very sheepischly but very clearly told me that FEMA is NOT in the area. And by area, she meant Baton Rouge. I have a car and she was give me directions to different state social service offices that are open 24 hours a day this week (That's right, 24/7) to handle the needs of incoming displaced evacuees. The food stamp office-- where I refused to queue yesterday-- is open 24 hours until the 7th. Likewise there is a state Job Center office across the bridge in Baton Rouge that will be open 24 hours a day processing unemployment insurance claims. So again I say, lay off poor Kathleen Blanco. These Feds have been conning her all week, but she is doing all she can to make sure the state offers assistance.
So back to the racial stuff. I was in line behind a young white man. His family is homeless and displaced from Gulfport. He told me about '"the so-called Christians" (his words) at the church next to the office who all during their food giveaway referred to the mostly black people there as 'refugees.' He sad he walked away in disgust and gave their food back after he lectured them. He told them that until last Saturday he was hard at work and that everyone there white or black had the right to be treated with respect. Some of the younger, black adults in the line were talking loudly about being refugees taking up the some do the "n"-word. He was clearly pained about it...
So my brush...Last night around 11PM, I am standing outside trying to get my cell phone to work. A fruitless, thankless ritual. A sheriff's deputy appears and tells me I have to 'go inside' because there is a 'curfew.' I startle him by questioning, "Since when?" His reply, "Just go inside!" My reply, "Sir"--because when confronted by law enforcement, the first rule of being stopped while black is to be very polite, even if ironically so--"Sir, I'm an adult, I do not have a curfew." He says, " Ma'am" --because the second rule of being stopped by being black is that law enforcement will be very polite to you even as they suggest the most outrageous abridgements of your rights--"Ma'am, I'm just trying to keep things safe. There's an 11 o'clock curfew. You need to go inside." I reply, "I am standing outside my own room trying to use my own cell phone. I am not going inside."
So he walks away. And sure enough fat, hot, little tears start rolling down my face. I am furious. And soon my nose is running and I am having a good, ugly cry. I have spent this past week being very philosophical about the fact that all my belongings are gone, that my parents house may be gone, that my grandmother's house may be gone, that my damn hometown may be gone. And now, I am being told to go on lockdown. All week in the local paper, evacuees have been referred to as "New Orleans thugs." I've felt the tension in the air as locals find their town swelling with lost, stressed out black people. Some disheveled, some destitute...
I decided that I was not going to be treated like an inmate. Especially since I am paying to be here! I marched over to the front desk. Of course, the damn deputy was there. So I begin to address my comments to the desk clerk. He, of course, chimes in. I want to say I am talking ABOUT you, not TO you. But I restrain myself. The deputy and I end up having a tense exchange. He tells me I have no grounds to be offended--because apparently he also a member of the emotion police!--and insinuates that if I don't like it, you guessed it! Well, I am fuming. I ask him if, in fact, he is suggesting that because I refuse to submit to his 'curfew'--did I forget to mention that on my way to the front office I walked past 5! white guests who apparently were free to come and go as they pleased--that if I would not be confined to my room that I should leave. He concedes that is what he means. I asked him when did I agree to a curfew, I didn't see one when I paid. That I was a GUEST, a paying guest...not an inmate. This cracker---sorry, gotta tell the truth---asks me how was he supposed to know who I was. I asked him as a law enforcement officer whether he was trained to discern between suspicious people and suspicious activity. Then I turned on my heel and told the front desk clerk that I hoped this was not going to become an unpleasant place to stay and I hoped it was possible for guests to be safe and comfortable.
So, those who wish to believe that race is irrelevant can dismiss mine as an isolated anecdote...that's how it usually works. And those who are open to the possibility that there is something awry with all this can draw withever conclusion they wish as well.
Tomorrow I'll remember to type my post before I log on--smile.


Gizmo said...
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AnnaC said...

Keep writing... it may be the only thing that keeps you sane. You are a strong, resiliant woman. This will not break you. You will come out on the other side BETTER, I am convinced of this.
Also remember to lean on us whenever you need anything, any kind of support; you know that you would be there for us in this or any other situation... please just keep that present.
All the things you see, feel and experience are more than relevant and I certainly appreciate hearing about those experiences!!