September 2, 2005

"They are so black."

I watched a lot of CNN yesterday. I was watching Wolf Blitzer when he said:
"You simply get chills every time you see these poor individuals, as Jack Cafferty just pointed out, so tragically, so many of these people, almost all of them that we see, are so poor and they are so black, and this is going to raise lots of questions for people who are watching this story unfold."
Clearly, he meant to say "so many of these people are so poor and so many of them are black," and his instinct for poetic parallelism led him to bumble into an extra "so." But perhaps some people do think his mistake let racism show.

Blitzer's quote mentions Jack Cafferty, and throughout the afternoon, Cafferty had been drawing attention to the way the media has not been talking about the plainly visible fact that nearly all the stranded victims of the flooding in New Orleans are black. Cafferty was discussing Jack Shafer's Slate article. Shafer wrote:
My guess is that Caucasian broadcasters refrain from extemporizing about race on the air mostly because they fear having an Al Campanis moment....

Race remains largely untouchable for TV because broadcasters sense that they can't make an error without destroying careers. That's a true pity. If the subject were a little less taboo, one of last night's anchors could have asked a reporter, "Can you explain to our viewers, who by now have surely noticed, why 99 percent of the New Orleans evacuees we're seeing are African-American?
Blitzer's type of error was far different from Campanis's. He didn't express a specific prejudiced belief about race. He just got tangled up in his own news-prose.

But what were Shafer and Cafferty driving at? What should a reporter be saying about race beyond what the viewer can see for himself, that the victims are mostly black? Shafer writes:
What I wouldn't pay to hear a Fox anchor ask, "Say, Bob, why are these African-Americans so poor to begin with?"
I don't think that is the most obvious question of the day, though. Consider these: Were the provisions for flood prevention and for evacuation and shelter so inadequate because mostly black people were affected? Would the rescues have come more quickly if the victims were white? Would viewers and reporters express more outrage at the pace of relief if we were seeing white victims?

When one network took time from its Katrina coverage to provide a bogus "update" on the search for Natalie Holloway, all those questions sprang to my mind.


Art said...

The assumption is that everyone stuck in the Superdome or the Convention Center is there only because they lacked a personal vehicle to get out.
By now, noone can tell who, less than a week ago, was rich and who was poor.
The faces I saw on the Today show this morning were of many races. Mostly black to be sure, but New Orleans is mostly black.
I suspect some of these folks might have had the means to get out early but for whatever reason chose not to. Maybe it was a relative too sick to move. Maybe it was not wanting to abandon a pet. Maybe they were just stubborn.
They all share the same fate.

amy said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for bringing this up, Ann. I was also watching CNN yesterday when Wolf said "so black" and I had to ask my husband if he heard it too, just to make sure I didn't jump to conclusions. It really broke my heart to hear him speak in that manner, but I suppose personal biases eventually creep into reporting after awhile. Or maybe it was, as you mentioned, just a slip of the tongue.

I have been wondering aloud to friends and family what the response would have been like had a hurricane hit places like New York City or Los Angeles (which admittedly, have large African-American populations too). Would the federal government have sprung into action sooner then because of the enormity that cities like that contribute to American society, culture, and economy? We don't know that answer, but I can only personally assume that had a hurricane hit a mostly white, mostly affluent portion of the country that President Bush and the Congress would have returned from their respective vacations a bit sooner than today.

Dylan said...

There are indeed visual "degrees" of blackness, and Louisiana's population is particularly insular with little interbreeding and fewer "light" blacks than you see elsewhere. So it's just possible that Blitzer was making a literally true statement.

One of my college roomates as well as an elderly family friend hail from LA and have a moderately strong animus for Louisiana, and only Louisiana blacks. Those areas of New Orleans do indeed have a distinct subculture linked to poverty, history, surrounding racism, etc. It's also a fact that this is correlated with darker skins than is usual among America's broader black population.

Ann Althouse said...

Dylan: I can't believe Blitzer would have meant to say that.

Freeman Hunt said...

I also have to say that I really despise the infantilization of the poor. Poor people are poor; they're not babies. I think it's insulting to talk about adults as if they are children. And as to skin color, I do think that poor people of color are infantilized more than poor people who are white. (Just another form of racism, in my opinion.)

Ann Althouse said...

Freeman: "infantilization of the poor" -- what are you referring to?

Freeman Hunt said...

I mean that I think too many people talk about the poor as though the poor are children. It's condescending.

miklos rosza said...

I worked in an emergency room for seven years in a part of town where the clientele was overwhelmingly black, and there were many parts of this experience which if I could merely show you, without commentary or voiceover, the reality of it would be deemed "racist" by some.

After a couple of years I decided to "be like Gandhi" (whatever that meant to me at the time) and I was better off and had no bad feeling for anyone no matter what they did after I fully implemented this decision. Even when I was punched in the face.

It's different though. There's a culture which has developed few ever talk about realistically. Bill Cosby did this year but I don't know where that led. Al Sharpton makes things worse.

Cat said...

Freeman - I agree with you. I hate the condescension. There is a lot of that when it comes to the poor or people in certain jobs.

For example, my company has a driver. He's hispanic. I often feel that he is treated like a child - poor, sweet little Julio. Often, he uses that or plays along to get what he wants, but he's a grown man and he's not stupid. He's a smart guy, but some people practically pat him on the head. Drives me nuts.

Ann Althouse said...

Freeman: I hope you don't think I'm doing that. I seems to me a lot of poor people were trapped in a terribly run city and were ill-served by government. Really, where were people without cars supposed to go? Are you saying if they behaved as responsible adults, they'd have had cars?

Freeman Hunt said...

Ann: No, I wasn't talking about you. Take Blitzer's comment for example, "so poor and so black." The tone people usually use to say things like this is usually the same tone they would use to say, "so young and so helpless."

And no, I don't expect everyone to have a car.

Richard Dolan said...

"Were the provisions for flood prevention and for evacuation and shelter so inadequate because mostly black people were affected? Would the rescues have come more quickly if the victims were white? Would viewers and reporters express more outrage at the pace of relief if we were seeing white victims?"

Questions such as these aren't likely to get a factual answer. When these questions come up in litigation, even after lots of exhaustive discovery, there is typically nothing factual (and thus in cases where the issue is material, summary judgment is frequently granted).

Rather questions like these are far more likely to get responses that just reveal a person's general biases about how life is lived. For what it's worth, I can't imagine that anyone involved in planning to avert a disaster like this over the many years since Betsy whacked the same area in 1965 was motivated to do less because of a belief that such disaster avoidance efforts would mostly benefit poor or black citizens of the area. Long after this disaster has passed and the rescue and clean-up efforts have been completed, there will be time enough to look back at the causes for the disaster and the inadequacies in the planning and response. My guess is that bureaucratic bumbling, a willingness to put off till tomorrow whatever can be, and the usual political focus on the immediate rather than the long term, will be more fertile areas to find the explanations, than will any bias about race or class. Then again, maybe I just have a naive faith in the goodness (if not necessarily the competence) of most Americans, including most Americans who work for the various levels of government.

Laura said...

It's been very frustrating for many of us from the New Orleans area to see the post-storm devastation, because we know that much of it was preventable with a little common sense and personal responsibility. The hard truth is that there was adequate notice of the storm. We've known for years that a category 3 storm would be catastrophic for us. Bob Breck, a local meteorologist, even did a special on this that is aired repeatedly at different times every hurricane season.

The big fallacy here is that the choice was to a)leave town or b)stay home. This is simply NOT TRUE. Thousands of man hours have been spent rescuing people from rooftops. If they had been in a designated shelter, those man hours could have been dedicated to fixing the levees and keeping order. So poverty is no excuse - shelter was available within walking distance or a bus pickup point for many, many people who simply chose not to use it.

PatCA said...

For those who cry racism, remember that the mayor is black. Go back to the Civil War, not when Katrina hit, to understand the situation now.

Nagin knew his city was filled with thugs and murderers, as well as poor, uneducated, sickly, and government-dependent people. And as the cataclysm approached, he politely asked them all to leave!

peter hoh said...

Amy asked a question about the response had this catastrophe hit New York or Los Angeles. This kind of catastrophe could only happen to a city that is already below sea level. Any other city would have started drying out on Monday.

IrishLad said...

I honestly don't think the color of the people's skin who are there has an iota of effect on the response. Futher, I think it's rediculous to think it would. It's almost conspiracy thinking. Racism is a problem with an individual's personal philosophy (though it WAS institutionalized, and still is in some places... mostly outside of the US). Can you imagine the conspiracy it would take for the hundreds of people making decisions, many of them African American, to all say, "Let's slow down here, it's just the blacks suffering"? Realistically, it's impossible to imagine that conversation taking place.

ploopusgirl said...

...though it WAS institutionalized, and still is in some places... mostly outside of the US..

It still very much IS institutionalized, Irishlad. Very much so, TODAY. You didn't notice the majority of New Orleans' poor remaining in the city being of African descent? You think you're in a position to evaluate the presence of institutionalized racism in America? How many black coworkers do you have? Are they there simply to fill a quota? And do you know their payscales?

Can you imagine the conspiracy it would take for the hundreds of people making decisions, many of them African American, to all say, "Let's slow down here, it's just the blacks suffering"? Realistically, it's impossible to imagine that conversation taking place.

Yeah, I can completely envision this scenario, sad as it may be.

Ann Althouse said...

Ploopusgirl: You're making the argument more difficult than it needs to be. Racism doesn't have to be institutionalized or intentional. It's easy to believe that people acted with less urgency or gave up at the threat of violence more easily because the victims were black.

ploopusgirl said...

It's very easy to believe, Ann. However, reading the comments of the majority of your readers and listening to the comments of my coworkers, racism couldn't possibly play a role, and you're a PC moron if you think so.

Elizabeth said...

The race issues of this event are saddening and causing those of us who are refugees much worry and anxiety about what we'll be going home to. Just to counter the images of looting and barbarism that have dominated the news--and I by no means think they are overblown, but there's more to the story--I want to post two examples. First is an illustration of what I know to be the real New Orleans, the heart of the people that make up its culture, not the thugs and drug lords that dominate the crime world:

This 20-year-old kid commandeered a school bus, picked up people along the way, the people pooled their money to get gas, diapers and food for the children, and made it to Houston on their own. With all the strange ponderings on race and political parties, self-reliance versus handouts and dependancy, yada yada, this story puts the lie to all those simplistic categories and stereotypes.

The other hope I have is that Lt. Gen. Russell Honore will do well in coordinating the forces that are in the city now. It can't hurt to have a positive, effective African-American leader in the forefront.

chuck b. said...

Another question to add: what's the relationship between Louisiana's large population of poor blacks and that state's plainly incompetent leadership and notoriously corrupt political culture?

I doubt poor blacks create that incompetence/culture, but I suspect they are used--in direct and indirect ways--to perpetuate it.

Creeole_Ladde said...

As a woman of color whose family populated Louisiana in the late 1700's I believe Blitzer may have meant something like most are black. Let's not be blind to the continued stratification of people of Louisiana. Why was I not swimming with the masses...because my European ancestry allowed my father to move to California and get a job that payed enough to send me to private school, which allowed me to become well educated. However, I do not disregard my African ancestry. People of mixed backgrounds such as Louisiana Creoles of color, but that is not to say it may not be available to all. It's a Creole thing. You have to be one to perhaps understand.

2 cents worth... said...

I think that Wolf touched upon the two more important issues that this tragedy brought to light... why are there so many poor people in America, and why are so many of them black? These are the questions that government should be asking themselves, instead of the usual finger-pointing (in both directions) that goes on. Also, with respect to "emergency preparedness", did it come as some surprise to those whose job it is to plan for disasters, that there were so many people without means of transportation, and possibly unable to move themselves, living along the coastal areas and other areas in jeopardy of the greater New Orleans area. Was there a plan in place for the evacuation of those people in the event that a "three hundred year event" (that the Army Corps of Engineers was talking about on PBS) occurred? Was there any attempt to evacuate anybody in those areas?

Rich said...

People in and within there own community are responsible for thier own survival and well being. Not the government and surely not people living outside their respective communities.

What do I mean by this: Well because I live in sunny Arizona it is my job to look out for mine and my families safety and that of those around me.

There is no fact in the matter that because they were african american the response was slow. I think it is outrageous to say such a thing. There are too many variables to the problem to state it like that. IMHO

Some Loser said...

OMG! Wolf, how could you say this? You are the most racist egotisical moron I have ever seen on TV. "so black"? What were you thinking?

Oh wait, most of the people stuck in New Orleans ARE poor and they ARE black. Thanks for reporting the news, Wolf.

Ann Althouse said...

Creole Ladde: Email me if you're willing to correspond with a reporter who is interested in your comment.

Sharon Boone said...

...And didn't see it coming! Katrina was a class 3 hurricane. Just as it was done in 1927 and in 65' the levee was blown up, just as before. I survived Betsy in 65 and Camille in 69'. I lived in the 8th Ward on Law and Annette St. Creoles live all over the City, but the core of them live in the 6th, 7th and 8th Wards like I did! The natives feel like other residents of other cities, that they can "ride it out". No one knw the Levees would spill over, much lest be blasted "on purpose"! Well, it's happened before. Nagin is a "river-rat" from Algiers, who has an attitude about New Orleans in general. He is managed and controlled, by his White "Power Elite", who have consistently run the City for centuries. I moved away to get awy from the underlying racism that has existed since, New Orleans was a "trading post". Being neither Black nor White, I am a constant reminder of what the White Race did to my People. Being educated under segregated laws, I was not eager to "mix" when integration came in 1960. I was already in the BEST school in the City, Xavier University Preparatory High School and took my chances with my OWN people and I am the better for it. As far as race, until the dominant race realize that we're ALL in this together, racism will prevail and cripple progress. Nagin needs to get a hint and get Black People native to New Orleans BACK, where THEY belong and offer them employment instead of Halliburton making a killing off the plight of Black People1 Kanye West was right!

scooter said...

first of all, i would like to say that im a white guy. ^_^

yes, lets quote a rapper who believes that the money grubbing white power had introduced aids into africa through a polio vaccination with the sole purpose of "opressing the black man".


he also believes he should be "a part of the Bible", what kind of ego is this guy running off of?

people talk of how horrible it is to be segregated, i agree, but i can also see how "sharon boone" might be hesitant on intergrating, i was born in '88 and i can only imagine what was going through her/his head... if i knew crazy people were trying to kill me by going to another school, with me being happy where i was, i wouldnt want to go anywhere either.

it doesnt change the fact that because sharon intergrated... weather he/she was forced to or on her/his own accord, it engouraged progress for others to follow suit. its called progess.

i firmly believe that racism is the most blunt form of stupidity a human being is capable of displaying, yes its a horrible thing and a sensitive subject to talk about.

i also believe, however, that it is much easier for an africa american to talk about racism that it is for a white person (euro-american?) to speak on the same topic.

growing up i lived in a section of town called the ghetto. the school bus i would ride on easily had 60 people on it, besides me and my sister, there were only 4 white people on the bus... you do the math.

i found in the 7 years that i lived in that enviroment, and its leaking over everywhere, further proving its not with the poor and ignorant, that black people are more racist than anyone else.

never in the entire time i spent in that community, no matter how bad the injustice was, no matter how bad things got, not once did i say or even think, "damn niggers". all i have ever had for people who call me a "cracker", "honkey", or would like to "dis my mom's" is pity. that is simply ignorance leaking out of every orafice in their body.

when we first moved there i saw a group of black kids waiting for the same bus i was, but they were only 3 houses down... well i just wanted someone to talk to, so i went to walk over there to "make friends" and not be lonely. two of the 8 that were out there met me half way and informed me that that was "where the black folk wait", and that i was to go back and stand where the "crackers" wait. about that time the other decided to try and put his hands on me... at the time i was only a first degree black belt in ninjitsu, now im a third. needless to say, noone "fucked with the crazy white boy".

i tended to stay away from those people from then on out, it made me more hesitant to try and make friends with black people for a while... but i never have hated or descriminated against an african american american ever.

90% of the time, most people will find, white people dont care who you are, if your black or not. most white people simply care either A) if your intelligent, B) if you can get the job done (in the case of an employer) or C) if they dont hold anything against YOU because your white.

either way, class is over, ive said my piece. ill watch this blog to see what someone else might have to say on yhe subject, either positive or negative.

oh, and for those ive REALLY pissed off. email me at


white people for the most part

Rosewood said...

This year alone I count:

1) Lunds - Upscale Grocery Store:
I go to return a pound of coffee I bought because it smells stale. I don't bring the receipt but normally do. In Lunds, the first thing the manager says is, "Did you buy this here?" and "I will go check to make sure we carry this brand" and "WE DON'T GIVE CASH REFUNDS". I tell her yes I bought it here and I can show her the spot on the shelf where it came from and restate I simply want to buy Good Earth tea instead and have no desire or interest to receive $10.69 in cash but that Lunds is well known for their satisfaction guarantee and I have the right to return a product I've purchased, correct?

2) Court System:
The Court judge can tell what I do by how I look - She asks me if I work. I say yes. She asks if I am a massuse. I have no massage table or oils, I am not seeing her today for a crime or anything to do with massage therapy.

3) Housing:
I am turned down for housing for the following reasons, "We can't verify your income because you're self employed", "Your 26 months of rental history isn't enough", "Your credit had 'problems'" and if your ex-boyfriend comes back to beat you up, we don't want trouble here (42 years old White Male Alcoholic).

1) I didn't steal the coffee
2) The judge made a "judgement" based on her perceptions of me
3) Although not a protected class in Minnesota, many other states list being the victim of domestic abuse as a class that cannot be discriminated against. I had proof of my income from well known companies, I pulled my credit report that day and returned the following asking them to explain and paying rent on time 25 out of 26 months is damn good!

These are all common things people do in life; grocery shopping, file papers in court, rent an apartment. If I am experiencing this sort of "alternate reality" because of the other person's perceptions about me, that's racism. Judging someone you don't know.

Those are the most memorable from 2007. My students have been asked in inteview questions like, "Do you have a car?" which is illegal unless the job you're interviewing for requires you to travel between sites.

Kanye West speaks the truth that many people of many races are scared to say aloud. "Racism is still alive, they just be concealing it"

Note: I did write a letter to Lund's corporate. I got a response by phone and talked to some PR guy who tried to smooth things over but also realized it was "really weird" the manager would say those things. He promised the incident would be used as a "diversity training" and sent a $10 gift certificate. I had the most fun writing up the letter though, describing the perception of the store manager because I would, never in my right mind say those things to anyone who approached me for a customer service request.

And, to explain the perpetuation of Black folks having a hard time making it in America, let me point out the cycle of a young girl being sexually abused by her father or uncles. She dates men who sexually abuse her, has a child and men then sexually abuse her child. Rinse and Repeat. Multiply that over 400 years from 1619 - 1960 (First imported African Slaves until the Civil Rights Movement was underway) and that makes up nearly 15 generations of people being stripped of pride, choice, respect, property ownership, choice of their partners and of their own destiny.

The good thing is everyday, we can make sure we attempt to move out of our comfort zones to reach out and try to connect with someone we wouldn't normally talk to. It's really that simple.

"Be the change you want to see in the world" --Mahatma Ghandi