Saturday, July 08, 2006

Why now? What is going on?

This is what I and others have been wondering lately. Discussions that even lightly touch on certain subjects, difficult no matter how presented - race, white privilege, American Exceptionalism, war and responsibility, just to name a few - are like dropping a match into a tinderbox when they are initiated by... well, what in my mind I call the Inconvenient or Unacceptable Other. (Not all "Others", born or self-othered, fall into this category). It appears that the tension has racheted up these past few weeks, on these issues, spanning a number of blogs of varying degrees of left ideology and it would be interesting to know why.

In one discussion, on dove's blog (where I tend to yap a lot), I expressed the opinion that, counter-intuitive as it may seem, I think one of the reasons for this is Katrina. I've taken that comment and edited it a bit, in order to explain why I think that, and here it is.

I remember reading an article a couple of weeks or so after 9/11, by a British journalist who was over in the US visiting. He'd been here a few times before - I think had even lived here for a time, had friends in various parts of the country and, in general, thought he was familiar with the US and Americans.

He wrote, in his article, about his New York friends, and how l(understandably)depressed they were, and his desire to get a bit of other perspective on things... so he called friends in California, and they were also depressed. And he thought, surely the entire country couldn't be depressed over what, after all, was one incident on one coast. He then called friends in a small town in some middle state (Wisconsin, I think it was)... and sure enough, they were depressed too. So he came to the conclusion that yes, even in a country the size of the US, everyone can be depressed at the same time, over the same event.

We may be big enough for 10 nations, and have many disparate regions thousands of miles apart that mostly have nothing at all in common with each other, but we do have a national psyche. And Katrina shattered that a bit. That tragedy left people with feelings of shock, shame, horror... and distaste.

This last very carefully manufactured, I think, because people were beginning to look too closely at themselves and at policies, and think too hard about the hidden poor and our responsibilities and privileges. So, instead of victims, the people of Katrina were almost immediately turned into thugs and criminals, the trenchant poor that no one could do anything with, people too poor (or too stupid) to leave, those unable to care for themselves or each other, those unable to keep a packed football stadium clean and fresh smelling and full of light and wonder for days because they preferred to live in filth and were used to it and so on and on and on.

With the aid of a sensation seeking media, and a credulous public, it was possible to almost totally remove their humanity from them... from the disabled that there was no provision made for, from the teachers and business owners that stayed for this or that reason and the many others that were there, including the very poor. This reducing of everyone to the lowest common denominator is why, in my opinion, Bush and company have (in reality) paid very little price for Katrina, and won't in the future either, if it happens again.

It's also why, 10 months later, there is little or no outcry at the fact that many of the affected people are still unable to return home, that many of the properties are still piles of sticks and concrete and that a US city (or at least certain parts of it) is, for all intents and purposes, being erased from our consciences.

This stuff is very worrisome, as is the rhetoric regarding undocumented immigrants... it really, really bothers me, this stuff about "well, if we don't let them in, who will clean your toilet, and who will wash the dishes" and all that. Why don't we, especially on the left, ask... who can we train who will be the next doctor in the poor village they left, or the next teacher that will help the children to thrive, and so on?

Even on the left we are sucked into the language of a sort of servant class type thing, and by using that language we set expectations for both the latino immigrants and the poor black workers - as if there is no place else for either to go.

Hmmm... well I've gone far off from my original point, whatever that was, but it all relates... the language of exclusion and of... "none of this is your fault, it's all their own faults, aren't you tired of being blamed for it?" is very insidious and I think it has a wide ranging and lasting effect.

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