Critics have accused President George Bush’s administration of abandoning the overwhelmingly black and poor people to death and anarchy in the fetid floodwaters of America’s fabled jazz city.
Charges of racism have added to a litany of complaints that the federal government has done too little, too late to save New Orleans from the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina this past week.
“You want to know why all those black people are stuck down there dying?” said Yvette Brown, a black refugee from the city.
Bush is accused of not caring
“If they were white, they’d be gone. They’d be sending in an army of helicopters, jets and boats,” she said.
Another black New Orleans resident, Lakeshia Evans, demurred.
“There were white people on their houses too. A lot of people pull the racist card, but I think (the hurricane) affected everyone,” she said.
Rapper weighs in
Rapper Kanye West, however, was in no doubt that racism was a factor.
“In New Orleans, those with power and money purchase houses on the highest ground. African-Americans have been hammered in this event”
“George Bush doesn’t care about black people!” he said, breaking from the script at a television fundraiser for victims of the deadly storm late Friday.
Before the cameras hastily cut away, West also slammed the media for how it has reported on the criminal mayhem that engulfed the city.
“I hate the way they portray us in the media. You see a black family, it says, ‘They’re looting’. You see a white family, it says, ‘They’re looking for food’. And, you know, it’s been five days (waiting for federal help) because most of the people are black,” he said.
Large black population
Before floodwaters burst through the levees protecting New Orleans on Tuesday, the city had one of the largest – and poorest – black populations in the United States.
Census figures showed 67.3% of the city’s half-million people were black, with 30% living below the poverty line – against national averages of 13% and 12.7% respectively.
There is anger at Washington’s
Craig Colten, professor of geography at Louisiana State University in nearby Baton Rouge, said the flood’s impact hit the black and poor the hardest.
“In New Orleans, those with power and money purchase houses on the highest ground. African-Americans have been hammered in this event,” he said.
“But near the 17th Street canal where a levee broke, the Lakeview area is a largely white area. There was serious damage to black and white neighbourhoods,” he added.
Poverty or race?
Barack Obama, a black senator who is a rising star of the Democratic party, said poverty was an issue, if not necessarily race.
“What’s true in this country is what’s true across the world, which is in the midst of natural disasters the poor and the vulnerable end up getting hit the hardest,” he said in Chicago.
“Black people are mad because they feel the reason for the slow response is because those people are black and they didn’t support George Bush”
But given the anger of people who have lost everything, all sorts of accusations are being levelled.
“Black people are mad because they feel the reason for the slow response is because those people are black and they didn’t support George Bush,” said Ron Walters, professor of government at the University of Maryland.
“And I don’t expect that feeling to go away anytime soon.”
Moore’s open letter
Left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore, one of Bush’s most visceral opponents, issued a scornful open letter to the president.
“C’mon, they’re black! I mean, it’s not like this happened to Kennebunkport,” he said in reference to the wealthy seaside resort in Maine where the Bush family has a holiday home.
“Can you imagine leaving white people on their roofs for five days? Don’t make me laugh!” the Fahrenheit 9/11 director said.