Monday, November 21, 2005


We remembered them in the early weeks after the disaster by collecting clothes and school supplies, by working in relief centers, by attending seminars and symposia, by writing papers for our various classes, and by befriending the more than fifty students from Xavier and Dillard enrolled in AUC institutions. But almost two months since the disaster and less than a month before they will be evicted from FEMA housing with nowhere to go, we have forgotten to remember the victims of Katrina. We have not screamed rage, and we have but whispered concern.

So much there is about which we should scream: the rising count of deaths in Iraq, not only among our servicemen and servicewomen, but also, in staggering numbers, among Iraqi civilians; the rising cost of health care for our older citizens; the reduction of funds for health care for the "indigent," among them children; the staggering number of women and men without jobs, without medical insurance, without housing; the reduction of support for public schools and for college tuition; and the daily struggles of Katrina victims to find housing, to secure jobs, and to locate children from whom they were disconnected during the storm.

[An Aside, But Not Really: It "would be morally reprehensible," but aborting all Black babies would solve the problem of crime in our nation. This from a former Secretary of Education and weeks after Katrina?]

I do not understand why we have not "stormed the Bastille" and demanded change on various fronts. After all, resistance is not alien to us. Indeed, it is the deep river in which we baptized ourselves as blacks and as women insisting on change.

In other words, we know how to scream--among ourselves and with others who join us, or whom we join, in resistance against injustice. We screamed in the sixties, the seventies, and the eighties. James Baldwin's question is as relevant today as it was four decades ago: "Who wants to be integrated into a burning house?"

Who wants to be successful in a nation that is on the brink of educational, financial, and moral collapse?

When I am feeling anger, helplessness and despair, I am lifted up by your determination to make a difference.
Your generation only appears to be silent. You are not sleeping. Rather, like the protagonist in Ellison's INVISIBLE MAN, you have gone into deliberate hibernation. And when you come out of hibernation, you will change this nation and the world in ways that my generation in the sixties could not have imagined to be a future possibility.

I know you will . . . because you must.

I value you.

Gloria Gayles

Friday, November 04, 2005

FORGIVE MY SILENCE: Alita Anderson, Novelist and Poet

I received this email on November 1st. gwg

Please forgive my silence. I could lie and say that I have been silent because I have been busy. Today is my first day back in Atlanta after two and a half months of residency/research in the Northeast. I could lie and say that it is the first day that I have had, in my own space, to read the blog; to commune with my fellow SISters and comment. I could lie and say that the little glitch that I had with getting onto the system before is the reason that you haven't heard from me. I wont. I am angry. I fight against being the little girl who stood and sulked in the corner with her arms folded and her lips protruding - still. There are days when prayer works... when laughter works; making fun at the edges of a situation too painful to touch at its core. But these aren't those days, this not the situation - the wound too wide. I was in Amherst Virginia when Katrina came. I arrived the day a writer at the colony where I was visiting was rushing home. He was from New Orleans. "There is going to be a hurricane." He said rather lightly. "I'm going back to be with my family who are getting out" "Hurricane - Smurricaine" I thought. " He's overreacting. It couldn't possibly be that bad."

Where we were there were acres of farmland; tranquil English gardens, food freshly prepared for us three times a day. We were artists at work in our well lit studios: painters, sculptors, writers, musicians on this idyllic island at the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains. Where we were it was easy to pretend that life was perfect. I was the only African-American artist there. I didn't watch the television those weeks. I heard about Katrina through the newspaper (and had to write the editor of the local paper in Lynchburg VA about their inhumane coverage); I heard about Katrina through friends when my cell-phone could get a connection; and I heard about Katrina over dinner, at lunch chats, coffee chats, over morning fruit and muffins with my artist/colleagues. Rarely did I like what I heard.

I went to that residency to write a novel about love in action; a novel based on the virtues defined in 1 Corinthians 13. But somehow - while there, and hearing, reading, talking about Katrina - the novel took a different direction. What is a community? I began to wonder. How is it that love transcends the divisions that we have placed amonsgt ourselves? What is it in us; in each of us that makes us capable of showing compassion? of Connecting with one another? of healing the illusion that "the other" is someone distant from ourselves? These are the things that I think about now.

When I was a child and would be regulated to the corner; I would extract a finger from my fist and etch wall, floor... first the words would be "I hate Ms. Canally" (my 3rd grade teacher who had a propensity for sending me to corners) or "I hate Kevin Issac" (the boy in my 3rd grade class who had the uncanny ability to get me in trouble) but over time, somewhere in etching those things I started doodling rivers, or flowers; hearts. I hope that is what happens over the next few months. That through the writing the anger transforms into something useful; maybe even something beautiful; something that can show one path of many that offers a possibilty for a way out.

Alita Anderson

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Millions More Article Shared by Courtney

Farrakhan Denounces Katrina Response; Calls March A Historic Show of Black Unity
By ERIN TEXEIRAAP National Writer

Railing against the delayed relief for victims of Hurricane Katrina, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan said Saturday that the federal government should be charged with ``criminal neglect of the people of New Orleans.''
``For five days, the government did not act. Lives were lost,'' Farrakhan said at the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March. ``We charge America with criminal neglect.''
A crowd of thousands cheered as dozens of prominent speakers _ academics, activists, artists and media pundits _ spoke, recited poetry and sang songs in the 12-hour program on the National Mall.
Pointing to the broad spectrum of participants, Farrakhan said the march included an ``unprecedented'' array of black leaders of organizations ``coming together to speak to America and the world with one voice.''
``This tells us that a new day is dawning in America,'' he said.
Ten years ago, Farrakhan urged black men to improve their families and communities _ women, whites and other minorities had not been invited. On Saturday, all were welcome at the Millions More Movement, which organizers said would build on the principles of 1995 and push people to build a movement for change locally and nationally.
Neither Farrakhan, who spoke for 75 minutes, nor police would not offer a crowd estimate.
Associated Press photos showed the gathering was significantly smaller than that of 1995, when Boston University researchers estimated between 600,000 and 1 million participants. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said subway ridership by 7 p.m. (2300 FMT) was 367,000, compared with a Saturday average of 275,000 to 300,000.
On the day of the march 10 years ago _ a weekday, when regular commuters drove up overall ridership _ that number was just over 804,000, the third-highest ever recorded.
Still, participants said they were inspired by the gathering.
Farrakhan ``is the only one who can pull this magnitude of people together,'' said Michael Warren, 41, a Washington resident who attended for about five hours with three youths that he mentors. ``No other leader since Martin and Malcolm have done this.''
Many said the day held echoes of earlier gatherings.
Kelly Callahan, 65, of Newark said he had attended the 1995 march and Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 March on Washington. The movement, he said, is ``more universal now.''
Mouchettee Muhummad, 38, drove through the night from Detroit with four companions. ``We have to show that the spirit from 10 years ago did not die _ it's still alive,'' he said. ``We have to show that we didn't forget and we're actually carrying out what we pledged'' a decade ago.
He added that Farrakhan ``is asking us to organize beyond political boundaries, religious differences, cultural differences.''
Some speakers paid tribute to victims of the hurricanes in prayers and pledges of support, and many participants said the storm helped inspire them to come.
Katrina ``brought the issues to the surface to some who were asleep,'' said Jason 2X, a Nation of Islam member who attended the march with several family members from Chicago.
During his speech, Farrakhan announced a Millions More Movement disaster relief fund, urging participants to give one dollar each week for victims.
He did not repeat his speculations in recent weeks that someone bombed New Orleans' protective levees, deliberately flooding black neighborhoods after Katrina struck.
``We want to know what happened to the levees,'' Farrakhan said Saturday. ``We don't want to guess about it and we don't want to be guilty of following rumors.''
Earlier, Jesse Jackson, the president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, urged people to channel their frustration about Katrina toward change in their communities. He also told the crowd that ``a barge in the canal hit the levee and the waters came rushing in,'' but he did not elaborate on whether he believed this may have been deliberate.
Other prominent speakers included former presidential candidate Al Sharpton, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, singer Erykah Badu and Congressional Black Caucus chairman Democrat Rep. Mel Watts.
Farrakhan's appears to be broadening his message beyond those of concern specifically to black Americans and the poor. He denounced President George W. Bush, the war in Iraq and Muslims who kill ``innocent life for political purposes.'' He also called for unity with Africa, reparations for slavery, inclusion of undocumented immigrants and a government apology to American Indians.
Danny Bakewell, publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel, a black newspaper, said the gathering was ``a glaring symbol of the possibilities that are in front of black people. This is not the end, it's a beginning.''

Associated Press Writer Rebecca Carroll contributed to this report.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Evidence of Things Previously Unseen by Everyone But Us: Shared by Jalylah Burrell

Rick Perlstein wrote this Op/ED in the second week of September and sent it to various major newspapers for submission. It was rejected or simply ignored everywhere he sent it, including one major newspaper that has never before rejected his commentary. There are times when being wrong gives your more credibility than being right, apparently.

A white friend who's volunteering in refugee shelters on the Gulf Coast tells me the kind of things he's hearing around the small city where he's working.

A pastor is obsessed that "local" women not be allowed near the shelters: "At a community meeting they said these were the last evacuees, the poorest of the poor"--the most criminal, being his implication, the most likely to rape.

My friend says: "There were rumors that there were basically gangs of blacks walking up and down the main drag in town harassing business owners." The current line is that "some of them weren't even evacuees, they were just fake evacuees trying to stir up trouble and riot, because we all know that's what they want to do."

He talked to local police, who report no problems: just lost, confused families, in desperate need of help.

Yet "one of the most ridiculous rumors that has gone around is that 'the Civic Center is nothing but inmates. It's where they put all the criminals.'"

I immediately got that uncanny feeling: where had I heard things like this before?

The answer is: in my historical research about racial tensions forty years ago. I'm writing a book about the backlash against liberalism and civil rights in the 1960s. One of the things I've studied is race riots. John Schmidhauser, a former congressman from rural Iowa, told me about the time, in the summer of 1966, he held a question and answer session with constituents. Violence had broken out in the Chicago ghetto, and one of the farmers asked his congressman about an insistent rumor: "Are they going to come out here on motorcycles?"

It's a funny image, a farmer quaking at the vision of black looters invading the cornfields of Iowa. But it's also awfully serious. The key word here is "they." It's a fact of life: in times of social stress when solid information is scarce, rumors fill the vacuum. Rumors are evidence of panic. The rumors only fuel further panic. The result, especially when the rumors involved are racial, can be a deadly stew of paranoia.

In the chaotic riot in Detroit in 1967, National Guardsman hopped up on exaggerated rumors of cop killers would descend upon a block and shoot out the streetlights to hide themselves from snipers. Guardsmen on the next block would hear the shots and think they were under attack by snipers. They would shoot at anything that moved. That was how, in Detroit, dozens of innocent people were shot. In one case, a firefighter was the one who died.

And now, a similar paranoia has turned deadly in New Orleans too. The early report Sunday was that police shot at eight suspicious characters at the 17th Street Canal, killing five. On Monday the report was clarified: the victims were contractors on their way to work to fix the canal.

It's not that human beings haven't committed awful crimes amidst the toxic muck of New Orleans--just as they did in the urban riots of the 1960s. It's not as if the onslaught of poor, frightened, and alien-seeming evacuees aren't making life nerve-wracking in the many scattered towns where they are straggling in as refugees. With statistical certainly, they have.

But now New Orleans has filled with tens of thousands of Army, police, and National Guard soldiers. They are doing courageous, necessary work. But they are also operating in a cultural context rife with paranoia. Many of the people they are policing are armed as well--also possessed of a hair-trigger paranoia that might presume every shotgun-like crack, every snapped powerline, every detonated firecracker, is a sniper's shot aimed at them.

And now there is that New Orleans diaspora, poor black men ("fake evacuees"?) wandering around unfamiliar towns. It is the job of all of us to help ratchet down the paranoia: not to let the rumors spread. So none of these people start firing on each other.

Paranoia is not the exclusive province of Iowa farmers forty years ago, or--urban snobs take note--Louisiana yokels in rural parishes now. In 1992, in New York City, during the Los Angeles riots, the word spread on certain street corners about rioters burning buildings and overturning cars just a few blocks away. All of it was fantasy.

But now, everyone with an email account can be implicated in the spreading of such fantasies--nationwide.

One of the most riveting early accounts of conditions in New Orleans was an email sent around by Dr. Greg Henderson. "We hear gunshots frequently," he wrote. It wasn't long before that got transformed, in the dissemination, into: doctors get shot at frequently.

We can do better. We must do better

Saturday, September 24, 2005


Each day, I am hearing the good news that my Dillard/New Orleans friends are safe. I received this email from Mona Lisa Saloy, who captures the uniqueness and beauty of New Orleans in her poetry. She is on her way to the University of Washington to await the opening of her "fair Dillard." The book to which she refers in the quote from Ishmael Reed's blurb is entitled "Red Beans and Ricely Yours" scheduled for release this year. I am dancing as I share this email with you because Mona Lisa is safe!!! gwgayles

Gloria, I visited New Olreans on Monday. Ishmael Reed's words ["Mona Lisa's book may well be the last will and testiment of a beautiful city, murdered by stupidity"] are more than on target. My beloved New Orleans is a ghost town, like the abandoned towns of the old west, empty, dead, no grass, nothing growing, no one there. I salvaged a few clothes, some research, my Kaufman books since I'd like to finish that work and get it to a publisher. Everything is ruined, my library, even my clothes--the smell is unimaginable; already I've washed them again and again, hoping to at least recover my jeans and some shirts. Some fine things are in the dry cleaner, and because everything floated around, I couldn't get to my winter coat. All my shoes are gone, my beautiful kitchen and new bedroom. I had just renovated last year. How can we all rebuild at once? At least, in my neighborhood, our old shotgun homes are still standing. In the East, it is more of a war zone with massive damage to most every home and more extensive flooding. It was horrible. I'm exhausted, and trying to get everything in order before flying out on Friday, the 23rd of Sept. I'll get together with my sister Barbara, who lives in Seattle, one great reason to pick that place. I have so much to be thankful for since daily I see so many without jobs or a place to go. God help us all.

Mona Lisa Saloy

Friday, September 23, 2005

No Way Out: Many Poor Stuck in Houston

Wilma Skinner and grandson Dageneral Bellard

No Way Out: Tears, Anger As Some Try to Flee and Many Poor Are Stuck in Houston


The Associated Press

Sep. 22, 2005 - Wilma Skinner would like to scream at the officials of this city. If only someone would pick up their phone.

"I done called for a shelter, I done called for help. There ain't none. No one answers," she said, standing in blistering heat outside a check-cashing store that had just run out of its main commodity. "Everyone just says, 'Get out, get out.' I've got no way of getting out. And now I've got no money."

With Hurricane Rita breathing down Houston's neck, those with cars were stuck in gridlock trying to get out. Those like Skinner poor, and with a broken-down car were simply stuck, and fuming at being abandoned, they say.

"All the banks are closed and I just got off work," said Thomas Visor, holding his sweaty paycheck as he, too, tried to get inside the store, where more than 100 people, all of them black or Hispanic, fretted in line. "This is crazy. How are you supposed to evacuate a hurricane if you don't have money? Answer me that?"

Some of those who did have money, and did try to get out, didn't get very far.

Judie Anderson of La Porte, Texas, covered just 45 miles in 12 hours. She had been on the road since 10 p.m. Wednesday, headed toward Oklahoma, which by Thursday was still very far away.

"This is the worst planning I've ever seen," she said. "They say, 'We've learned a lot from Hurricane Katrina.' Well, you couldn't prove it by me."

On Bellaire Boulevard in southwest Houston, a weeping woman and her young daughter stood on the sidewalk, surrounded by plastic bags full of clothes and blankets. "I'd like to go, but nobody come get me," the woman said in broken English. When asked her name, she looked frightened. "No se, no se," she said: Spanish for "I don't know."

Her daughter, who appeared to be about 9, whispered in English, "We're from Mexico."

For the poor and the disenfranchised, the mighty evacuation orders that preceded Rita were something they could only ignore.

Eddie McKinney, 64, who had no home, no teeth and a torn shirt, stood outside the EZ Pawn shop, drinking a beer under a sign that said, "No Loitering."

"We got no other choice but to stay here. We're homeless and we're broke," he said. "I thought about going to Dallas, but now it's too late. I got no way to get there."

Where will he stay?

"A nice white man gave me a motel room for three days. Just walked up and said, 'Here.' So my buddy and me will stick it out," he said, pointing to another homeless man. "We got a half-gallon of whiskey and a room."

In Deer Park, a working-class suburb of refineries south of Houston, Stacy and Troy Curtis, waited for help outside the police station. Less than three weeks ago, the couple left New Orleans after it was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

With no vehicle, and little money, they tried to get their lives together while staying at a hotel in Deer Park. Stacy Curtis, a nursing assistant in New Orleans, had a job interview scheduled for Thursday.

But most businesses had shut down because the neighborhood will likely flood if the hurricane hits Galveston Bay. The streets were empty Thursday afternoon.

"We're stuck here," Stacy Curtis said. "Got no other place to go."

An emergency official eventually sent a van to take the couple to a shelter at a recreation center.

Monica Holmes, who has debilitating lupus, sat in her car at a Houston gas station that had no gas. "We can't go nowhere," she said, tapping a fingernail against the dashboard fuel gauge. "Look here," she said. "I'm right on E."

Her husband, a security guard, had a paycheck, but no way to cash it.

"We were going to try to go to Nacogdoches" in east Texas, not far from the Louisiana border, she said. "But even if we could get on the road, we're not going to get out. These people that left yesterday, they're still on the beltway. They haven't even got out of Houston."

So she and her husband will hunker down in their Missouri City home, just to the south. "We'll be fine," she said. "You can't be scared of what God can do. I'm covered."

As always, there were those who chose to stay, no matter how dire the warnings.

John Benson, a 47-year-old surfer and lifelong Galveston resident, said he thinks his town "is going to take on a lot of water. But as far as the winds, I think here on the island, it will be a little bit less than they anticipated."

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued Wednesday for the area.

Benson said he planned to use his surfboard as transportation after the hurricane. "The main thing is you have a contingency plan," he said, and thumped his board. "You got buoyancy."

Skinner, accompanied by her 6-year-old grandson, Dageneral Bellard, would settle for a bus.

"They got them for the outlying areas, for the Gulf and Galveston, but they ain't made no preparations for us in the city, for the poor people here. There ain't no (evacuation) buses here. I got nowhere to go."

EDITOR'S NOTE Associated Press writers Pam Easton in Galveston and Tim Whitmire in Deer Park contributed to this report.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

WHY THE PEOPLE DIDN'T LEAVE: from Lindsay Young, a Loyola Law Student and Spelman Alumna

Everyday since the SIS Blog was launched, I have read each comment posted with a desire to write something myself, but never knowing what I should say. But today with hurricane Rita approaching my hometown, I feel compelled to say something.

I woke up Saturday, August 27th, around 7:15 a.m. in an apartment I’d just moved into earlier in the week located on the first floor of my complex. I turned on the television and was surprised to see the new developments hurricane Katrina made overnight. Seeing the path the storm was taking, I decided to beat the traffic and go home to Lafayette. Last year when Ivan threatened to hit New Orleans, I waited until the city initiated an evacuation order and spent 10 hours driving (on a trip that ordinarily only takes two hours) and vowed then never to wait on the city to issue an evacuation before leaving. I called my parents to let them know I was coming home and then made a few calls to those that I knew were new to the area and encouraged them to leave the city. Thinking that I would only be gone three or four days at the maximum, I gathered all my dirty laundry and my law books together, leaving the rest of my belongings. I had only one goal in mind - beat the traffic. I left my apartment, hurriedly jumped into my car that seats 5 people and began my solo trip home. I met my goal. I was home in two hours and encountered no traffic. I had no idea.

Call after call, although different people, same message … I can’t find my parents … my cousin is missing … my sister didn’t leave … my grandmother is in a nursing home. CNN reporters continue to ask why so many people were left or why no buses came to transport people out of the city or why no water or food was dropped or why the levy broke. It was the same reason why the public school system was failing, why crime was rising and why housing projects were falling down.

Days after the hurricane, I heard anger in the voices of my peers for the inefficiency of local, state and federal government and now I hear statements such as “At least all the hoodlums are gone,” “ I feel sorry for Houston because they got the poorest of New Orleans” and, after federal aid was given, “Well, everything turned out well”. People who are not from New Orleans really have no idea what this city means to the locals. It’s not just the city of Mardi Gras, Essence Festival and Bayou Classic. Rather it is the city where your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and friends live within 5 minutes of each other. Now, many of them are states away from each other and the meaning of home will never be the same. Everyday I think about the people that I saw in the grocery store, in the park or at church and wonder what’s become of them and pray that they are safe. I pray that all those in the path of Rita will be safe.

Lindsay Young was among the first Young Scholars in SIS. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Spelman, she is currently in her second year of law school at Loyola University.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A response from Senegal

I have been in dakar Senegal for over a month and I've had two responses to the hurricane: the first is always "it is a horrible thing that has happened", and the second is always "now, maybe Americans will show compassion to the rest of the world when they experience tragedy". What strikes me as strange is not the comments, but the lack of comments. Maybe it was my naivete of just plan wishful thinking to believe that people would be outraged at what is happening. I have family members who where displaced by the tragedy and even an aunt we fear as dead but none seem to share my rage at what has happened. I could not figure out why until earlier today when a Haitian American student shared an experience she had with an African student from Benin and it went as follows:

Benin Student: So what is the deal with the US and Discrimination
US Student: I don't really understand what your asking
Benin Student: You know people have this perception that Blacks in the US are thieves, uneducated, and people are generally not good and you Blacks say this is wrong.
US Student: Well, there are lots of reason for this and all Black people are not the same in the US. The media shows you what they want you all to see.
Benin Student: Your the cause of why people see you this way, you all don't go to school and you do all sorts of bad things.

At this point the conversation continues, but this was the gist of it. This student is a representation of so many people I have incurred while here in Senegal. We are in the mist of a tragedy and I'm fighting a public relations war. I continually tell people that no America is not a horrible place, but it is far from perfect. I explain this over and over again, but America is still seen as a great place with people who cause problems. I am hopeful that with time this perception will change along with their opinions of Black people. Until then we are looked at as a people who have caused are own problems and have no one but ourselves to blame.

Monday, September 19, 2005

everything that goes can come

Ashes to sludge, dust to sewage? Neither Iraq nor John Roberts nor hollow presidential posturing can make me forget: faces face down and unfound floating in the mainstream. Shifting from margin to center only in death. Naked decomposition. Broadcast indifference. Starring the toxic soup bowl as cooling board, mechanized dewatering pumps as makeshift cremators.

Disasters such as these ignite mumbling ‘bout the last days but the text prophesied fire not water nor wind nor untrickled down wealth. This is not the end but maybe a profound shift of the world as we know it for this generation. We remember Rodney King but without having suffered the brunt of racism's bruising weight. Some of us can even name check James Byrd, Jr.,but the cacophony of 808’s and flurry of celluloid mean muggin' and booty poppin' drowned our senses before Katrina drowned our distant kin. Too numbingly oblivious to even drown in our own tears we revel in our mountains of things, seconds of pleasure, fantasies of fame.

Katrina triggered a temporary glitch in the matrix of domination swiftly troubleshooted by astonishingly unincarcerated Karl Rove-like spin doctors or our own dogged listlessness. Kanye West aka The Louis Vuitton Don-- hip hop, hood and black bourgeois--bravely called our sinister leadership out and inspired some indie rappers to record a rap track along the way. Hip hop thespian Mos Def expressed a community's frustrations on his own Katrina recording. My self righteous brown hands, prone to forward a petition or tote a sign for reproductive rights through the Mall on Washington are astonishingly unclean. Since graduating from Spelman I settled in Brooklyn. Shuttling back and forth between comfortable elevator building and school, or internships and assistantships, concerts, plays, even leisurely afternoons in Prospect Park and now begrudgingly to work. Confronted ill will at school in this overwhelmingly stimulating but heartless city and recoiled, relinquishing my responsibility as a human. A life in service abandoned for narcisstic malaise which isn't to diminish my own trials that have thus far gotten the best of me, a solitary soldier on my own frontline. It would help to have reinforcements. Someone to lend a hand. But how can I can expect or accept such offers while my gangly arms foolishly cling to my side.

Guiltiness is a privilege. It's patronizing. This musing is about stasis and movement, about who I am and who I need to be in the calm before the storm, in the whirlwind, in the wreckage and in good times that must soon come.

I couldn't have imagined this on the evening of August 30th pretending to write at a neighborhood Starbucks, Instant Messaging with a few characters one of whom frantically referenced a ravaged New Orleans to my confusion then sent me a link to news images of the flooded metropolis. In the days following cable news gawking replaced mainstream media aversion. My bugged eyes eventually were mesmerized by one constant loop: a young baby-dreaded black man clothed in a wife beater and beltless saggy jeans gripping some looted booty from a store in one hand and his falling denim with the other foolishly cheesing into the camera. News of the thugged out survivors shooting at rescue copters sent me reeling.

I e-mailed my mother disgusted. She gently checked me. I rethought my outrage and my shame but it wasn't until an emotional Celine Dion got on Larry King Live defending the looters and I watched video of Charmaine Neville's harrowing experience that I fully realized how smallminded I had been, how easily manipulated by 24 hours news services how shamefully I nursed a callous disdain for the poor. I own it. I don't want to hide it. I was outraged by the the black poor's abandonment on one hand and embarassed by their televised grammatical transgressions on the other. Petty, yes, but true. I may not be as bad Wolf Blitzer but that's not saying much. It feels wierd to make this confession. There is still and always was abiding love for the victims and survivors. I swallowed the wave of tears tales of rape and starvation elicited and couldn't eat for the bitterness in my belly but I must be honest about what bubbles underneath my mighty levee of compassion. Black poverty is the ultimate hell. Irrevocable invisibility and biting spite the lot of those afflicted. What's really frightening is just how easy it could be me. There but for the grace of God go I which is likely why I disdained. It created some artificial distance, an illusion of comparative status and power.


the raising of lazarus

the dead shall rise again
whoever say
dust must be dust
don't see the trees
smell rain
remember africa
everything that goes
can come
stand up
even the dead shall rise

~Lucille Clifton~

Saturday, September 17, 2005


We should write for the blog rather than paste newspaper articles in the blog, but I couldn't help sharing this compelling quote. See Jonathan Alter's editorial on Katrina in September l8 issue of Newsweek. This is my last paste, I promise. gwGayles

"I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren't just abandoned during the hurricane," Sen. Barack Obama said last week on the floor of the Senate. "They were abandoned long ago—to murder and mayhem in the streets, to substandard schools, to dilapidated housing, to inadequate health care, to a pervasive sense of hopelessness."