Helen Thomas, White House correspondent for Hearst Newspapers recently announced her retirement following the controversy surrounding remarks on Jews and Israel back in May. Thomas, dubbed the “dean of the White House press corps” said in a videotaped interview given to a rabbi that Israeli Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and return to Germany and Poland “or wherever they came from.”
Anytime, anyone for any reason tells a group of people to “go back where they came from” it usually evokes a visceral response…and rightfully so.
Also, be it right, wrong, indifferent…derisive remarks about Jews and Israel in general will generate a visceral response. There are some subjects, some viewpoints, analogies/comparisons, some sentiments that will never go over well. Israel, Judaism, Hitler, Jews and Palestine…those are the main ingredients in a recipe for major disaster in public commentary. History and media are rife with examples.
This is not a value judgment or an indictment in any sense, just an honest assessment of how certain subjects are dangerous fodder for quotes with one’s name attached.
Along those lines, I love, absolutely love how Jews and Jewish Americans protect the memory and legacy of the Holocaust. It’s honorable and essential. It’s not to be cheapened, appropriated or trivialized in any manner. Human tragedy should always occupy a reserved and sanctified space.
Truthfully, there are times when I wish we as African-Americans did a better job of protecting our own history and tragedies.
For weeks now as the oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, more and more “statements” have been made comparing this disaster to that of Hurricane Katrina. More specifically, it has been characterized as (President) “Obama’s Katrina.” The characterizations and criticisms have come from both sides of the political aisle with curiously, no sense of outrage from the African-American community.
What do I mean?
Yes, there are some base comparisons we can make regarding the two disasters. Both the BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina will have an untold economic effect on the Gulf region for many years. That’s a fair comparison. They are both disasters and were exacerbated by a lethargic and inexcusable response by the federal government. That too is a fair comparison. In fact, in some ways the BP spill eclipses the disaster of Hurricane Katrina for the simple fact that the BP spill is still “spilling,” still gushing and still destroying the fragile oceanic ecosystem around it. All of this we should be able to agree upon without argument.
But here is where the house of cards comparison comes tumbling down…
Officially, the death toll connected to Hurricane Katrina was 1836 with another 135 still categorized as “missing.” If memory serves, The BP human death toll is currently hovering around zero. No disrespect to wildlife, but as a human being I place a greater value on the loss of human life than wildlife. Yes, as long as we have fish and game licenses, traveling circuses, sushi restaurants, oyster bars, Red Lobster and even Long John Silver’s…it says the majority of you also agree.
To the point…
If it is historically taboo to make light of or carelessly trivialize the events of the Holocaust, 9/11 or some other tremendous disaster, then why in the world aren’t we bristling at the comparison of BP to Katrina (we…as in African-Americans and non-African-Americans)?
Where is the sanctified space and respect for human tragedy when it comes to Katrina and the disproportionate number of African-Americans it affected and afflicted? The overwhelming majority of those killed, displaced, missing and mistreated in the wake of the disaster were African-American.
School youths are being murdered everyday in Chicago. They’re murdered on the way to school, at school, after school and for whatever “reasons” it’s unthinkable to discuss these tragedies in the same breath as Columbine. Why is this? It seems to be a variation on a theme. Black suffering is insignificant and been rendered invisible.
But I digress…
Please America, stop equating human tragedy to puffer fish, pelicans and coral reefs. It’s offensive and getting to the point of being unforgivable. The original discussion surrounding the federal lapse in response to the emergency centered on whether race should have been factored in with FEMA’s incompetence. It was a valid question then and is now, as we approach the five-year commemoration of those horrible events. This new comparison to the BP spill only further tilts the scales in one ominous direction.
1836 dead and 135 missing is to Bush what BP is to Obama? Really? Honestly?
The above links are only a brief sampling of HUNDREDS of similar editorial columns and supposed “news” reports. If President Obama never, ever came forth with his recent “mea culpa”/”my bad” and the oil gushed forth from now
until 2014…there are still another 1836 people who will have to die and another 135 who need to go missing before it earns the right to traipse from anyone’s lips as a worthy comparison to Katrina.
It’s beyond offensive and overtly disrespectful to those who died or lost everything (and everyone) nearly five years ago. We can even go one step further… President Obama not only visited the region, but walked the beaches of Louisiana. President Bush did not so much as step off his helicopter…and even if he did, the city was underwater; not a good idea. If you think the water in the gulf is bad right now, imagine what it was like, stagnant and roof-top high in New Orleans, complete with raw sewage and decomposing bodies in the summer sun.
Pictures of oil-soaked pelicans and ducks just don’t quite compare.
I’ve yet to hear how the BP spill has led to people, majority Black people drowning in their attics. I’ve yet to learn of the BP spill leaving thousands upon thousands of people, majority Black people, homeless, helpless and for many completely hopeless in the process. It’s been five years and the city is still not completely rebuilt. What SHOULD be talked about more is how the BP spill will again help crater the New Orleans maritime commerce. More jobs lost, more businesses to close and more homes (if rebuilt) will be inevitably lost to foreclosure.
“Obama’s Katrina”…are you kidding me?
How soon we forget how the comparison of Hurricane Katrina to 9/11 was “offensive” to many people. How soon we forget… Whether such outrage was justified is a different discussion for a different day. Let’s stay on topic. Yet with that in mind, the deafening silence of many leaders in the African-American community and the community in which they serve is both confounding and unacceptable.
Should the federal government have acted more swiftly in addressing the BP spill? Absolutely. Should blame be laid at the feet of this president? Absolutely, it happened on his watch, he’s captain of the ship and any other metaphor/analogy you wish to input here applies. But when garden-variety Americans, politicians or media pundits wish to elevate the BP spill to Hurricane Katrina status without rightful and swift rebuttal, it is wildly offensive…both the elevation and the silence. It’s wishful thinking to honestly and earnestly compare these disasters without respect to the human impact and an outright diss to the thousands and thousands who died or had to bury their relatives.
You know, people who just “happened” to look like me and my family.
Such comparisons are wholly disingenuous, despicable and reek of desperate politicians and media outlets.
“Obama’s Katrina?” Stop the madness. Stop making the comparison and stop allowing such intellectually dishonest drivel to go forth unchecked.
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