Hurricane Harvey, Houston, and Systemic Racism
Houston residents have been fighting tooth and nail for their own survival against massive floods brought on by Hurricane Harvey last week. Americans all over have been re-posting videos and hashtags on social media to show their support for those who lost everything. There were heroic rescues all around, and as the images out of Houston continued to spread, more and more Americans began to pat themselves on the back.
“This is what America is about!”
“This is not about race or gender or color—it’s about helping others!”
“Seeing people react to Harvey has given me hope for America!”
Whatever these walking hashtag prayer chains thought about the state of America in that moment, it didn’t last long. Earlier this week, a woman posted a video claiming that people who were performing rescues in Houston were passing up black neighborhoods. This has been unconfirmed. But when this video was shared to a Hurricane Harvey group I am a part of, one of the responses brought up a good point that needs to be discussed more.
Racism is very much alive and it hasn’t gone away just because of Hurricane Harvey. It’s still right there staring us all in the face. “The blacks”—all of them at once—were apparently too busy “shooting and looting” (again, unsubstantiated claims) to buy a boat and help? According to the Economic Policy Institute, “Among racial and ethnic groups, African Americans had the highest poverty rate, 27.4 percent, followed by Hispanics at 26.6 percent and whites at 9.9 percent.”
Follow that up with the fact that “45.8 percent of young black children (under age 6) live in poverty, compared to 14.5 percent of white children” and you have a good overview of the odds that black families have been struggling against for decades. Add in school systems in poor neighborhoods that are underfunded and poorly staffed, along with lack of access to resources like healthy food, affordable healthcare and in some cases clean water, and it’s clear that something about this American experiment is going horribly wrong for people of color.
It makes sense that white American men would be best poised to have a boat, a truck to tow it, and ample free time to travel upwards of 300 miles to rescue people in the wake of a natural disaster. A lot of us are too busy struggling to keep ourselves afloat to save up money for a stab at a rich man’s pastime.
And let’s stop with running towards the “shooting and looting” blame game every time a black person speaks up about mistreatment. Every time a black person speaks up, they’re held personally accountable for every single shooting or crime committed by a black person ever. There’s no room for a black person to be a victim in a situation as long as others keep holding us hostage to the actions of gangs and groups we’ve never been a part of.
Harvey has brought a lot of folks together, but this is a vision of an America that is only skin deep. We can pretend to be unified and live in harmony for a few weeks—maybe even months. But until we confront our own prejudices and acknowledge our pasts, we cannot move forward as a team. Oh and for the record, black folks rescued people too! Those of us that could, we’re heroes just like the rest. We just did it in our own special way.
Written by Saint Spicer
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