07-13-2020  9:43 pm   •   PDX and SEA Weather
Calvin O. L. Henry, Ph.d
Published: 29 November 2010

If we are to have a culturally competent American society, we must learn and understand the importance of cultural differences. However, the most important issue facing educators and people of the United States is not culture or class, but race and racism. The United States of America is one country that spends a great deal of time and efforts to identify its people along racial lines, and it lies about doing just this. Because of the history of this country, it is difficult for all its leaders to see all its citizens as one people or one nation. Hurricane Katrina revealed these in many ways.

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, especially New Orleans, Louisiana, on Monday, August 29, 2005, its impact revealed to the people of the world the "racial divide" that exists in the United States. Not only did it reveal this "racial divide"; it revealed the "disconnect" in Black America. Also it revealed how deep this "racial divide" still is in the United States and how glaring the "disconnect" is among Black Americans. These two revelations became, again, keys in our United State psyche, and they must be dealt with. It is one of the reasons why we are here today.

For the most part, the United States is a country that is largely seen, by the world, through the lens of White America. Whites control most of the institutions that defines and reports the action of the people. Even though there are many different kinds of people in the United States, the civil rights struggles are recognized generally as actions between Whites and Blacks. In the past, hurricanes were commonly reported as affecting only White people, but Hurricane Katrina changed this.

Since there was no longer legal slavery and segregation in the United States, many in White America feel safe with their rationalization that it is only a class issue, which reflects the differences in the people within the country.

Many in White America want to think that no racism exists today. Many want to think that it has been solved by the civil right era. Some in White America want to believe that no racism exists today. Some in White America want to believe that many in Black America want to use race and racism as their crutches for their failures to provide for their people. It is call "the use of the race card." Hurricane Katrina proved otherwise.

Many individuals in Black America have always known that racism is the number one problem facing the people of the United States. Yet, many individuals in Black America have been reluctant to deal with this issue directly and openly for fear of losing opportunities of upward mobility in the United States. This has led to many Black Americans to deny that racism even exists today. Perhaps, the end of legal segregation in the United States brought this about. With the end of legal segregation, many Black Americans think that they can assimilate into the larger USA Society and that the bond of racism shared, in the past, by the richest and poorest Black American no longer exists. Yet some Black Americans are faced with the reality of racism although they see themselves facing it differently. Such fear and rationalization have strengthened the denial. And this denial has led to a wide disconnect in Black America. Katrina revealed this too.

I grew up in the segregated South, and I attended segregated schools. When integration came: Integration taught Blacks to go to White schools and not be part of the schools, to live in White communities and not be part of these communities, to out-white White people but not be White. Although integration came, many Black people were made to feel that they were not citizens of the United States. The reports and images from the impact of Hurricane Katrina revealed this. Blacks were reported as being "refugees" and Whites reported as being "evacuees." Also integration did not teach Black people how to be citizens of the United States and how to use their citizenship power to uplift themselves, their community collectively and the society as a whole. Integration has not taught the people of the United States to be citizens of the United States and to see all the people of the United States as being one Nation. Katrina revealed this.

When I was in Houston, Texas early this month as part of a team representing the community of Corvallis in search for families affected by Katrina who might be interested in relocating to Corvallis, we talked with two women of the Houston Hurricane Housing Task Force. One of them expressed that she was very religious and that God was sending the people of the United States with message when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Perhaps she is right.

The implications of Race and Class from the impact of Hurricane Katrina are so extensive that all of them cannot be dealt with in the short period of time. Perhaps the most significant implication of race from the impact of Hurricane Katrina is that this country needs to heal from effects of slavery and legal segregation. It is no question in my mind that slavery in the United States was the most horrific and dehumanizing experience that a human being could undergo. Being treated as chattel and less than a human by people who say that they were Christians is not something to marvel. However, to understand that Black American ancestors endured this cruel condition is to recognize the strength of a people. This past must be must be resolved. But, remember slavery did not only affect Black people, it also affected White people too.

Many people appear to be reluctant to discuss race relations because of racism. It is no secret that the news media has provided the people in the United States of America with a slant from the majority. . Racism is a cancer in America. And it is keeping the USA divided.

Katrina revealed that it was racism that kept elected and appointed public officials from making timely decisions that could have saved lives of citizens of this country. This country needs to heal from racism. Healing racism begins with listening and dealing with it from the standpoint of what we should know, what we should teach and learn, what we should understand, and what we should do,

However there are four things that I would encourage us to do.

What must we know? Katrina has revealed the "racial divide" in the United States, and it beckons us to gain knowledge in how to solve it.

  • Know ourselves and the impact of race and racism on our development.

  • Know who are we as a community, a state, and a nation.

  • Know what the issues are and who are the players who can make a difference.

  • Know what is our government role in protecting and providing for the people.

  • Know how do race and racism affect the decisions we make and the decisions our governmental officials make.

  What must we teach and learn?

  • Teach about race and racism in our society.

  • Learn about individual racism, cultural racism and institutional racism in order to help resolve the "racial divide" in the United States.

 What must we understand?

  • Understand how racism is being used to divide us.

  • Understand how the institutions we value uses racism to define, to divide and to deny citizens in our society.

  • Understand the USA as a society and a culture and how it denies some of its people the rights of citizenship.

What must we do?

  • Challenge and expose racism wherever it raises its ugly head.

  • Talk to our neighbors as well as our elected and appointed public officials about the racism in our society.



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