From the Collegium: Katrina's winds peel back classism, racism
Written by Edith Guffey
October - November 2005
October 1, 2005
As of this writing, it’s the Tuesday after Labor Day and I, like many of you, spent a good part of my past week watching news reports from Louisiana and Mississippi.
Many of you may have seen a news interview with our own Andrew Young, who grew up in New Orleans. Andy named something that I found especially true, but painful.
What we have witnessed in New Orleans has forced us — as a country — to take the blinders off about the reality of the poor and the fragility of their lives. And, in this nation, that reality is inextricably bound with race.
Whether we actually have said it out loud or not, who among us didn’t notice that the vast majority of those in New Orleans’ Superdome and Convention Center — those who couldn’t get out for any number of reasons — were persons of color. In New Orleans, that means African Americans. Yes, Hurricane Katrina was no respecter of persons. It hit everyone in its path. But those without financial resources are, as usual, the ones most impacted by this massive human tragedy. And, as we saw on our television screens, many, many of those persons are black.
I say this not to "guilt" anyone, but don’t the images on our televisions demand that we — both as a church and as a nation — take a good, hard look at the realities and the policies in our country that continue to widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots?
Please do not read this as me pointing the finger at European Americans. I say this knowing that I, like many in the UCC, am one of the "haves." I acknowledge with gratitude that I am an African-American woman with adequate resources. If some natural disaster were to strike Cleveland, I would likely be among those with the resources to get to safety.
That reality is certainly not something to brag about since I do believe that "there but for the grace of God, go I." So this is not so much an exercise in finger pointing as it is unsettling for all of us who must ask the very difficult questions about the policies that we may benefit from, but hurt so many others. Unsettling or not, how can we do anything less?
Giving money is certainly important as the recovery and rebuilding of cities and lives will be long and expensive. Our history proves that the UCC, as well as this country, can and will be generous.
But I dare say that in the long run, unjust systems and polices — related to quality education, housing, job creation, affordable medical care, you name it — must be addressed or the ever-changing images on our television screens will soon again mask the stark realities of race and class that we have witnessed in this country.
Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster that will impact us for years to come, but there is nothing natural about the polices that have contributed to what we have witnessed. You and I — each one of us — do have the power to make some difference. We can demand changes in polices. Let’s keep the blindfolds off.
Edith Guffey is the UCC’s associate general minister.