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Why Racism Won't Wash By: Heather Mac Donald
City Journal | Friday, September 16, 2005


If the government’s failure to get help instantly to Katrina victims reflects American racism, why have the images of thousands of poor, displaced blacks triggered the greatest outpouring of charity in American history?

As the poisonous racial demagoguery in Katrina’s wake continues unabated, Americans are daily disproving its central claim. Carol Moseley Braun, the scandal-plagued former senator from Illinois, has delivered one of the latest entries in the racism-made-them-not-do-it field. Writing in the International Herald Tribune, Braun compares the government’s Katrina response to anti-black lynching riots during Reconstruction. “Those who survive [Katrina] will have stories no less chilling than the stories passed down the generations from survivors who fled the night riders in the late 1800s”—in other words, New Orleans blacks waiting for evacuation were subjected to malicious massacre by the authorities. To be sure, there was horrific violence in the flood’s aftermath, but it wasn’t perpetrated by public officials or relief workers.

News outlets and pundits the world over—from the Washington Post to Al Jazeera—have gleefully portrayed the Katrina suffering as the product of what Braun calls “America’s original sin—racism.” Yet for racial sinners, Americans are sure behaving strangely. As of September 11, they had donated at least $788 million to Katrina charities, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy—an unprecedented pace of giving, easily topping the post-9/11 and tsunami giving. “It’s overwhelming,” Sarah Marchetti, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross, told the Chronicle. “People are just pouring their hearts out, and making a donation is an expression of that.” The gifts are coming in from every part of the country, from corporations, radio stations, foundations, churches, blogs, and hospitals.

While the race-mongers try to stoke blacks’ suspicion of whites, the public is showing that it regards all Americans, whatever their color or economic situation, as brothers and sisters. That people are giving so feverishly in spite of the competing images of looting by the flood victims and the reports of murder and rape is even stronger proof that racism has lost its grip on the American mind: the givers are refusing the bigot’s reaction of impugning an entire race by the loathsome behavior of a few.

The unstoppable charity towards New Orleans’s largely black survivors is so massive that even the racial demagogues cannot completely ignore it. Braun acknowledges that “the heart of the people has been touched by this tragedy in ways unknown a century ago.” So Braun is forced into an untenable distinction: the government is racist, but the people are not. This is quite a turnaround for the political and cultural elites. They have always looked to the government to protect blacks from the redneck American public’s racism—through the imposition of racial quotas in hiring, contracting, and college admissions, among other endeavors. Now it turns out that the public doesn’t need all that mandated affirmative discrimination: they see blacks as fellow human beings, not as some inferior “Other.”

Braun’s tortured distinction between a prejudiced government and a charitable people is, of course, absurd: if the public is color-blind in its compassion, its elected representatives will be, too. She offers no theory for why public officials would have held onto race prejudice while the public discarded it.

The racial victocrats and left-wing agitators won’t change their behavior after the Katrina charity outpouring, but opponents of “benign” racial discrimination will have new weapons against it. When the New York Times and other mouthpieces of the elite media blame racism for segregated housing patterns, one might ask why so many allegedly bigoted Americans volunteered to take welfare mothers and their children into their homes. When the allegedly evil Wal-Mart is accused of exploiting the working class, one might ask why it opened up its warehouses and unleashed its manpower as no other corporation has done to help the homeless. When the lack of black proportional representation in technical professions is chalked up to a cartel of discriminating employers, one might query where all those black-rejecting bigots were hiding, as businesses across the country showered job offers on the black poor. And as the Bush-hating Democrats and other political opportunists call for new government welfare programs to assist the victims of American color hatred, just savor their shameless hypocrisy in simultaneously bashing the government for its racism and calling on its sovereign power to force “racial justice” on the public.

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Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor of City Journal and the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Her latest book, coauthored with Victor Davis Hanson and Steven Malanga, is The Immigration Solution.


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