Let's be honest. The entire history of the United States is built on racial hierarchy and discrimination. In fact, as Michael Guerrero, the House of Representatives just decided on an exhibition to honor the African American slaves who built the Capitol building, brick by brick. Racism is our national legacy -- and increasingly our main export.
Witness the War in Iraq.
In this great post on the Movement Vision Lab, Scott Douglas -- a veteran community organizer and leader from Birmingham, Alabama -- writes:
... our government would rather dominate and destroy people of color in Iraq than help people of color here at home.
It is amazing to me that while 72% of people oppose the war in Iraq, the war continues. It's a war that is only hurting people, not helping, whose only point was control of oil. Presiding over the escalating violence there is costing the United States $3 billion per day! And yet Democrats and a few Republicans in Congress are only just now beginning to question the war's continuance, let alone it's original rationale.
Compare this to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma and the abysmal response of government. After two years, there remains the stagnation of commitment led, first and foremost, by the federal government. In Louisiana, issues revolve around building level five levees (levees that can take the shock of a Hurricane Katrina) and life-sustaining infrastructure such as water, power, gas and sewer services. We must also restore the wetlands that offers nature's protection against storm surges.
But the unpopular AND expensive war is still prioritized over the needs of Black communities in our own Gulf region:
Across entire Gulf Coast, stretching from Texas to Alabama, affordable housing and living wage job opportunities are scarce. Thousands of families are still housed in FEMA trailers that contain deadly levels of formaldehyde.
Yet the federal government manages to scrounge up $3 billion per day to "rescue" Iraq. Those of us in the Gulf Coast need to be rescued, too!
The fact of the matter is we're all in it together. Iraqi lives are as important as the lives of the displaced residents along Katrina's path. So why are we spending so much money destroying communities in Iraq while failing to re-build communities in America?
Perhaps more pointedly, why do those of us who agree with the above prognosis fail to see this pattern as a symptom of broader, systemic racism?
Why don't we see that the reason we could get away with attacking Iraq was race -- most notably, the stereotypes spread by government and media that continues to cast a pale of suspicion over all Muslim and Arab people in the US and abroad? And why don't we see that the reason we have failed to help New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast is because of racism, plain and simple. Do you really think our government would have let thounsands of wealthy white folks drown?
We need to talk about race, instead of ignoring. We need to appreciate difference, instead of demanding assimilation. We need to address racism, rather than denying it.
Sally Kohn is the Director of the Movement Vision Lab.