Monday, September 12, 2005

Choosing Your Rescuer

Major Mike

Below was captured from
Friday's Oregonian...

    "For the man in the mirror, the woman in the mirror, the child in the mirror -- still devastated from the Gulf Coast storm and flood -- to travel more than 2,000 miles to Oregon and not see reflections of themselves, a new form of devastation is created.

    I was compelled to write this in response to the insensitivity to locations for placement of African Americans displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Locations such as Oregon lack a culturally diverse majority to act as a hospitality group having the competency to truly relate to the social, spiritual and cultural healing these evacuees will need.

    Some readers will interpret my use of "insensitivity" as charged language. That in itself supports the argument that there's a lack of understanding about the needs of mankind extending beyond the basic requirements of food, clothing and shelter.

    You don't need a course in statistics or a review of a census report to realize that the majority of the citizens of New Orleans, Biloxi and surrounding areas are African Americans. Those assigned to make placement decisions for these evacuees are rendering a disservice to them and showing disrespect to African American civic groups in Oregon that seek to embrace the men, women and children in the mirror.

    My intent here is not to damage caring hearts. It is not to provoke anger or set a prejudicial tone. After listening to communications from the director of the area's American Red Cross and from those commissioned by Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Portland Mayor Tom Potter to locate emergency housing, my intention is to publicly educate them that the needs of these survivors extend beyond what is being offered.

    I agreed with the Red Cross director's comment that the survivors need time to rest and process what they have experienced. This healing should involve the support of a group reflecting, embracing and mirroring their life experiences. Such a bond tends to soothe and expedite the healing process.

    For an African American to leave the South, where she or he has been rooted, and relocate to Oregon -- as gorgeous as it may be -- is an unimaginable cultural shock. After 30 years of Southern living, I married an African American native Oregonian, which prompted my move to this state, where I experience this jolt of the culture.

    The perception most African Americans have of Oregon is that there are no African Americans here, which often equates to an assumption of ill treatment of African Americans by white Oregonians. At the very least, there is ignorance. For example, some well-trained Northwest television news anchors have described survivors coming to Oregon as "refugees," a hurtful label that would foster resistance to temporarily residing in our great state.

    Do demographics, cultural differences and impoverished conditions cause Oregonians to believe that these people are "coming to America"? The term "refugees" suggests as much, even though these survivors sing "America," too.

    In TV interviews, residents of Portland neighborhoods where placement facilities are located have asked, "Are we going to be safe?" These remarks are stereotyping indicators and are barriers to the healing process.

    These survivors have lost enough to the bayous and the Gulf and do not need their sense of worthiness and self-esteem washed away on our Oregon shores.

    Those of the majority culture in Oregon have practiced the process of diversity competency, but they have not mastered the art of it adequately enough to fulfill the extended needs of African American evacuees."

    Deborah Harris is a Portland State University graduate student.

I came across this piece in the Oregonian Friday morning and I was a bit stunned by it. Portland State University student Deborah Harris makes, what I believe is a sincere attempt to explain why evacuees from the Gulf Coast may be reluctant to come to Portland for refuge, but I think, in the end, she has done more harm than good.

In her first paragraph, she immediately implies that race is a factor even when sheer survival is at stake…that rescue and relief efforts are somehow negated if those being helped are not being helped by those of the same color. I am taken aback by this on several levels.

First, I understand any gulf coast resident’s reluctance to leave the area. Nearly everything here is different…the weather, the topography, the general culture, etc. But more importantly, a displacement of this distance induces other logistical problems for the evacuees…cost to return, cost to connect with and visit with relatives, who may also be in the same situation, or enduring the pangs of the simple desire to return to where one grew up. All very understandable.

But certainly, trying to incorporate over 400,000 evacuees within a few hours of their immediate homes, is also a near impossibility. Local services are already stretched, and the ability of the cities and communities in the southern region to immediately embrace significant population changes is dubious. It is extremely likely that surplus housing does not exist in those areas that the evacuees would prefer to live. In that case, temporary, and I think I correctly view Portland as a temporary refuge for the evacuees, refuge must be found spread across the near entirety of this nation.

Four hundred thousand, needy, evacuees cannot just assimilate into Baton Rouge, Meridian, Lafayette…today. In time, yes. But to relieve the strain on all of the services in the region, many of the evacuees will have to move to unfamiliar territory, at least temporarily…Portland being one of the likely spots.

Secondly, I am insulted by her statement. When I was flying ejection seat equipped fighters, I had no choice whom worked on those life-saving devices…man/woman, black/white/Hispanic/Asian. I had to trust in each and every specially trained mechanic regardless of their socio-economic or racial status. At their core, race neutrality, racial blindness, and racial accptance hinge on the idea that those barriers are rapidly disassembled in extremis. This has been proven time and again in combat, in our emergency services, and on our sports fields. Trust is the building block that moves race relations forward faster than any other factor. Faster than the wholey created business of "diversity." Faster than the near continuous din of "racism" that permiates post-Katrina.

Embracing “diversity” (our buzzword for racial harmony), means not looking in the mirror, but looking out the door. Sometimes this means taking risks…trusting strangers, reaching out even though you are unaccustomed to it…getting outside your comfort zone. And in this emergency, this might be a good exercise for both the evacuees from the south and caregivers here in Portland. The volunteers sure seem willing. Couldn’t this connection actually strengthen racial ties here in Portland?

A study of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, will show that meeting the basic needs of life, supercedes higher level needs in time of crisis. It doesn’t mean the relief agencies are entitled to be insensitive, but it does mean that the evacuees need to prioritize their needs…it is hard to eat a “diversity” sandwich. Let’s deal with the immediate needs, then we can move on to the higher level needs. Not ALL needs can be adequately accommodated all the time.

I suggest that the African-American population in Portland is sufficient in size to tend to the very specific cultural needs of any diverse evacuees, but is color required to tend to all needs? If this is the standard, then should all monies to support African-American evacuees come only from African-Americans? I think we would find, because of the size of the African-American population in this country, that this standard would result in a significantly lower level of care in meeting basic needs. Why not agree that cultural support could come from within the culturally unique communities, and that the bascis needs could come from the relief agencies already equipped to tend to the basic requirmentst?

As for “damaging caring hearts”, how would African-American volunteers feel if whites declined shelters offered in black neighborhoods? One word, offended. I understand that it may be impossible for some African-Americans to see past color…I understand what a profound impact race has played in their lives, and I understand they may feel more comfortable in black neighborhoods, but when food and shelter are declined in a time of emergency, because of race, it is hard not to be offended. And it is nearly impossible for that attitude not to do irreparable harm to race relations. Without the multitude of white volunteers throughout the country where would the rescue/relief/recovery effort be? Tread lightly here, the harm you do may not be measured until the next crisis.

As for mis-labeling of evacuee as refugees…a minor nuance in the dictionary…I looked it up. Maybe insensitive, but not unexpected at the local level by MSM wannabes. I doubt it was intended at all to imply a different class of citizenry. The blathering idiots on local TV stations, often misspeak dozens of times in their reports. Be insulted if you want to, but this should not be a barrier to needy evacuees receiving help and a place of respite.

I also think, based on the images of the looting and lawlessness, that was readily apparent in the Superdome, the Convention Center, and the streets of New Orleans…asking about safety is a legitimate question by neighbors, and possibly caregivers. It is easily put to bed by the experienced institutions handling the crisis. But it is legitimate to ask, answer, and put behind us. No reason to ignore the legitimate concerns of care givers and shelter neighbors, in light of the violence presented on TV, simply because one group might get insulted. When we mature as a racially neutral country we will come to miss these “insults” rather than see them at every turn.

Ms. Harris comes very close to espousing the idea that only African-Americans should, or can, adequately care for other African-Americans in need. If this is true, I am sure there are many white Americans out there that would let them carry the entirety of the burden…and it comes with a significant price tag, one I am not sure that the African-American community can carry alone.

This idea, is, regardless of intention, divisive to its core. As our country continues to move farther from the bonds of slavery, the inequities of segregation and pains of discrimination…these kinds of ideas need to be more closely examined before they are espoused, because, regardless of the beliefs in the black communities, a vast majority of whites are not bigots or racists, and to be eyed as one at every turn is becoming insulting in the extreme.

Regardless of whether the Portland shelters are occupied or not, they will be predominately manned by whites, who seek only to help, and to profit only by the good they feel in their hearts…as it will likely be out into the future. But our country and our diverse communities will never connect as they should, until we can graciously accept help in the good light that it is offered.

It turns out that Portland will not receive any evacuees via official programs...was the printing of this OpEd piece worth the damage it may have caused to the relief organizations who toil away, everyday within our very liberal, and caring community? It is hard to imagine...perhaps behind Ann Arbor, and Eugene...any more progressive and socially involved community than Portland. I am not sure how this involved and committed community will feel about their warmest, and most welcoming efforts being dismissed soley because most of them happend to be white.

Michelle Malkin links to this story from Nashville's News Channel 5,

"The Red Cross has been praised for its tireless efforts assisting storm victims in Middle Tennessee. But there are concerns in the black community that the organization lacks diversity, especially in an effort helping mostly black evacuees. A number of minority churches and groups are offering to help, but say they've been left out.

But Reverend Enoch Fuzz says in times like this, the volunteer corps should be more diverse, “Who in Brentwood would know where a black beauty shop or barber shop is?” asks Fuzz. The Red Cross acknowledges most of it’s volunteers are white, but says training is open to anyone. Since then, Joyce Searcy went through training, and is signing up others.

A number of black churches are helping evacuees on their own even though it isn't through the Red Cross.

(shaking the head)

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