Race, Disaster and Comparative Suffering

Tim Wise on racism and racist rhetoric in Iowa flooding and New Orleans Katrina

Tim Wise has written a new essay that critiques the racist rhetoric that’s being furiously spread around the interwebs in the wake of flooding in Iowa – “Adding Insult to Injury: Race, Disaster and the Calculus of Comparative Suffering.” It’s a deeper analysis that is very similar in context to my post on “Comparing Iowa to New Orleans.”

Disasters bring out the best and worst in people.

On the one hand, millions of folks respond to the suffering of their fellow human beings with compassion, concern, and even significant financial assistance when needed. Be it a hurricane, an earthquake, tornadoes or the recent massive flooding in the Midwestern United States, the hearts, minds, and often wallets of large numbers of the nation’s people are with those in need.

And on the other hand, there’s Rush Limbaugh, who has decided to use the flooding in Iowa not to demonstrate compassion, but as an opportunity to make derogatory statements about poor black folks: specifically those caught by the flooding in New Orleans after Katrina in 2005.

This week, as folks in Iowa, Indiana and parts of Illinois have watched flood waters rise ever higher, Limbaugh took to the air to contrast these supposedly good and decent people who have joined forces to help each other, with the presumably evil, lazy and violent folks of New Orleans, who we are told, did nothing but foment criminality and wait for the government to save them during flooding there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

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  • Eric, as usual you are making such comparisons into racial issue. I agree with how Neal Boortz characterized this as a difference in culture. I think that is very accurate. In fact, Boortz is very clear to say it is not about race.

    Even though there is a difference of circumstances that necessarily changes the reactions, you did not see Iowans waiting for the government to take care of them. How many people did we see participating in filling sandbags? As for looting, for any looting that was “looting to live,” I am not going to say much. People need food, water, clothing and certain basic supplies. However, when you see televisions being taken, that is disgraceful even in the wake of a hurricane. When you police officers looting even shoes, that is a poor example to be setting. It does not matter if the people who do this are white or black. This is about a culture and mindset regardless of race.

  • @ Derek Brian Cook aka FinanceBuzz:

    First of all, Neal Boortz is a fucking idiot. Iowans have received millions of dollars of federal subsidies each year to help prop up a farming industry that could not sustain itself without government monies. Iowans have been depending on the government to take care of them since I was a fetus. It’s part of the way of life in farming country.

    The rhetoric comparing Iowa and New Orleans is all about race. Folks like Neal are masking their overtly bigoted sentiment with semantics. Iowa is a predominantly white state. Folks of color live in Iowa in much smaller numbers than in New Orleans. New Orleans is extremely racially diverse.

    The Iowan culture of needing the government to exist is a reality. Apparently you did not read Tim Wise’s article. Otherwise I would not have to point this out to you.

    Subsidies and aid in Iowa is being labeled as self-reliant and a superior “culture” = code for white people.

    While aid, welfare, etc. in New Orleans (which I believe was numerically lower than the impacted areas of Iowa receive on an annual basis) is being labeled as needy or less than due to “culture” = code for Blacks in New Orleans could not take care of themselves like the good ole White Iowans in Iowa could.

    Read the articles that I am posting about before you drop comments that are clearly misinformed.

  • I will give you this. I did make the mistake of thinking your quoted passage was the most important message from Tim’s essay. I concede he makes some valid point, but he does not cite any references. That is not to say that his data is invalid, just that his argument comes down to “trust me.” If he has sources to back that up (and I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he does), he makes some compelling arguments.

    I will not get into the whole farm subsidy thing. If you want to talk about that, I am sure we can find many a economic blog on which to debate.

    That does not change the point that you and Tim Wise are the ones bringing race into this. Read Boortz’s QUOTE. You are so consumed with race, that you cannot even read the comment as it was made. Now, perhaps my perceptions of New Orleans residents are wrong but it is not because of their race. I have a perception of black people living in an urban area and a very different perception of black people living in a rural area. I have a different perception of uneducated black people and educated black people. In fact, you could substitute “white” for “black” in each case above and the statement would hold true. However, what is the common thread? They are all black people! If it was about race, then would not my perception be a function of the race and not the socio-economic class? Yet, my perception falls along socio-economic lines. Now, if you want to jump on me for perceptions of different socio-economic groups, it would be hard to argue with. We should take all people, of all races, of all walks of live on an individual basis. But that is far different than suggesting that nearly everything you blog about finds some way to twist a situation to have a racial angle. Case in point the Black Out at OSU last fall. And I mention that because it was just announced that Georgia Tech will have a White Out one game this fall. Why? Because one of Tech’s colors is WHITE, but maybe you and other here need to hightail it to http://www.gojackets.com and tell every that if they participate they are a bunch of racists.

  • SarahMC

    Ah yes, the “backbone of America,” according to Limbaugh. Heartlanders are all selfless, giving people. Except when they’re not.

    White people are typically described as “foraging for supplies” whilst blacks are characterized as “looters.” Not to mention the fact that several of the “reports” of wild, violent, looting blacks in NOLA were proven to have been fabricated.

  • Uriel T

    I know this post maybe a bit late (in terms of current events) but I’m a Latino who lived thru the 08 floods in Iowa and at no point in time did I ever feel that White people were getting teh upper hand in terms of aid and “benefits” in comparison to minorities. I’m from Columbus Jct, And we were hit hard, yet the whole community, brown, black and white pulled together and started sandbagging, hand out water and food to those most affected, hell my folks cooked dinner for a couple of National Guard members that were stationed in CJ during the flood.

    This whole concept of race and racism is so 19th century