Howard Dean on Race and Disaster Relief

Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, talks about the controversial comments he made earlier this week about race and Hurricane Katrina aid efforts. The former governor of Vermont told members of the National Baptist Convention on Wednesday that "skin color, age and economics played a deadly role in who survived and who did not."

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ED GORDON, host:

Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean believes race and class played a key role in the recovery effort after Hurricane Katrina. Speaking Wednesday at the annual meeting of the National Baptist Convention of America, Dean said, `As we sort out through the rubble, we must also begin to come to terms with the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a deadly role in who survived and who did not.'

Governor Dean, thanks for joining us again. Appreciate it.

Former Governor HOWARD DEAN (Chairman, Democratic Party): Thanks for having me on.

GORDON: Governor, you've been very frank in your comments about the response to the hurricane evacuees. I'm wondering if you can clarify--I suspect you don't see it as overt racism. Do you see it as benign neglect? How do you characterize race as it plays a role here?

Dr. DEAN: Well, if you look at who the victims of this were, there were, of course, all kinds of people--white, black, brown--but predominantly the people who lost their lives, the people who lost their homes were predominantly black or poor or old or all three. I think that says something about America. We have--I'm a child of the '60s. We were so proud of the civil rights movement, worked so hard, but I think an awful lot of people in America, including a lot of people in the government, think there's not a race problem in this country anymore, and I think there is. And I think one of the lessons of Katrina--never mind the late response and the inaptitude of the federal government and all that--one of the problems is it has unroofed this issue of race and class in America. And this is a--it's a good learning opportunity for us. There should be some good things that come out of this, and if we can have one of those good things come out of this, we ought to look at who the victims were and why disproportionately they were old or poor or black.

GORDON: So in that sense, does America--and we're talking about white America quite frankly here--just overlook blacks? Do they not connect?

Dr. DEAN: It's true. Ed, it's true. I used to say when I was on the campaign trail, much of the chagrin of all the other candidates except, of course, Al Sharpton, who is black--I used to say, `You know, white people need to start talking to other white people about race.' It was a typical white politician who goes and talks to black audiences about race. We need to talk to white audiences. You know, black people and Hispanic people know there's racism. White folks, of which I'm obviously one, most of us don't think there's a race problem in this country anymore. We think that was fixed with the civil rights movement. That's not true.

There was a really interesting study--you don't have to take my word for it. The Wall Street Journal ran a study a couple of years ago that showed that if you are white with a drug conviction, you're more likely to be called back for a second job interview than if you're a black with a clean record. Now there's something about this that we need to talk about as a national dialogue. This debate is not just about the inadequacies of the federal government. This debate is about what's the matter with America that we still need to work on.

GORDON: Let me ask you this. Do you believe the response would have been the same had this been Utah or Vermont or Boston, Massachusetts?

Dr. DEAN: I think that the response would have been better if it was Martha's Vineyard. I'm not sure that--I don't believe the response was a racist response, although there's a state senator quoted--or I think it was a state senator or representative or maybe a congressman quoted from Baton Rouge this morning in The Wall Street Journal that said, `Well, we finally got rid of all the public housing in New Orleans.' Now that doesn't give you much confidence in the fact of the idea that there was no racism going on. I think probably there was some. I don't believe that the response was deliberately slower because most of the victims were black. That I don't believe. I do believe that a lot of the indifference would have disappeared if these folks had been in positions of power, if this had been a neighborhood that there were people of means there. That I think would have gotten folks' attention, particularly in this government since those are the folks that this government represents.

GORDON: What do you say to the Bush administration, who will say that this kind of talk right now is not helping the situation?

Dr. DEAN: I say the Bush administration has had its head in the sand since the day they walked in the door. They twist people's quotes around. They make stuff up. They point fingers. I think it's ludicrous for Scott McClellan to get up on the press thing every day and say, `We don't have to play the blame game.' Here they are going after the Democratic mayor of New Orleans and the Democratic governor. If you don't want to play the blame game, then stop blaming the local government. If you don't want to play the blame game, then let's have an honest look at the things in America that need to be fixed.

GORDON: Howard Dean is chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

One note, we've extended an invitation to the Republican National Committee for their response to Dr. Dean's comments. We hope to have that for you real soon.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.