'Racist' Name Calling Misses The Point : Tell Me More Guest blogger Alysia Tate says renewed focus on rapper Kanye West's 2005 comments criticizing then-president George W. Bush for neglecting black victims of Hurricane Katrina ignores the larger questions about the government's response to the storm.
NPR logo 'Racist' Name Calling Misses The Point

'Racist' Name Calling Misses The Point

Actor Mike Myers (left) and rapper Kanye West are seen in footage from a 2005 NBC television special as part of relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina. During the program, West commented that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” NBC hide caption

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He said, he said.

Five years after the worst natural disaster in modern U.S. history and we’re talking about two guys who think the other might be racist, or maybe not, or…

I don’t even know anymore.

Kanye West and George W. Bush have once again stolen the show from the hundreds of people killed—and the thousands more displaced—by Hurricane Katrina.

Instead of asking, "who's a racist?" we should be asking: how do we make sure nothing like this ever happens again?

Many of the city's residents think they have part of the answer. Through agencies like the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice and membership groups such as STAND with Dignity, both the black residents who were pushed out as well as the immigrants brought in for the rebuilding, have united around the terrible conditions that affect both of their communities.

They seem to realize that racism is institutionalized and systemic and that it hurts us all, recent arrivals and longtime residents alike, regardless of color.

As the child of a white mom and a black dad, that makes sense to me, having seen this issue from a few sides.

So rather than branding some people as "good" or "bad" when it comes to racism, let’s do two things: first, let’s own up to the fact that we are all deeply affected by this system. Second, let’s focus on the system itself.

If we have privilege (like white skin), we learned that allowing separation from, and exploitation of, other groups is "normal." If our skin is darker, we learned to turn our rage and grief against ourselves and each other, with destructive consequences (such as black-on-black violence).  We must fight against both paradigms, at every level of leadership.

A legacy of unjust policies, rife with racism, is what created the conditions that left poor black people stranded in New Orleans.

Once we change those, we'll probably all like each other a little more.

Alysia Tate is Chief Operating Officer of the Community Renewal Society, which works to empower people to eradicate racism and the effects of poverty in metropolitan Chicago.