ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
When Hurricane Katrina was declared the U.S. tsunami, there was a noticeable silence among the Chinese
Hurricane Katrina: Did the Chinese Help
the Bush Administration Oppress African Americans?
By Kam Hei Tsuei
Cries of agony from the pain and suffering caused by Hurricane Katrina continue to ring in our ears. However, as the people of the U.S and many other countries mourn the loss of innocent lives and the destruction of family legacies in New Orleans, the Chinese seem to be undisturbed by the traumatic catastrophe, neither offering any help nor caring to report on the massive and irreversible damage it has caused.
In bold contrast, the Chinese responded to the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia with charity events held for disaster relief, and Chinese newspapers and other media reported on the disaster comprehensively. The two crises and the two different responses raise one question: Why was one group of victims treated differently than the other? The answer to the question is that the Chinese do not value the lives of anyone whose skin color is black.
When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the people of the city, who were mostly black, experienced a total devastation in the form of lost lives and separated families, along with the ruination of their most valuable possessions, which had been kept for many generations. The situation was so severe that it was said to be the tsunami of the U.S., a direct reference to the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia. Only this time the noticeable difference is that, although many countries such as Canada and Cuba offered direct aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the Chinese took no action toward disaster relief whatsoever.
In the 2004 tsunami, the Chinese were very ambitious in offering all kinds of help for the victims. In the U.S., Hong Kong, as well as in many places in China, the Chinese took the disaster seriously and did not waste a second to help the victims. Those with money donated what they could while those who could not offer economical help donated materials such as food, water, medical aid, and clothing.
Media such as television, radio and newspapers, along with the voices of important social figures, for example, actors and actresses, stressed the seriousness of the devastation and encouraged everyone to donate what they could. Different sites were set up for fund raising, and charity marathons were held one after another, all with the intention of collecting as much as possible to help the victims. Actors and actresses from Hong Kong visited the disaster sites and reported what they had witnessed: the fragility of lives, the total scale of the disaster, and how their experience had changed their lives forever.
The 2004 tsunami brought out the kindest souls and united people of all ethnicities, nationalities, and religions to work together, reaching out to those who need a helping hand.
When Hurricane Katrina was declared the U.S. tsunami, there was a noticeable silence among the Chinese. It was the extreme opposite response they had had toward the 2004 tsunami victims in Indonesia. Even though there were reports of the Katrina disaster, with figures of the damage and the numbers of innocent lives lost, no action was taken to fund raise for disaster relief. There was no one who stood up, as they had during the 2004 tsunami, to inform the Chinese of the horrors of having a whole city being wiped out, with thousands of its citizens still within the city because the government had left them there to die.
None of the Chinese media had done what they did before, to encourage everyone to have a heart and wake up to face the horror of Katrina. Instead, the Chinese were encouraged to put on a blind eye. Instead of offering help, the Chinese media and political leadership referred to the victims in the same dehumanizing terms that the white U.S. media had: looters. It seems clear that their reason for not helping the citizens of New Orleans is because they are black and are therefore not worthy of being helped.
Commenting on the news report of New Orleans citizens trying to get from the stores what they needed to survive, the Chinese press called them looters, a name that looks down on humanity and blames the victims for fighting for their lives, even when their government refused to protect them and abandoned them. Not understanding the history of racial oppression, and judging everything from the perspective of white supremacy, the Chinese media actually blamed African-Americans for not leaving the city while they still had a chance.
On the front cover of todays New York Times there was a picture of victims from Hurricane Wilma in Florida, trying to escape. Inside the pages, we can still find follow up stories on Hurricane Katrina. The aftermath concerns education, health epidemics and other aspects regarding reconstructing a city with memories and legends destroyed. However, looking at two of the most popular Chinese newspapers, Sing Tao Daily and World Journal, the front cover of the main section was a story on issues entirely unrelated to Hurricanes Wilma and Katrina. I searched in vain in the other sections to see if there was any coverage of the Hurricanes.
I have talked to numerous Chinese such as my mother and co-workers and explained to them the real situation in the Gulf. None of them wanted to listen to me and stood by the white medias perspective, refusing to help the Katrina victims because they are black, and believing for that reason they do not deserve to be helped.
Some people might argue that the Chinese do not have the resources to offer aid for Katrina relief. But let us remember the effort they took at helping the 2004 tsunami victims, who were not Chinese and not Buddhist, and, most significantly, not black. When the news showed the victims fleeing from the disaster and taking from the stores what they needed, those victims were not called looters.
It troubles me that the Chinese do not consider African Americans as human beings worthy of aid in a time of epic disaster, and, worst of all, that they seem to agree with the U.S. governments brutal treatment of African Americans in New Orleans.
It is essential for everyone in the U.S., especially the immigrants, to understand their political position and who their real oppressors are. The media is controlled by wealthy white corporations and the words they are spreading are intended to poison our minds about the poor and especially about blacks. Everyone, especially the Chinese, who seem to lack an understanding of U.S. history, needs to realize the reasons why African Americans are still at the bottom of the society, after more than 300 years.
I suggest that the Chinese, whether they reside in the U.S. or not, study U.S. history, not as it has been written by white historians, but by studying it through African American writers such as Margaret Walker, Charles W. Chesnutt, W.E.B. DuBois, and Toni Morrison. They should study the novels written by these important authors to look closely at the horror of U.S. history. Then to see with open eyes how history is repeating itself today with current events.
It is harder than it sounds to understand the horror of slavery, segregation, and racial apartheid. But there are plenty of intellectual resources, for example, Malcolm X. He wrote: I believe in human rights for everyone, and none of us is qualified to judge each other and that none of us therefore has that authority. We should not be judgmental by calling each other names such as looters, or labeling one another based on complexion instead of the name given by our parents. Labeling only provides power to those who oppress us.
It is unfortunate that the Chinese media followed the Bush agenda in the case of Hurricane Katrina. This was alarming to many Chinese Americans such as myself, who refuse to draw distinctions based on so-called race. I believe that every advanced human being knows that race is a pseudo-scientific fiction designed to repress and weaken our sense of solidarity.
In the case of the Tsunami of 2004, the Chinese simply followed the normal logic of solidarity, which was admirable. But in 2005 in New Orleans, the Chinese followed the U.S. racial logic, which was disgusting. It makes me wonder if the Chinese Dragonthe rapidly expanding Chinese economywill soon become much like the U.S. economy, which continues to mistreat a large number of its darker-skinned citizens.
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Kam Hei Tsuei was born in Hong Kong and has been living in NYC since 1996. She is currently an undergraduate student at the City University of New York majoring in writing and literature. She is studying the history, art and literature of African Americans to better understand the United States and how to make it better. She can be reached at KHTsuei@aol.com
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By Charles C. Mann
Im a big fan of Charles Manns previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Its exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that its anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, Im proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, globalized entity.
Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple. We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.
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By Pauline Maier
A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her books footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a conventions decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maiers accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly). Ripostes from proponents, the Federalists, animate the great detail Maier provides, as does her recounting how one state conventions verdict affected anothers. Displaying the grudging grassroots blessing the Constitution originally received, Maier eruditely yet accessibly revives a neglected but critical passage in American history.Booklist
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By Eugene Robinson
In this clear-eyed and compassionate study, Robinson (Coal to Cream), Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist for the Washington Post, marshals persuasive evidence that the African-American population has splintered into four distinct and increasingly disconnected entities: a small elite with enormous influence, a mainstream middle-class majority, a newly emergent group of recent immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, and an abandoned minority “with less hope of escaping poverty than at any time since Reconstruction’s end.” Drawing on census records, polling data, sociological studies, and his own experiences growing up in a segregated South Carolina college town during the 1950s, Robinson explores 140 years of black history in America, focusing on how the civil rights movement, desegregation, and affirmative action contributed to the fragmentation. Of particular interest is the discussion of how immigrants from Africa, the “best-educated group coming to live in the United States,” are changing what being black means.
Robinson notes that despite the enormous strides African-Americans have made in the past 40 years, the problems of poor blacks remain more intractable than ever, though his solution–“a domestic Marshall Plan aimed at black America”–seems implausible in this era of cash-strapped state and local governments.Publishers Weekly
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 21 November 2005