I am George Bush. I am George Bush. I am George Bush.
That is a what I keep telling myself while watching the television since my return to Nashville 48 hours ago from a pristine mountain top in Colorado.
For most sane people declaring any connection or relation to George Bush – especially at this moment in history – would be considered lunacy. And yet amidst the cacophony of noise littering the airwaves, it has become my mantra.
Not unlike George Bush – who was on vacation during the hurricane – I escaped the Nashville heat for a retreat and had 4 days left to my reverie when the jarring images of death, violence and destruction hijacked my new found bliss and hurled me down the mountain.
From 9000 feet nestled in the Rocky Mountains, watching the devastation of Katrina was an ice pick piercing the heart. The sounds of the hawks and coyotes disintegrated and like most everyone in the country, I was glued to CNN.
Like George Bush I didn’t interrupt my vacation. In between hikes and naps, I stared and wept at the devastating faces of my southern brothers and sisters clinging for their lives. I cheered when Anderson Cooper took on the Bush Administration without wincing and somehow felt strangely vindicated that Cooper was relentless in his questioning. And In my righteousness, I knew where the blame lay and he was lounging somewhere in Texas. Not previously a fan of Mr. Cooper, I was deeply moved by this CNN reporter who asked disquieting questions following one of the worst natural disasters on U.S. soil, and who also demanded answersâ€¹-answers that no one in the Bush Administration seemed interested in addressing. None the less, his questions were fired in hopes of inspiring action from a Whitehouse that seemed immobilized and incapable of seeing the terrorism of Katrina. Perhaps if the hurricane had been named, Kahlil or Ahmed they might have responded sooner?
On day three when Mr. Cooper raised the question of whether or not race and class were responsible for the government¹s casual response, the country held its breath.
When you consider that New Orleans is 67 percent black and over 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and most of those unable to evacuate were people of color, there are some clues to the answer. But for as many people who believed the question was a no-brainer, there were those who were appalled and defensive by the asking even though it appeared the answer was – and always has been–in black and white.
For many, it took a relentless barrage of real-time images depicting mostly black and brown faces to absorb the reality that the people unable to escape the devastationâ€¹and who are dying in great numbers – were actually U.S. citizensâ€¹not refugees from a far away “third world” country. And in spite of being our own citizens, they are now frequently being referred to as “refugees”. And as our president¹s mother Barbara Bush has so compassionately assured us, things are working out “very well for poor evacuees.”
And now much of America seems shocked and awed by the apparent answer to Mr. Cooper¹s question that yes, race (and class) have everything to do with the pitiful response by this administration. All you have to do is imagine Jeb Bush waiting for 5 days in waist (waste) deep water for a lift up and well, there is your answer.
But the question is not just for George Bush and his posse of millionaires. It is for all of Americaâ€¹and most especially “white” America.
How many of us hear the words “black and poor” and in our minds join them together as if they are inseparable and somehow rightfully synonymous? When was the last time we rolled up the tinted windows on our SUV¹s to avoid making eye contact with someone asking for money? How many of us are immune to witnessing black and brown faces suffering around the world and only now have awakened to the brutal truth that there is no “there” over there. It is all right here, right now in America.
The danger is that if we do not see the George Bush and Dick Chaney in ourselves we will have squandered an opportunity to wake up – as horrific as that might be. We will once again shield ourselves from culpability and place the responsibility elsewhere – “over there”.
If we become blinded with blame, laying the sole responsibility on Pennsylvania Ave., we risk rolling over and falling back into a deep sleep – which is where most Americans have always been when it comes to our racist selves and our painfully high-tolerance for black and brown suffering.
Yes, white America is in grave danger of lapsing into a false confidence that the “real culprit” has been identified when in fact, we are all the culprits we are searching for. America must wake up, look unflinchingly in the mirror and see that we are also George Bush. And we must not go back to sleep.
Molly Secours is a writer/filmmaker/speaker and frequent co-host on “Behind the Headlines” on WFSK 88.1 FM in Nashville TN. She can be reached at: [email protected] or www.mollysecours.com