New Orleans 1986-1996, just sent us [The Posse Foundation] this...We will
continue to forward his commentaries on the unpreventable hurricane,
and its preventable aftermath, over the coming days...
------ Forwarded Message
From: Tim Wise <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Fri, 02 Sep 2005 17:03:23 -0500
Subject: article on katrina
I have been paralyzed this last few days, unable to write anything.
That changed today.
This is the first of several things I'm going to be getting off my chest.
Hope you all find them useful, or confirming, or cathartic, or
whatever. If not, just delete them and move on I guess.
A God With Whom I am Not Familiar
By Tim Wise
This is an open letter to the man sitting behind me at La Paz today,
in Nashville, at lunchtime, with the Brooks Brothers shirt:
You don't know me. But I know you.
I watched you as you held hands with your tablemates at the restaurant
where we both ate this afternoon. I listened as you prayed, and
thanked God for the food you were about to eat, and for your own
safety, several hundred miles away from the unfolding catastrophe in
You blessed your chimichanga in the name of Jesus Christ, and then
proceeded to spend the better part of your meal--and mine, since I was
too near your table to avoid hearing every word--morally scolding the
people of that devastated city, heaping scorn on them for not heeding
the warnings to leave before disaster struck. Then you attacked
them--all of them, without distinction it seemed--for the behavior of
a relative handful: those who have looted items like guns, or big
I heard you ask, amid the din of your colleagues "Amens," why it was
that instead of pitching in to help their fellow Americans, the people
of New Orleans instead--again, all of them in your mind--chose to
steal and shoot at relief helicopters.
I watched you wipe salsa from the corners of your mouth, as you nodded
agreement to the statement of one of your friends, sitting to your
right, her hair neatly coiffed, her makeup flawless, her jewelry
sparkling. When you asked, rhetorically, why it was that people were
so much more decent amid the tragedy of 9-11, as compared to the
aftermath of Katrina, she had offered her response, but only after
apologizing for what she admitted was going to sound harsh.
"Well," Buffy explained. "It's probably because in New Orleans, it
seems to be mostly poor people, and you know, they just don't have the
She then added that police should shoot the looters, and should have
done so from the beginning, so as to send a message to the rest that
theft would not be tolerated. You, who had just thanked Jesus for your
chips and guacamole, said you agreed. They should be shot. Praise the
Your God is one with whom I am not familiar.
First, it is a very fortunate thing for you, and likely for me, that
my two young children were with me as I sat there, choking back fish
tacos and my own seething rage, listening to you pontificate about
shit you know nothing about.
Have you ever even been to New Orleans?
And no, by that I don't mean the New Orleans of your company's sales
conference. I don't mean Emeril's New Orleans, or the New Orleans of
Uptown Mardi Gras parties.
I mean the New Orleans that is buried as if it were Atlantis, in
places like the lower 9th ward: 98 percent black, 40 percent poor,
where bodies are floating down the street, flowing with the water as
it seeks its own level.
Have you met the people from that New Orleans? The New Orleans that is
dying as I write this, and as you order another sweet tea?
I didn't think so.
Your God--the one to whom you prayed today, and likely do before every
meal, because this gesture proves what a good Christian you are--is
one with whom I am not familiar.
Your God is one who you sincerely believe gives a flying fuck about
your lunch. Your God is one who you seem to believe watches over you
and blesses you, and brings good tidings your way, while
simultaneously letting thousands of people watch their homes be
destroyed, and perhaps ten thousand or more die, many of them in the
streets for lack of water or food.
Did you ever stop to think just what a rancid asshole such a God would
have to be, such that he would take care of the likes of you, while
letting babies die in their mother's arms, and old people in
wheelchairs, at the foot of Canal Street?
Your God is one with whom I am not familiar.
But no, it isn't God who's the asshole here, Skip (or Brad, or
Braxton, or whatever your name is).
God doesn't feed you, and it isn't God that kept me from turning
around and beating your lily white privileged ass today either.
God has nothing to do with it.
God doesn't care who wins the Super Bowl.
God doesn't help anyone win an Academy Award.
God didn't get you your last raise, or your SUV.
And if God is even half as tired as I am of having to listen to
self-righteous bastards like you blame the victims of this nightmare
for their fate, then you had best eat slowly from this point forward.
Why didn't they evacuate like they were told?
Are you serious?
There are 100,000 people in that city without cars.
Folks who are too poor to own their own vehicle, and who rely on
public transportation every day. I know this might shock you. They
don't have a Hummer2, or whatever gas-guzzling piece of crap you
either already own or probably are saving up for.
And no, they didn't just choose not to own a car because the buses are
so gosh-darned efficient and great, as Rush Limbaugh implied
yesterday, and as you likely heard, since you're the kind of person
who hangs on the every word of such bloviating hacks as these.
Why did they loot?
Are you serious?
People are dying, in the streets, on live television. Fathers and
mothers are watching their baby's eyes bulge in their skulls from
dehydration, and you are begrudging them some Goddamned candy bars,
diapers and water?
If anything the poor of New Orleans have exercised restraint.
Maybe you didn't know it, but the people of that city with whom you
likely identify--the wealthy white folks of Uptown--were barely
touched by this storm. Yeah, I guess God was watching over them:
protecting them, and rewarding them for their faith and superior
morality. If the folks downtown who are waiting desperately for their
government to send help--a government whose resources have been
stretched thin by a war that I'm sure you support, because you love
freedom and democracy--were half as crazed as you think, they'd march
down St. Charles Avenue right now and burn every mansion in sight.
That they aren't doing so suggests a decency and compassion for their
fellow man and woman that sadly people like you lack.
Can you even imagine what you would do in their place?
Can you imagine what would happen if it were well-off white folks
stranded like this without buses to get them out, without nourishment,
Putting aside the absurdity of the imagery--after all, such folks
always have the means to seek safety, or the money to rebuild, or the
political significance to ensure a much speedier response for their
concerns--can you just imagine?
Can you imagine what would happen if the pampered, overfed corporate
class, which complains about taxes taking a third of their bloated
incomes, had to sit in the hot sun for four, going on five days?
Without a Margarita or hotel swimming pool to comfort them I mean?
Oh, and please, I know. I'm stereotyping you.
Imagine that. I've assumed, based only on your words, what kind of
person you are, even though I suppose I could be wrong. How does that
feel Biff? Hurt your feelings?
So sorry. But hey, at least my stereotypes of you aren't deadly. They
won't effect your life one bit, unlike the ones you carry around with
you and display within earshot of people like me, supposing that no
one could possibly disagree.
But I'm not wrong am I Chip? I know you. I see people like you all the
time, in airports, in business suits, on their lunch breaks. People
who will take advantage of any opportunity to ratify and reify their
pre-existing prejudices towards the poor, towards black folks.
You see the same three video loops of the same dozen or so looters on
Fox News and you conclude that poor black people are crazy, immoral,
You, or others quite a bit like you, are the ones posting messages on
chat room boards, calling looters sub-human "vermin," "scum," or
"cockroaches." I heard you use the word "animals" three times today:
you and that woman across from you--what was her name? Skyler? What
was it you said as you scooped the last bite of black beans and rice
into your eager mouth? Like zoo animals? Yes, I think that was it.
Well Chuck, it's a free country, and so you certainly have the right I
suppose to continue lecturing the poor, in between checking your
Blackberry and dropping the kids off at soccer practice. If you want
to believe that the poor of New Orleans are immoral and greedy, and
unworthy of support at a time like this--or somehow more in need of
your scolding than whatever donation you might make to a relief
fund--so be it.
But let's leave God out of it, shall we? All of it.
Your God is one with whom I am not familiar, and I'd prefer to keep it that way.
Tim Wise is the author of White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a
Victoria Cunningham - Trainer
The Posse Foundation
1612 K Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
phone: 202.293.3800 fax: 202.293.4300