CNN has presented the boldest critique yet of the New Orleans rescue effort, a five minute interview with a calm, articulate man trapped in the Superdome, who calls what’s happening now “Modern Day Genocide.”. The rest of the mainstream press is stepping timidly toward similiar analyses, even as they adopt a tone familiar from decades of earnest, “what is to be done?” policy journalism. The New York Times writes of the “margins of society,” as if the poor black people trapped in the city weren’t a major part of its population. The Washington Post offers a sidebar-style piece on “The Racial Dimension,” as if that was an interesting “angle” on the story.

Anthea Butler, a historian of African-American religion at the University of Rochester, wrote us with this op-ed. It won’t be appearing in any mainstream press near you soon, but it should: This is the language appropriate to atrocity.

The port that took in the bodies and souls of Africans to enslave them in America is the same place in which their descendents are dying because of the neglect — and virtual genocide — foisted upon them by a lame duck and lame president and an ineffectual government.

That’s right, America. Slavery has never ended for generations of African Americans in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. New Orleans, a major slave port, will be the place of death once again, for thousand of Africa’s descendents. In these states, persons of African descent are the ones who are most impoverished, hurting, and dismayed. Yet our news broadcasters continue to ask inane questions, such as “Why didn’t they leave?” Or, “Why are they looting?”

The mainstream press is partially to blame for this rapidly unfolding debacle. We haven’t heard much about people being rescued, but to hear it told from CNN, Fox, and other television news outlets, there is mass looting, raping, and stealing. Is there racial bias to this coverage? These pictures tell the tale:


Of course, the continual loop of black bodies screaming and sweating doesn’t help either. The occasional white person who pops up is probably worth 100 Chinook helicopters flying in at this point. The fact is, God help whomever is still in New Orleans, because it’s hell on earth. A hell that politicians and greedy developers made.

Why are those left behind looting? People are looting because they are tired of being at the bottom. If you don’t have gas money, or a working car, or the government check that would come on September 1, you could not leave New Orleans. Never mind the fact that New Orleans, as a tourist capital, never funneled any of that money back into impoverished communities. Katrina didn’t care that monthly stipend hadn’t come yet. She came instead.

The majority of persons in this desperate plight simply want to get out, anyway they can. And the help that was so delicately listed by our ever-vacationing president in his address to the nation is taking its own sweet time getting there. This started as a natural disaster, but the aftermath is genocide of black people, once again.

Folks, it is time to take a good hard look at this nation. We have an administration that wants to rebuild Iraq, to bring Freedom, but generations of black people in this country have never been free, they have just been poor. We can’t even fix our own infrastructure, yet Halliburton gets the contracts to rebuild Iraq? Who will rebuild the gulf coast? When will the hordes of flag-waving, Christian Republicans realize that we are as sheep without a shepherd? Bush’s Christianity makes me want to puke. If Bush can claim to be a Christian, after smirking in his Rose Garden address about people wanting the help quickly, then he should start to put anti-Christ before his name.

Whatever you believe, it is time to start calling the emperor Bush naked, and not clothed. Once again, in a time of national crisis, he has floundered and been found wanting. If they can attempt to impeach Clinton for a blowjob, how much more are we going to take from Bush for lying about the war in Iraq, mismanaging the government, imprisoning “detainees” falsely, and now, practically withholding federal aid from thousands of imperiled citizens of New Orleans? I for one, will pound that drum of impeachment loudly. I encourage others to do the same. Like the drums of Africa, I can only hope the message catches on. Meanwhile, I am sending money and hoping to participate in helping those refugees find peace, much like those who helped freed blacks after the Civil War.

Anthea Butler is a historian of African-American and American Religious history at the University of Rochester. She is a Catholic whose ecumenical work has recently included her representing Pentecostals with the World Council of Churches, and a stint as president for the Society for Pentecostal Studies. She is co-editor of North Star, an online journal of African-American religious history, and author of the forthcoming book, Making a Sanctified World: Women in the Church of God in Christ.