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The Mechanics
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Op-Ed Fri Aug 14 2015

Why Wishing for a Hurricane Katrina in Chicago is Racist

By Dave Stieber

Last night I read an article in the Chicago Tribune in which the columnist and editorial board member Kirsten McQueary "metaphorically" wished a Hurricane Katrina would wipe out Chicago. I wish I were making this up, please read this piece. Even while I and many others were tweeting her about how offensive her column is, she sent out the following tweet:

mcquearytweets.jpg

What Hurricane Katrina did was kill nearly 2,000 people and displace and relocate 1 million people throughout the Gulf Coast. In New Orleans the population of the city fell by half due to loss of homes and displacement. Fifty percent of the city's residents' homes were uninhabitable or lost, and multiple generations of New Orleanians were forced to move. Historical and proudly black communities were wiped out.

Now some people like McQueary will likely say, but New Orleans is back! Who is New Orleans back for? For people who look like me (i.e. white people). Not the people who lived in those predominantly black precincts.

By wishing for a Katrina here in Chicago she is basically saying to get to rid of the black people and let the whites move in wherever they want. It would be like white flight in reverse, coming back from the 'burbs to the city. We (white people) could proudly colonize, I mean move into Englewood and then joke on our porches while sipping tea about what life used to be like on the corner of 63rd and Racine, while we watch that new yoga studio go in. We would colonize Woodlawn, Roseland, and Austin, too, and the best part is we (white people) would get that land for cheap thanks to Katrina part II and Disaster Capitalism.

Arne Duncan (one of our fellow white brethren) said it best when he said, "Hurricane Katrina was the best thing for New Orleans Schools." I mean to actually fix the schools for the kids who live there, that is preposterous and besides, that would be too much work. What is great is getting to have new (wealthier and/or whiter) kids move in, then rebuild the schools and boom, schools are "great" now.

McQueary needs an education in white privilege. I suggest a starting point for her (and anyone who agrees with her) would be the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh, which details and explains white privilege and how it benefits all white people all the time. She then could read books by Lisa Delpit, Theresa Perry, Beverly Daniel-Tatum, Howard Zinn, Bell Hooks, Ta-Nehisi Coates and many more authors. Even better, she could actually listen and hear the messages of the Black Lives Matter movement — or in her case, any black person who would take the time to try to educate her.

The key as a white person is to listen to black people and not try to put our white privilege on what they are saying or for heaven's sake say something like All Lives Matter.

Ms. McQueary, here is the secret all lives do matter but our (white) lives aren't being killed for all of America to see (just in case you needed to learn that too). This country is going through a movement to bring to the forefront and hopefully make real changes to the way policing is done, so we can stop black men and women being murdered by the people who are supposed to be protecting them.

There are many ways in which white people (like myself) can help. The first one is to listen to the real stories that people of color share about racism, the second is to call out racism when you see or hear it (like this column), and the third one (this is the hardest) is to educate our own (white) people. As a teacher in predominantly black schools in Chicago Public Schools I love teaching, learning and talking about race with my students, but talking about race with white people is hard. I'm no expert but I am willing to read, learn, and listen. I am working on always speaking up when I hear any type of racist comment. I am a work in progress, but I am taking the second and third piece of advice I gave by calling out this racist Katrina piece for what it is, and by attempting to teach (other white people) why it is racist.

I will end with a quote from scholar Beverly Daniel-Tatum, with the key line being white people must be "actively anti-racist."

I visualize the ongoing cycle of racism as a moving walkway at the airport. Active racist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt. The person engaged in active racist behavior has identified with the ideology of our White supremacist system and is moving with it. Passive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystanders along to the same destination as those who are actively walking. But unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt — unless they are actively anti-racist — they will find themselves carried along with the others.

~*~

David Stieber is a father, husband, CPS teacher of History. Dave is passionately committed to promoting and improving urban public education, while simultaneously improving the lives of his students. He earned his masters in Urban Education Policy Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. You can follow Dave on Twitter at @D_Stieber.

 
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Molly / August 14, 2015 11:27 AM

Fantastic article, Dave. This is a perfect explanation of how so many people felt reading Ms. McQueary's column. I hardly think that using Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it caused to a city is a good example of how to overhaul the government. I agree we need a change, but forgetting the massive and disproportionate effect that disaster had on the relatively segregated black population and the poor of New Orleans is unconscionable. Her continued defense makes me hope that The Chicago Trib reevaluates their current relationship with Ms. McQueary. Thank you for putting into words what so many were feeling and reminding people why this is unacceptable.

Kirstiecat / August 14, 2015 12:00 PM

It's sad when a really ignorant and white entitlement article is just run of the mill for the Trib. The charter movement in New Orleans and how destroyed communities were by that alone after Hurricane Katrina was absolutely devastating and these people just see disaster as an opportunity to profit. It's so unethical.

JPMc / August 14, 2015 12:50 PM

Here's the antidote to the Trib article. No less depressing in its own way, but far more truthful. Thank you, Charlie Pierce.
http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/a36987/new-orleans-ten-years-after-hurricane-katrina-0915/

SIPort / August 15, 2015 8:30 AM

you are absolutely on point. thank you for this response to that horrid article. that this woman supposedly had editors who didn't think, well, I don't know if we should publish this, just confirms everything I ever thought about the Tribune.

Lia / August 15, 2015 8:42 AM

The sad part is that the toll that Katrina took in the black community of New Orleans probably didn't even enter her mind. I think she really thought she was merely commenting on the how Chicago needs something to fix its internal problems. The sad truth is that many people don't think beyond the surface level of anything.; they don't have the ability to understand the deeper meaning of a situation. It's pretty sad, considering she's a columnist and an editor.

Mimihaha / August 20, 2015 12:59 PM

The writer of the original article can't see past her own privilege to realize what she longs for is a fascist takeover of local government.

Sans / December 17, 2015 7:00 PM

Lia,
What is sad, actually disturbing, is the inability of people like yourself to understand the metaphoric use in writing without looking for a clearly unintended meaning that cannot be applied to the content given the written text. Unfortunately, this is at the heart of what is wrong in the US today. The more politically correct we become, the more we offend. It's exhausting.

Sans / December 17, 2015 7:01 PM

Lia,
What is sad, actually disturbing, is the inability of people like yourself to understand the metaphoric use in writing without looking for a clearly unintended meaning that cannot be applied to the content given the written text. Unfortunately, this is at the heart of what is wrong in the US today. The more politically correct we become, the more we offend. It's exhausting.

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