Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Proud to be a Californian but with an important caution.

You know I have to say that it is during times like these that I am really happy to be a Californian. Despite all of the s%&# we put up with on a regular basis—traffic, smog, celebrities going in and out of rehab and dangerously inhabiting our streets—when push comes to shove we can really make it work.

In what disaster scenario would one ever imagine the red cross and the salvation army proclaiming: "Please don't bring any more food we have too much!"? The folks at Qualcomm stadium, while surviving through the desperate situation of possibly losing their homes and belongings, are being served pizza, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf coffee, and ethnic foods from around the globe. Volunteers are passing out sunscreen and teachers have set up tents for children where they are doing art projects and singing songs! Local bands are providing entertainment at no cost (Ok so maybe they are looking for that record deal - but so what?) And only in California would you have yoga classes, masseuses and group therapy at an emergency evacuation center. The LA Times calls it "the Ritz" of shelters, I like to call it "home sweet home."

The thing that is starting to disturb me are the numerous comparisons of Firestorm 2007 to Hurricane Katrina that are beginning to feel as if they are thinly veiled expressions of racism. Here Sgt. Zell Evans from the National Guard comments:
"This is real different from Katrina," said Evans, who spent 45 days in New Orleans after the 2005 hurricane. "Here? There's no fear, no pushing, no fighting. Everybody is calm. It's just a completely different situation."

Let's be wary of these types of comparisons. At times like these anecdotes and comparisons to Katrina may help Californians to get through this by feeling confident about their city's response and their fellow neighbors; But ultimately, if the comparisons continue (and I wouldn't be surprised if they do especially in the aftermath) they can become dangerously essentialist. What I mean is this: it goes without saying that New Orleans and those at the Superdome were poor Southern blacks and as long as this remains implicit, we must remember that disaster relief is about available resources and not about a character of a "people" or a "race". Comments such that I have heard, "This is about San Diegans helping themselves," are comforting but lets remember the resources that San Deigans have to work with.

To use a stereotypical California analogy, a wave of disaster can be surfed all the way to shore with the proper board and wet suit. But without proper equipment the waves no doubt will knock any surfer off his board, and the ocean can quickly become a sight of panic and turbulence. I hope that in a disaster where more of us our affected and resources may be spread thinner that we will still be able to share this feeling of philanthropy and neighborliness even if we are off our boards and fighting against the rip-tides. In short I believe any group, race or culture could turn into a Katrina-like scenario. So fellow Californians, let's not gloat too much. Yes we are glorious in all of our little eccentricities, but we also have some of the highest-valued real estate in the country and our tans cost more than some people's weekly wages.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely right. And Qualcomm Stadium is not surrounded by flood waters covering a city in which pretty much all the necessities to sustain life have been washed away. The people of San Diego can use some help, but they can also go to the store. Those stuck in New Orleans had basically no resources and the aid without which they couldn't do a thing was held up for days. The San Diego situation bears no significant resemblance to New Orleans and mercifully it's only nutcases who are making the comparison seriously (so far).

Christine said...

After Katrina I received an onslaught of emails comparing blizzard response in the midwest to Katrina. The emails sounded like the comparisons between the fires and Katrina. It is overtly racist to compare these disasters. I think any response is the reflection of effectiveness of local government. That said, the victims of Katrina did not have the resources (financial, family, mobility, etc.) to leave before, during and after the hurricane. I don't even know how people can compare rich Santa Barbara with New Orleans. Both Black and White people are using these natural disasters to promote political views. Regardless, I can't understand how Bush has the nerve to ask for 43 billion for the war in light of current and future natural disasters.