Monday, December 22, 2008

I'll Never Understand Bigotry, Pt. 1

I've mentioned elsewhere I do not understand bigotry. I never have. I don't think I ever will.

Borne of ignorance and nurtured by environment, bigotry grows beyond it's inherent ugliness. It's cowardice. It's irrational. It drives man to commit the most unspeakably evil acts. It's completely pointless.

Yet bigotry seems innate to humanity. Perhaps bigotry is something we were hard-wired for prior to walking upright as a mechanism to defend our turf and its resources against strangers' encroachment. Millions of years later it seems to serve that self-same purpose.

The Nation's Katrina's Hidden Race War is one crucial read -- a powerful story of racism, opportunism, murder and institutional apathy. Check this particularly chilling passage:

"It was great! It was like pheasant season in South Dakota. If it moved, you shot it." A native of Chicago, Janak also boasts of becoming a true Southerner, saying, "I am no longer a Yankee. I earned my wings." A white woman standing next to him adds, "He understands the N-word now." In this neighborhood, she continues, "we take care of our own."

Janak, who says he'd been armed with two .38s and a shotgun, brags about keeping the bloody shirt worn by a shooting victim as a trophy. When "looters" showed up in the neighborhood, "they left full of buckshot," he brags, adding, "You know what? Algiers Point is not a pussy community."
Katrina left Janak's exclusive almost entirely white New Orleans neighborhood of Algiers Point pretty much unscathed. Due to its intact ferry terminal and central location, the National Guard dubbed Algiers Point an "official evacuation site." Federal agencies dropped flood victims there to be herded onto buses to Texas. Unbeknownst to them, African-Americans who headed to the Point on foot risked being treated as "looters."
Some of the gunmen prowling Algiers Point were out to wage a race war, says one woman whose uncle and two cousins joined the cause. A former New Orleanian, this source spoke to me anonymously because she fears her relatives could be prosecuted for their crimes. "My uncle was very excited that it was a free-for-all--white against black--that he could participate in," says the woman. "For him, the opportunity to hunt black people was a joy."

"They didn't want any of the 'ghetto niggers' coming over" from the east side of the river, she says, adding that her relatives viewed African-Americans who wandered into Algiers Point as "fair game." One of her cousins, a young man in his 20s, sent an e-mail to her and several other family members describing his adventures with the militia. He had attached a photo in which he posed next to an African-American man who'd been fatally shot. The tone of the e-mail, she says, was "gleeful"--her cousin was happy that "they were shooting niggers."

I found Katrina's Hidden Race War so disturbing, so sickening and so alien it took me at least 10 tries to read it through. (Stories like these test my weakened resolve to not turn away from suffering). What is absolutelyfuckingmindblowing is to date only three gunshot deaths during Katrina and its entire aftermath investigated by the police involve shootings by NOPD: The Danziger Bridge incident and Danny Brumfield.

I don't think I'll ever truly understand bigotry. Except in those rare cases marked by extenuating circumstances (i.e. self-defense, euthanasia), I am unable to make sense of murder. That something so stupid and irrational as bigotry can "drive" someone to murder is way beyond my capacity to understand.