Echoes of Katrina

There’s a lot of blogging going on this week about the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s taking down New Orleans and the surrounding communities. I haven’t weighed in yet, in large part because I feel like I don’t have all that much new or original to add to the vast pile of emotions, reactions, observations and condemnations swirling through the blogosphere (although Shakespeare’s Sister did a great job of rounding up relevent links here).

There is one thing that I’d like to call a bit of attention to, though. Some bloggers either overtly or covertly pat themselves on the back when it comes to racial issues. “It’s those nasty Republicans who are racists, not us!” the thought goes. Yes, there’s a lot of racist Republicans out there, and many of them are not as obvious about it as George ‘Macaca’ Allen. But you know something? When you point a finger at someone else, three fingers point back at you. Even in the bluest of blue states, racism still rears its ugly head.

Last month, before I left for Barcelona, I met a friend from school for a lunch and some shopping at a high end mall near her new apartment. We had a great time & I got what I needed to get for the trip. But as we rested and sipped lemonade late in the afternoon, she started telling me about how annoying it was for her to shop at times. Clerks would follow her around the store, stop her and ask to see her receipts, or not be willing to help her out. Her mother (a VP at a publicly-traded tech company, by the way) had the same problem, although she’d found that a different mall was overall better than the one we were currently sitting in.

What could I say? I sympathized and agreed that the mall workers were jerks. But inside, I was shocked. I had honestly believed that kind of thing didn’t happen in places like California, and I was wrong. Right here in the deep-blue, massively multi-ethnic SF Bay Area, my friend is being singled out by shop clerks as being more likely to shoplift because she’s black. And I am shamed by that, not only because it happens, but because I had no clue it was going on.

That’s something to think about as we point fingers at racist Republicans this week.