In Diary From the Dome: Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina by Paul Harris, we are allotted incredible insight into a Disingenuous White Liberal (DWL) mind who found himself in New Orleans during not only Hurricane Katrina, but also trapped in the Superdome with 20,000 other people after the storm hit.
He, a white male, joined the International Group of white people touring New Orleans who had the misfortune of scheduling their holiday when Hurricane Katrina hit. What they experienced has been brushed down the memory hole, but he wrote an account for posterity.
And for the first time for many, many people, you'll have insight into the schizophrenic white liberal mind: one that must recognize reality, but quickly excuse what he has seen and lived through away because it must always be interpreted through the prism of white privilege. From Chapter 13 of Diary From the Dome: Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina, we join Mr. Harris around roughly August 29 - September 1, 2005 huddled with a few score of white people, surrounded by 20,000 blacks...
Shortly after joining the international group, I learned that Bud Hopes, a talent scout from Brisbane, Australia, had become the de facto leader. He was a 32 year old, somewhat burly guy with a great sense of humor. Apparently for days he had been communicating on and off with Staff Sergeant Garland Ogden to try and get our International Group out. We were simply known amongst ourselves as "Section 113." That was the section of monstrous cavern know as the Superdome where we living.Only one movie will ever need to be made to unite Europeans from Europa to South Africa; to Australia to Canada; and from the United States of America to Argentina... the story of what Staff Sergeant Garland Ogden did to rescue white people from the horrors of the nearly all-black Superdome during Katrina (those few white people were in interracial relationships and had passed beyond the realm of whiteness).
As before, word traveled back and forth within the general population and also within our International group that busses were coming to get us. Baton Rouge was the usual destination. And as usual these heightened emotions were destroyed by the reality of no busses coming. It almost became a cruel joke.
Various members of our group of tourists passed the time waking, talking, sleeping, fretting, crying, laughing and joking. Some of the popular songs that served as the theme for the condition we were in included: the Eagles, "Hotel California" (you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave).
Also to cope, I was often reminded of my most valuable training that I had recently undertaken through the Mankind Project in San Diego. This is a worldwide organization that features a New Warrior Weekend Training Adventure where men are challenge emotionally and honestly. Our truths are faced and one gains great insight into who one is and how to get in touch with our masculine and loving energies.
Others areas of training that aided me in my mental survivinal included studying Psychology and Political Science at the University of California, Davis. Serving as a Peer Counselor and a volunteer at Suicide Prevention also helped me. Even being a frequent camper and occasional backpacker helped out my survial insticnts. And who would have ever thought that attending the Burning Man Festival in Nevada two years would help me better cope with the conditions here?
Finally, a crucial element of my training in life that made me persevere better than some, involves my constant attention to overcoming the "isms." These include ageism, sexism, and in this environment, racism. It's my judment that almost all of us are racist. It's difficult not to be as we are so subject to years of subtle and not so sbutle conditioning by our families and the media to be fearful of other races. I grew up in a white, upper middle-class, protected environment, with only one black kid, my friend, Browning Allen, in the entire sixth grade. As a youth I would catch the bus to go to downtown Sacremento every chance I got to try and expose myself to other people, with limited success. As I got older I made friendships with more people of color and educated myself further by going to multicultural events and attending diversity trainings whenever possible.
I bring up this last element because I think that for some of the International Group, their exposure to African-Americans may have been extremely limited to just what they saw on TV or heard on the new or from their short travels. And for others, their racism may have been far less than mine as they may have been raised by parents who insisted that treating all people equally with dignity and respect was a principle of raising great children.
For some ot those in our group, they would report being constantly in fear for their lives. Even Bud Hopes, the leader of the group, was quoted as saying that he felt 98 percent of the people in the Superdome were bad and that most possessed weapons and drugs. Yet another Australian would echo similar beliefs and talk about all the bodies strewn about, as if they were dead.
While I truly believe the Australians who were interviewed were sincere in their beliefs, I do believe that their fear and racism controlled their interpretations of the people in the Dome. Where I saw thugs, drug addicts, and gang members and lots of families, perhaps they saw a homogeneous group of black gang bangers as the dominant population.Where I saw interracial families, they apparently just saw black or mixed race individuals hanging out together. Whereas they saw yelling and slapping as a means of discipline as foreign to them, I saw ignorance and irresponsible parents resorting to violence.
As an aside, when I shared some of the Australian press coverage of conditions in the Dome, as related by some of the Aussies in our group, my co-worker, Jock, who is a black man born and raised in New Orleans and whose family home was flooded, said he'd like to beat the crap out of Bud if he ever met him.
Regardless of my feelings and different interpretations of the residents of the Dome, I am forever thankful beyond belief for the work Bud and Sgt. Ogden did in arranging to get us out. Their heroism cannot be discounted whatsoever! And in fairness to others in our group who saw things differently , I invite them to write their books from their perspectives as well. We all experience our lives through our own feces-colored glasses.
I do not know if Sgt. Ogden personally took an interest in our group because he liked us or if he knew we ere in danger, or if it was racism, or if he realized that if one of the International students was raped or murdered that would be a huge embarrassment for President Bush. Granted, there were lots of extremely hot young "babes" from Europe and Australia there. And still, while there was a rare catcall and there was fear in these young women and men, I personally think the level of danger was exaggerated.
But can you imagine the headlines and international furor if a young white student was raped while in a shelter of the world's greatest and supposedly most compassionate Superpower?
I tend to believe Sgt. Ogden truly thought we were in danger. I may never know his motivation but I was ecstatic and grateful to find out that we would be somewhat secretly escorted out by armed military to a different location. For once this appeared to be a rumor that seemed to have some integrity.
When we finally got what seemed to be the real honest to god information that we would be leaving approximately one hour we did our best to round up or make sure all of the group members were present. My mind filled with so many different thoughts. What right did we have to leave when many of these people had families with them? What right did we have to leave when we weren't even New Orleanians? What right did we have to leave? Why weren't women and children being evacuated before use? Why weren't more medical patients being transferred? I would estimate there were a couple other thousand white people in the Dome who were not a part of our select Section 113. If whites were in danger of attack by blacks why were we the chosen people? We were definitely not the only tourists in the Superdome.
Most likely it was combination of Bud's efforts, various motivations, and racism that got us this privileged spot. We were about 85 percent white and the Superdome community at large was about 85 percent black. Regardless of the variables, the final reality shadowed the cruel reality that exists in America and most every country. That being that there are special privileged classes of people that are given life-enhancing favors not based on earning it, but based on who they have happen to be or who they know, or what they inherited. (p. 43-49, Diary From the Dome: Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina)
If you read Harris' words carefully, you'll notice he can't stop apologizing for his privilege and being evacuated from the horrors of the nearly all-black Superdome, but he says he is forever grateful for what Sgt Ogden did to get him out...
In the end, regardless of what we do to try and save them, most white liberals will still stab us in the back: there will come a point when we simply stop them from ever inserting the dagger in the first place and toss them back to their pets... and never forget the hell they go to is the exact heaven they proclaim a non-white world to be.