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E-Letter To Larry Elder and Human Events Re: "The Idiocy of the Race Card and the Hurricane of the Welfare State"

After listening to portions of your Friday radio program, re-run this Saturday on XM radio, I read your column, The Idiocy of the Race Card and the Hurricane of the Welfare State" with great interest. While I certainly agree with a few points you make - as with many Conservative, Libertarian, Progressive, Liberal, Democrat and Republican observers that I have listened to since this disaster - I am struck by the need that so many have to explain what has happened, so narrowly, in terms of their political ideology. Damn the facts on the ground or weighing them in relation to a context in order to make a proper interpretation. I guess if I set my mind to it I could pen a piece called, "The Idiocy of Ideology and the Hurricane of the Narrow-Minded Intellectual."

I write you as someone who watched CNNís Jack Cafferty and Wolf Blitzer; and Foxís Shepard Smith make the comments you attribute to them, live. I donít think these news anchors found racism as much as they found race, as a factor of note. This is a distinction that is important to make. These three White men noticed Black people juxtaposed to all of the horrible things that were happening, including a lack of response and even broken promises (Shepard Smith said he saw assistance being provided by vehicles to individuals near I-10 for four days but ignored those who were just yards away, under the overpass.) Racial evidence, was what they raised Mr. Elder, not a proof of racism.

Similarly, I canít begin to tell you how many Black people have told me that Kanye West said "George Bush hates Black people!" What I heard Kanye West say was that "George Bush doesn't care about Black people." He is right, I think. When I see George W. Bush in general, and this instance in particular, I donít see emotional hatred of Black people, I see the lack of a sincere or informed interest in Black people - the lack of sensitivity to the particular reality of Black people. There is such a thing as malignant neglect. With the President and this disaster I donít see active malice, I see passive indifference. Senator Barack Obama, yesterday sated that, "passive indifference is as bad as active malice." I don't see the response to Katrina as an act of genocide, I see it as a continuation of a form of White supremacy. A plan to murder all Black people in the mind of one person is different than governance that reflects desensitivity to, or a devalued view of Black life.

Some Whites do want all Black people dead, I believe. But many more see us as 3/5s of a living human being. The latter is the ghost I think we saw in Katrina (you see that form of paternalism in your criticism of Liberals but you fail to acknowledge it in the community and worldview of many Conservatives and Libertarians.)

I make a distinction where many others donít, in this area, because to me, it is not a personís feelings toward Blacks that matter as much to me as it is their knowledge, every day connectedness, and actual treatment of Black people. As a result, I feel that President Bill Clinton, like George W. Bush "does not care about Black people." It is irrelevant to me that he may have liked them or liked to be around them for social or political purposes.

Like most American political ideologues(even many Black progressives and Black liberals), you seem to be uncomfortable tolerating a discussion on race for protracted periods of time. I have written about this for years, so it comes as no surprise. If that is what all ideologues did Ė ignore race, I would not mind. What strikes me as being intellectually disingenuous is the use of half-truths and omissions in the research process of ideologues that deny references to race made by others, while using race to make an argument which supports aspects of their own particular ideology.

You do this in your piece in order to show or imply that Blacks in New Orleans suffered disproportionately because of the welfare state. You ask several questions in succession:

CNN's Cafferty and so-called black leaders refuse to ask basic questions. Since 1978, for example, black mayors controlled the city of New Orleans, with many of the city's top officials also black. What about their responsibility? What about the damage done by the modern welfare state, helping to create poverty by financially rewarding irresponsible behavior? What about the damage to the black psyche by so-called civil rights leaders who demand not just equal rights, but equal results, helping to create a victicrat-entitlement mentality? Maybe someday one of the news anchors will ask one of the so-called civil rights leaders the following question: Doesn't the demand for race-based preferences, set-asides, private sector anti-discrimination laws, social welfare programs, and social "safety net" programs all conspire to say one thing -- "You are not responsible"?

Black mayors "controlled the city of New Orleans?" First, Mr. Elder, as astute as you appear to be, as are many of your peers and fellow ideologues, I am disappointed that your view of the relationship between poverty and race in New Orleans seems to only or disproportionately begin with the New Deal and Big Society programs, advocated by Liberals and Democrats. It is as if you donít recognize or canít tolerate a history, where Blacks and poverty are concerned, before the 1930s or 1960s, and you do not dare consider it in light of today.

I think if you are really looking for thorough answers to the questions you posed, or even better questions to raise, you could start with a reading of a controversial article that appeared in the Thursday September, 8, 2005 edition of , The Wall St. Journal entitled, "Old-Line Families Escape Worst Of Flood And Plot The Future" by Christopher Cooper. Here is that article, in its entirety. This article, I think, clearly shows that there are many more determining factors to the story of Black poverty in New Orleans than the "welfare state" (bold emphasis is mine):

Old-Line Families
Escape Worst of Flood
And Plot the Future

September 8, 2005; Page A1

NEW ORLEANS -- On a sultry morning earlier this week, Ashton O'Dwyer stepped out of his home on this city's grandest street and made a beeline for his neighbor's pool. Wearing nothing but a pair of blue swim trunks and carrying two milk jugs, he drew enough pool water to flush the toilet in his home.

The mostly African-American neighborhoods of New Orleans are largely underwater, and the people who lived there have scattered across the country. But in many of the predominantly white and more affluent areas, streets are dry and passable. Gracious homes are mostly intact and powered by generators. Yesterday, officials reiterated that all residents must leave New Orleans, but it's still unclear how far they will go to enforce the order.

The green expanse of Audubon Park, in the city's Uptown area, has doubled in recent days as a heliport for the city's rich -- and a terminus for the small armies of private security guards who have been dispatched to keep the homes there safe and habitable.
Mr. O'Dwyer has cellphone service and ice cubes to cool off his highballs in the evening. By yesterday, the city water service even sprang to life, making the daily trips to his neighbor's pool unnecessary. A pair of oil-company engineers, dispatched by his son-in-law, delivered four cases of water, a box of delicacies including herring with mustard sauce and 15 gallons of generator gasoline.

Despite the disaster that has overwhelmed New Orleans, the city's monied, mostly white elite is hanging on and maneuvering to play a role in the recovery when the floodwaters of Katrina are gone. "New Orleans is ready to be rebuilt. Let's start right here," says Mr. O'Dwyer, standing in his expansive kitchen, next to a counter covered with a jumble of weaponry and electric wires.

More than a few people in Uptown, the fashionable district surrounding St. Charles Ave., have ancestors who arrived here in the 1700s. High society is still dominated by these old-line families, represented today by prominent figures such as former New Orleans Board of Trade President Thomas Westfeldt; Richard Freeman, scion of the family that long owned the city's Coca-Cola bottling plant; and William Boatner Reily, owner of a Louisiana coffee company. Their social pecking order is dictated by the mysterious hierarchy of "krewes," groups with hereditary membership that participate in the annual carnival leading up to Mardi Gras. In recent years, the city's most powerful business circles have expanded to include some newcomers and non-whites, such as Mayor Ray Nagin, the former Cox Communications executive elected in 2002.

A few blocks from Mr. O'Dwyer, in an exclusive gated community known as Audubon Place, is the home of James Reiss, descendent of an old-line Uptown family. He fled Hurricane Katrina just before the storm and returned soon afterward by private helicopter. Mr. Reiss became wealthy as a supplier of electronic systems to shipbuilders, and he serves in Mayor Nagin's administration as chairman of the city's Regional Transit Authority. When New Orleans descended into a spiral of looting and anarchy, Mr. Reiss helicoptered in an Israeli security company to guard his Audubon Place house and those of his neighbors.

He says he has been in contact with about 40 other New Orleans business leaders since the storm. Tomorrow, he says, he and some of those leaders plan to be in Dallas, meeting with Mr. Nagin to begin mapping out a future for the city.

The power elite of New Orleans -- whether they are still in the city or have moved temporarily to enclaves such as Destin, Fla., and Vail, Colo. -- insist the remade city won't simply restore the old order. New Orleans before the flood was burdened by a teeming underclass, substandard schools and a high crime rate. The city has few corporate headquarters.

The new city must be something very different, Mr. Reiss says, with better services and fewer poor people. "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically," he says. "I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again, or we're out."

Not every white business leader or prominent family supports that view. Some black leaders and their allies in New Orleans fear that it boils down to preventing large numbers of blacks from returning to the city and eliminating the African-American voting majority. Rep. William Jefferson, a sharecropper's son who was educated at Harvard and is currently serving his eighth term in Congress, points out that the evacuees from New Orleans already have been spread out across many states far from their old home and won't be able to afford to return. "This is an example of poor people forced to make choices because they don't have the money to do otherwise," Mr. Jefferson says.

Calvin Fayard, a wealthy white plaintiffs' lawyer who lives near Mr. O'Dwyer, says the mass evacuation could turn a Democratic stronghold into a Republican one. Mr. Fayard, a prominent Democratic fund-raiser, says tampering with the city's demographics means tampering with its unique culture and shouldn't be done. "People can't survive a year temporarily -- they'll go somewhere, get a job and never come back," he says.

Mr. Reiss acknowledges that shrinking parts of the city occupied by hardscrabble neighborhoods would inevitably result in fewer poor and African-American residents. But he says the electoral balance of the city wouldn't change significantly and that the business elite isn't trying to reverse the last 30 years of black political control. "We understand that African Americans have had a great deal of influence on the history of New Orleans," he says.

A key question will be the position of Mr. Nagin, who was elected with the support of the city's business leadership. He couldn't be reached yesterday. Mr. Reiss says the mayor suggested the Dallas meeting and will likely attend when he goes there to visit his evacuated family.

Black politicians have controlled City Hall here since the late 1970s, but the wealthy white families of New Orleans have never been fully eclipsed. Stuffing campaign coffers with donations, these families dominate the city's professional and executive classes, including the white-shoe law firms, engineering offices, and local shipping companies. White voters often act as a swing bloc, propelling blacks or Creoles into the city's top political jobs. That was the case with Mr. Nagin, who defeated another African American to win the mayoral election in 2002.

Creoles, as many mixed-race residents of New Orleans call themselves, dominate the city's white-collar and government ranks and tend to ally themselves with white voters on issues such as crime and education, while sharing many of the same social concerns as African-American voters. Though the flooding took a toll on many Creole neighborhoods, it's likely that Creoles will return to the city in fairly large numbers, since many of them have the means to do so.


"Black politicians have controlled City Hall here since the late 1970s, but the wealthy white families of New Orleans have never been fully eclipsed. Stuffing campaign coffers with donations, these families dominate the city's professional and executive classes..." Think over that.

Mr. Elder, although you and Rush Limbaugh would differ, the story of race and poverty in New Orleans spans more than decades, it spans centuries. And it is more than the story of the welfare state and recently acquired Black electoral success. It is also the story of slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation. It is also the story of inheritance and a White power elite that has called shots - even for Black political leaders - behind the scenes. Surely you don't expect us to believe these Black elected officials have not been answering to anyone. Or, that they have not been backed by anyone other than Blacks.

You, like your progressive and liberal peers, do us all a disservice by ignoring an entire context, in the service of a narrow ideology, pursuit of a few intellectual points and obtaining a long-sought political victory.

And lastly, as I have come to respect your intellect over the years, I am always impressed by your courage in stating some hard truths about the problems of the Black condition, identifying cultural parallels in history and finding solutions to similar problems among other groups, across eras, that might hold key insights for Black Americans. However, I am also frequently struck by your apparent cowardice, if not blindness, in identifying Black cultural leaders who hold a key to solving Black Americaís problems today. I saw this pattern again in how you make an analogy, in your article, between the condition of Blacks today and Irish Americans in the 19th century, and then, fail to identify Black cultural leaders who bear the most resemblance to those you hold up on the Irish side, as exemplary.

You wrote:

News anchors and so-called black leaders ignore a far bigger factor than race or class -- culture.

Consider the mid-1800s, and the plight of New York City's Irish underclass. According to William J. Stern, writing in the Wall Street Journal, "One hundred fifty years ago, Manhattan's tens of thousands of Irish seemed mired in poverty and ignorance, destroying themselves through drink, idleness, violence crime and illegitimacy. . . . An estimated 50,000 Irish prostitutes worked the city in 1850. . . . Illegitimacy soared, tens of thousands of abandoned Irish kids roamed the city's streets. Violent Irish gangs fought each other . . . but primarily they robbed houses and small businesses. More than half the people arrested in New York in the 1840s and 1850s were Irish. . . . "

Disgusted by government "charity," Bishop John Joseph Hughes led movements to form non-government-aided Catholic schools and numerous self-help programs. He promoted abstinence and the belief that sex outside of marriage was a sin. His diocese's nuns served as an employment agency for Irish domestics and encouraged women to run boarding houses. What happened? Within two generations, "the Irish proportion of arrests for violent crime had dropped to less than 10 percent from 60 percent. Irish children were entering . . . the professions, politics, show business and commerce. In 1890, some 30 percent of the city's teachers were Irish women, and the Irish literacy rate exceeded 90 percent."

The emphasis you place on culture rather than politics is appropriate and revealing. I believe that it is impossible to understand the political activity of a people without a grasp of their culture. Your reference to The Wall Street Journalís description of the plight of Irish Americans and the impact of Bishop John Joseph Hughes immediately made me think of the plight of Black Americans and the work of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Minister Louis Farrakhan. Yet, in the case of the latter, over the last couple of generations, I have never seen or heard you make what I think is an obvious connection. Instead of, as a free-thinking intellectual, weighing Minister Farrakhanís work in the cultural context, you remain bound in a strait jacket of political ideology, consistently referring to him as 'anti-American', dismissing his obvious influence in correcting problems in Black America, including those stemming from the 'welfare state'. Again, showing the limits or even 'idiocy', as you might say, of ideology.

I was struck by the fact that while you point to a cultural leader, a Bishop, as instrumental in solving the problems of a people (Irish Americans), instead of promoting that solution for Blacks, you spend more time complaining about a political class and mode of government. For every Black cultural leader, value system, or enterprising initiative that you say has been hindered by the welfare state, I can show you a multiple of that, which suffered the same or worse at the hands of the Counter Intelligence program of the FBI (COINTELPRO.) There are a multitude of reasons why we are in the boat that we find ourselves in. Let's be as accurate about this as possible. The damage done by the American welfare state may not be able to hold a candle to that contributed by the American police state.

I have been one who supports the validity of some of your thesis regarding the condition of Black Americans, government and the welfare state. I acknowledge the deleterious effects of welfare on Black peopleís drive to do for self. But I do not exaggerate that dynamic and make it a causative factor in Black poverty. Nor do I, as you do, superficially equate Black electoral success in the past couple of decades, with real political power capable of overcoming, erasing, or unwinding decades and centuries of White wealth accumulation and dominance of power centers. The Wall St. Journal article makes that clear I think. After all, the Black Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin was not meeting with Black entrepreneurs, activists, citizens and opinion leaders plotting the future rebuilding of New Orleans, he was meeting with the cityís elite group of White 'Old-Line' families and business leaders.

I hope you will read my recent piece, "Hurricane Katrina, A Motivating Force And Breath Of Life." You will see that I share some of your sentiment regarding Black dependence on government, as a factor, and ultimately believe that a cultural solution or phenomenon is the key to unwinding that harmful or at least unhelpful relationship. But instead of a political ideology, I am looking for the collective and operational unity of a people to solve 90% of their problems.

The Conservative or Libertarian railing against Liberalism and Big Government lacks the explanatory power needed in the wake of this disaster and what is required to arrive at solutions to the problems of New Orleans, now exposed.

If you would more honestly consider Katrina and the undeniable racial dynamics of New Orleans that it brought to light - in the more complete context of history and culture, and not narrow ideology - your contribution to this important discussion could be enormous.

I am really not arguing with you, Mr. Elder, I am only asking you to consider the limitations of your worldview and what blind allegiance to it may be doing to your research process and presentations.

You are capable of much more than what I heard from you on last Friday's The Larry Elder Show and read in your article, "The Idiocy of the Race Card and the Hurricane of the Welfare State".

I look forward to reading more of your evolved thoughts on this crisis, and its root(s).


Cedric Muhammad

Cedric Muhammad

Monday, September 12, 2005

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