9/2/05

Hurricane Katrina has ripped apart buildings and lives. It has also

ripped away a veil which has hidden from middle class view the daily
indignities that plague the poor in American cities. Many of us have
been shocked at preparations and responses that can, at best, be called,
"inadequate." We have been shocked at how quickly a "civilized" American
city has degenerated into "third world" desperation and
thuggery.

But maybe we should be just as shocked at our own
reactions.

American poverty is hidden from most people's views.
It goes largely unmentioned in political campaigns and major news
outlets spend precious little time on it, either. (After all, there's
always something more important to cover: a celebrity trial or a young
white female who's gone missing.) We spend thousands of dollars on cell
phones, iPods, and cars while millions are just a misstep away from
hunger, disease, and homelessness. We do this not because we are
heartless, but because we have allowed the poor to slip off our radar.
(Indeed, it's worth noting that the common abstraction, "the poor,"
already constitutes a retreat from moral responsibility.)

We've
been too content in the bubble. Katrina is offering us the chance not
only to reach out with immediate aid and shelter, but to reconsider what
"justice" is. Surely, it must include taking care of these least among
us with policies that provide for them in the present and in the face of
future contingencies. Can we redefine "justice" and still have "low
prices" and "low taxes" and "small government"? Maybe not, but we'll
just have find comfort in the knowledge that we have traded those things
for "healthy children" and "safe communities" and "disaster
preparedness."

I could live with that.


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