News| Hurricane Katrina | Poll: For Blacks, Race Definitely a Factor When it Comes to Government Help With Katrina

News| Hurricane Katrina | Poll: For Blacks, Race Definitely a Factor When it Comes to Government Help With Katrina

Published February 11, 2008

Do you agree with the poll results?

Posted Feb. 27, 2006 – Six months after Hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast killing hundreds and uprooting tens of thousands from their homes, an overwhelming majority of African Americans believe the U.S. government is doing far less than it could to help rebuild the region, according to a BET analysis of a CBS News Poll released Monday.

Eighty-nine percent of African Americans say that the federal government could do more to help victims rebuild, and 69 percent say Louisiana officials could be more helpful.

But most of the criticism was aimed at President Bush, with 90 percent of African Americans saying they disapprove of the way he has responded to the needs of Katrina victims. In comparison, 60 percent of Whites say they disapprove, according to the poll, conducted Feb. 22-26 by CBS News for BET.

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Better Off Staying Out

While African Americans believe that most people will eventually return to New Orleans, they remain pessimistic about the city’s current drawing power, the poll found. Six in 10 Blacks believe people are better off staying where they are now. Most African Americans (57 percent) believe that most Black people who were forced to leave New Orleans will return. Another 42 percent, however, say that most Blacks who left will never return, the poll shows. Forty-four percent say they will return, but it will take longer.

“If you ask Black people in New Orleans, I believe the number of people who want to return would be higher,” said Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) ”People want to come home; there is much greater interest from people who are from New Orleans to return.  They want to have a better set of opportunities; they don't want to come home to just anything.  We just have to set the path for them to come home."

Kelly Tretagnier, 20, a junior at Howard, a New Orleanian who is president of the university’s Louisiana Club, says she can’t understand why so many Blacks don’t want to go back.

"My family is considering not going back because of the possibility of another storm that will completely wipe out our home. My parents relocated temporarily to Las Vegas,” she says.

Among other findings:

  • Sixty-eight percent of African Americans say that Iraq war spending should be cut to help pay for hurricane recovery.
  • Ninety-one percent of African Americans say that the federal government should continue to pay for housing for victims.
  • Only 5 percent of African Americans say that New Orleans is ready to return to a tourist attraction.

No Surprises

“There are no surprises in this poll,” says the Rev. Jesse Jackson. “President Bush, from the very beginning, was unprepared for the storm and unwilling to address those victims or survivors of the storm. When the water was high, he had an incompetent person in charge. While he went to ground zero in New York, he never went to ground zero in New Orleans. He looked to be uncaring and incompetent."

The African American majority is also correct in wanting to see money diverted from Iraq to help victims recover, Jackson said.

“When the levees broke, and they looked for helicopters, they were in Iraq,” Jackson said. When they looked for the National Guard, they were in Iraq.” Some of the most dramatic stories involved soldiers from New Orleans, who went to Iraq at the request of the Bush administration “only to come back home to this calamity,” he said.

But Maria Tamburri, a White House spokeswoman, said that the "President remains committed to the citizens of the Gulf Coast, and we will be a full partner to rebuilding and recovery efforts."

Rebuilding Difficult

But African Americans are more likely than Whites to say that not much has been done to reflect that commitment. Forty-seven percent of Black Americans say that little or no progress has been made in rebuilding the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, compared with 36 percent of Whites.

Julie Manuel, a 34-year-old, unemployed schoolteacher from New Orleans, left Dallas two years ago to go back home, but she was forced to return to Texas after Katrina hit. While she believes that racism is prevalent, she says that government corruption has more to do with the problems in New Orleans than racism.

“Rebuilding is difficult … because politicians don’t do their job. Politicians go from office to jail,” she says.

Abdul Bonner, 29, who relocated from New Orleans to Arlington, Texas, is back home helping with clean-up efforts. He says there seems to be little concern for poor Blacks in his hometown. Racism has played a part, particularly in the poverty-stricken areas of Gentilly, and the Eighth Ward, he said. “Where there are White folks, everything is up and running. Mardi Gras is all they’re concerned about.

He points to a sign on a taxi that reads, "Nothing Canceled Mardi Gras."

 “All the people living in hotels that have FEMA confirmation numbers are being put out on the streets so they can make room for the paying customers,” he says. “They have some parts of this city they haven’t even touched.”

Poll is Confirmation

M.K. Asante, Jr., 23, said he isn’t surprised that African Americans are more pessimistic than Whites about the Katrina disaster.  A writer, filmmaker and UCLA graduate student, he numbers himself among the 90 percent of Black respondents who disapprove of the Bush administration’s Katrina response.  Asante says the poll just confirms what he and many of his fellow students already believe -- that government response was lacking and racially motivated.

“They pretty much echo what I feel… (that) the local government failed, the state government failed, the federal government failed,” Asante says.  “I even heard conservative rhetoric that is really harsh in terms of their opinion of the government’s response.  They just kind of left people to fend for themselves.”

For Asante, the poll results provide insight into the post-Katrina psyche of America.  He believes the cynicism revealed in the poll underscores the need for Black independence.  “It just shows us again that as a Black community, we need to create our own thing,” Asante says.  “We need to establish some kind of system where we can respond to (emergencies) for our own people.  We basically can’t depend on the federal government.”

Bush Criticized

Like many of the poll respondents, Emmanuel Thomas, 18, is critical of the Bush administration’s handling of Katrina.  “I was in New York on 9-11,” he says.  “The government just bum-rushed that rescue team to (the Twin Towers).  I feel that they should have done the same for the victims of Katrina.  It’s terrible how they just left people out there on their roofs.”

Like the 91 percent of Blacks surveyed in the poll, Thomas believes the government should continue to provide housing for victims, even giving them back their homes “free of cost.”

“We don’t work every day, pay taxes and abide by laws for nothing,” Thomas says.  “We do it as a partnership with the understanding that if anything happens, then you come to my rescue.  It’s like a contract.  The fact that the people of New Orleans did their part and was (abandoned)... that’s a shame.”

El Cabrel Lee is a director for the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. As such, much of what he's done the last six months has involved assisting evacuees, and getting New Orleans rebuilt. He's made several trips to Louisiana since Katrina.

"From what I've seen and heard, these folks would like to return back home. Some do feel they have an opportunity to start a better life where they current reside," he said.

"But the question is whether they have enough resources, training and the skill sets necessary to have a better quality of life in their new environments.
"It's kind of bold to say where people think they'd be better off. In any other state, like Florida after the hurricanes, I don't think that question ever came up."
Hopes of Coming Home

Lee said he doesn't think President Bush has any particular ill will toward Blacks, "but do we have a class issue in the United States? Yes, I think so."
As for rebuilding efforts, Lee said "a lot of people don't know what's going on with the processes or stages, so they speculate."

As manager of a suburban Detroit hotel which at one point housed 263 evacuees, Wallace Wells has a particularly personal perspective on the polling results. For one thing, he's not surprised that most Americans think the nation's displaced should not return to the Crescent City.

"A fraction of them were returning to Louisiana to address administrative issues as they related to things like insurance, then were coming back with different horror stories about the living conditions down there. So for the people on the fence about returning, they now had reason to say why they wouldn't leave a city, a church, what have you that has given them so much support," Wells said.

"In Michigan about 80 percent of the evacuees are still here, probably with fond hopes of returning home, but it's just too soon. It's going to take a minimum of 18 months, in my view. Some of them have a great desire and longing, but it's like a punch in the stomach because when they do go back they'll see that everything has changed. Louisiana will be there, but it will never be the same Louisiana."

Do you agree with the poll results?

Written by BET-Staff


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