Don’t Rebuild New Orleans

To America’s race-baiters, not even Hurricane Katrina is colorblind. They fault the administration not for bureaucratic bungling, but for a racist hostility to blacks. This goes not just for America’s self-appointed black “spokesmen” such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, but for guilty white liberals, too.

Oprah Winfrey, the multimillionaire talk show host, said, “It’s a black thing.” She demanded that the nation, which was busy providing relief, apologize to the victims.

Actor Sean Penn accused team Bush of “criminal negligence.” Bobby Rush, a congressman from Chicago, likened conditions in the New Orleans Superdome to those of slave ships, saying, “If in fact New Orleans were populated by middle-class whites, then you would have seen a far different response.” (Busy faulting Bush, Rush forgot to mention that the person most responsible for the Superdome fiasco is Ray Nagin, the black Democratic mayor of New Orleans.)

Rapper Kanye West said during a benefit concert, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” (West apparently never heard of Condoleeza Rice or Colin Powel, high-ranking blacks who have served Bush with distinction.)

Abandoning his usual caution, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, speaking to the National Baptist Convention of America, noted what he called “the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a significant role in who survived and who did not.”

Unfortunately, loony conspiracy theories are nothing new for Dean, or for a significant percentage of the nation’s African American community. According to Reuters, “A survey by researchers from Oregon State University and the Rand Corporation released earlier this year found 16 percent of African-Americans thought AIDS was created by the government to control the black population.”

The report went on: “Conspiracy theories also sprouted among Hurricane Katrina evacuees camping out at Houston’s Astrodome. Several told Reuters they suspected black residential areas were flooded purposely in an effort to divert water from white housing.”

Such irrational fears play into the hands of a Democratic power structure ever eager for an excuse to bash the president, and looking for ways to keep African Americans on the liberal plantation. They are also a significant hindrance to many African Americans ever getting a realistic shot at the American Dream. While some discrimination still exists, the bigger problem for many blacks is their worldview.

As author Shelby Steele, a scholar who is black, noted years ago in The Content of Our Character, such conspiracy theories are a convenient cop-out on personal responsibility. “When a people of a race or nation are insecure about their ability to thrive in the larger world, they inevitably evolve an identity that allows them to recompose inner fears into external threats,” Steele writes. “It is not that we fear that we can thrive as well as others; it is that others are hostile to us, and we must be tightly unified to defend ourselves.”

Perhaps this dysfunctional group mentality helps explain the otherwise incomprehensible comments from some black leaders pooh-poohing the looting of New Orleans by marauding blacks. (Celine Dion said simply, “Who cares?”)

Such a herd mentality has done little to advance blacks in New Orleans, where they constituted two-thirds of the population. Crime, corruption, and poverty run rampant in the Democratic-run “Big Easy.” Joel Kotkin, writing in, notes that the city of under a half-million was a dead end for its citizens even before Katrina.

“In l920, New Orleans’s population was nearly three times that of Houston,” Kotkin said. “During the ’90s, the Miami and Houston areas grew almost six times as fast as greater New Orleans, and flourished as major destinations for immigrants.”

While I have heard one government official after another vowing to “rebuild” New Orleans, I have yet to hear one displaced resident vowing to return. Here’s hoping that many will escape the city’s dysfunctional culture and start new, more hopeful lives elsewhere.

Whatever the logistical and financial challenges to rebuilding the city, I hope they don’t rebuild it (at least the way it was). The poor people of New Orleans need a fresh start, and many are already availing themselves of it. Perhaps getting out of New Orleans, some for the first time in their lives, will open their eyes to new ways of looking at the world, and at their fellow citizens.

Some already are. Joseph Brant, 36, escaped the city by hitching a ride with compassionate white people. Brant told Reuters, “Before this whole thing, I had a complex about white people. This thing changed me forever.”

About Stan Guthrie

Stan Guthrie is an editor at large for Christianity Today magazine and for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. His latest book is God's Story in 66 Verses. He also is author of All that Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us, Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, and A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy. He is co-author of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Besides authoring, writing, and editing books, Stan is a literary agent, bringing together good authors, good books, and good publishers. Stan writes the monthly Priorities colum for He has appeared on National Public Radio's €œTell Me More,€ WGN's Milt Rosenberg program, and many Christian shows, including The Eric Metaxas Show and Moody Radio'€™s €œNew Day Florida.€ A licensed minister and an inspirational speaker, he served as moderator for the Christian Book Expo panel discussion, Does the God of Christianity Exist, and What Difference Does It Make?
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