Sunday, November 4, 2012

Racial Framing and Superstorm Sandy: A Black Mother Begs for Help While Her Children Drown

Superstorm Sandy has made the divisions of class in the New York City area very clear. The "haves" are able to muster the resources to somehow survive. The "have nots" are left to their own devices.

Superstorm Sandy has also reminded us of how race remains one of the main dividing lines in our society. While naked displays of racism are now outside of the norms of "polite society," racial micro-aggressions, the day-to-day moments of white racial hostility and animus towards people of color, continue onward.

Racial micro-aggressions can impact the lives of black and brown folks in ways that are "just" inconvenient--the store detective that follows you around while shopping; being asked for ID when using a credit card; when your friends or colleagues "complement" you by saying you are one of "the special" or "good" ones.

Alternatively, these racial micro-aggressions can also be deadly in their outcomes.

Superstorm Sandy has yet to provide an iconic example of white racist media framing such as when during Hurricane Katrina, black people were described as "looters," and whites, also trying to survive, were captioned in news photos as "looking for food."

A lack of an iconic moment does not mean that race no longer impacts life outcomes, the safety and health of people of color, or how white society chooses to view (or not) African-Americans as full members of the polity and broader community.

Tragically, the drowning deaths of two black children while their mother, a black woman, begged for help in a white ethnic suburban community in Staten Island--and then was left crying and broken on the porch of a house for 12 hours when its owner refused her aid (and did not call authorities for assistance)--is a reminder of how the color line can kill you.

Neighborhoods are fundamentally prefaced upon community and belonging. America is a profoundly segregated society. Few people, especially those in the suburbs, explore the causes and history behind this phenomenon. America's segregated communities are a result of decisions by real estate agents, home owners, government, and individuals.

Historically, the whiteness of these communities--what were called "sundown towns"--was protected through violence, intimidation, and murder of non-whites.

Until the near present, white communities could be maintained by law through such practices as "red lining" and restrictive housing covenants. For example, New York, and Long Island in particular, were the sites of some of the first planned suburban communities in the post-World War 2 era. These neighborhoods, Levittown being the most famous of them all, were "racially exclusive." In plain English: no blacks or non-whites were allowed to live there.

In the Age of Obama, the racial exclusivity of white communities is protected by informal norms and practices. Real estate agents will not show people of color property in certain neighborhoods, regardless of their ability to buy a home there. Neighbors are less than welcoming to these new arrivals if they somehow manage to move in.

Police will harass and profile racial minorities, blacks and Latinos in particular, if they happen to be traveling through white neighborhoods such as the Jersey Shore, and certain parts of Staten Island, for example.

Moreover, housing segregation is so prevalent in Staten Island that the Staten Island Expressway has been rechristened the "Mason-Dixon" line by locals in the area.

During Superstorm Sandy, Glenda Moore and her two children, Connor and Brandon (aged 4 and 2) found themselves the victims of this reality.

Neighborhoods create boundaries around who is considered a stranger. Strangers can be ignored. We are taught to be wary of them. In some cases, strangers can be made into legitimate targets for violence and threat. Black Americans are existential strangers in their own country. Our status as citizens is contingent on white approval and acceptance--even if you are President of the United States. African Americans are assumed to be a threat and a perilous type of stranger until we prove otherwise.

The murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman was an example where a neighborhood vigilante decided that a black teenager was a particular type of stranger, dangerous by nature, who could be shot dead in the street without consequences.

During Superstorm Sandy, Allen, the homeowner in question, decided that Glenda was a stranger who could be ignored while her children drowned. Here, the stereotype and logic is one where black strangers in white neighborhoods are automatically looters and brigands. They can never be a mother fighting to save the lives of her children.

America is a sick society. Racism is internalized by all Americans. Glenda Moore's loss of her two children is a horrible example of how implicit and subconscious racial bias can impact a white person's level of empathy and sympathy towards African-Americans. A woman cried, begged, and screamed for help while her children drowned. A decision was made by a white neighborhood that this type of person, in that gendered body, with that skin color, was not worthy of assistance.

For twelve hours she pleaded for help. Her children died. Students of race and politics often discuss these matters in the abstract, and through examples grounded in a careful study of social and political institutions, as well as Power. The death of Glenda Moore's children, and her treatment that evening by the people in that neighborhood, is an example of racial immorality on the most personal level.

Some other thoughts and questions about racial framing and SuperStorm Sandy:

1. Has racial framing become more or less prominent in the media's coverage of Superstorm Sandy? I have noticed a good number of photos where people of color are shown in line waiting for gasoline and food. I have not seen many similar images of white people. In discussions of looting, the only stories I have seen have featured black men. Have any of you seen stories about social disorder following Superstorm Sandy in white communities?

2. The white victims of SuperStorm Sandy in Staten Island, and the Jersey Shore in particular, have been framed by the media as "hearty" stalwarts and survivors. In comparison to Hurricane Katrina, why is their decision to stay put after an evacuation order, not being interrogated as that of "irresponsible" people?

3. If Glenda Moore were white, and her children were "white" how would the coverage be different? In one of the worst storms in recent memory, why is this not a huge story? Alternatively, what if a white woman was refused help in a black neighborhood and her children then died? What would result?

4. Moreover, white people's demands for assistance are being treated as legitimate and reasonable. Where is the critique of "lazy, not self-reliant, and entitled" people who should have "personal responsibility" for their choices that greeted the survivors of Hurricane Katrina?

5. Will the white folks who are seeking assistance from FEMA, and then voting for Mitt Romney, understand their hypocrisy? Will they be made more or less sympathetic to others, especially people of color, who find themselves in need of government aid and assistance?

6. If you want a reminder of how white privilege and the white racial frame can color a person's understanding of reality, and levels of empathy and sympathy towards the Other, read the comment sections on either Youtube or in the online press regarding the tragic drowning deaths of Glenda Moore's children.

7. Glenda Moore's two children were fathered by a white man. In many ways, the multiracial movement is prefaced on gaining white privilege for those people who are of a "mixed race" background in order to create a buffer race and colored class.

The white parentage through their father of those two beautiful black children did not extend any privilege, or sense of white kinship to them, through their mother. The boundaries of white community were not broad enough to save those two children.

The "one drop" rule is real in American society. For example, while some white folks are confused (and even offended) by Barack Obama's claim to a black identity, this tragic event is more proof that in this society African Americans of a "mixed race" background are still stigmatized by their blackness. In total, White privilege, and their "white" lineage, did not save Glenda Moore's two children. It left them to drown and die.


Black Sage said...

This is what happens in a supposedly democratic country where the poor is continually ridiculed, criminalized; an entire culture’s collective character is demonized and assassinated. Where on the other hand, the elites are continually valorized as saviors, placed on a pedestal and placed in strategic political and social positions to passively further the maintenance of White supremacy through the ever present conduit of the media. Therefore, sadly, it comes as no surprise that during the midst of a storm, a White man is dismissive and indifferent to a Black mother pleading for assistance to escape the torrent while her two kids who were subsequently carried away in the flood water.

Anonymous said...

By the time Glenda Moore approached the house she had already lost her children to the storm. It's hard to understand what possessed this woman to take her children and leave the relative safety of her own home, which was not in the evacuation zone, in the middle of a raging storm and to drive down a flooded street near the beach in the evacuation zone. I've read that road is often used by locals as a shortcut to the Verrazano bridge, which was due to close at 7PM that day. Perhaps she just didn't pause to think before taking that road.

makheru bradley said...

I wonder if these guys were haves. They had season tickets to see the Jets. The son was a college student. Big Sandy didn’t spare them either.

Is there anything to suggest that the man refused to help Glenda Moore because she was an Afrikan American?

The one thing abundantly clear in each of these natural disasters is that America’s PTB have shamefully neglected the country’s infrastructure.

What we’ve seen with Katrina and now with Sandy represents barely the tip of “people’s inhumanity to other people.” Wait until collapse fully erupts in America.

Black Sage said...

Is there anything to suggest that the man refused to help Glenda Moore because she was an Afrikan American? – Makheru Bradley

Her skin tone is brown/black and she was within an unfriendly enclave, isn’t that suggestive enough?

Black Sage said...

It's hard to understand what possessed this woman to take her children and leave the relative safety of her own home, which was not in the evacuation zone. – Anonymous

@Anonymous, granted, perhaps it wasn’t the smartest thing to do what Glenda did. However, are you then attempting to passively justify the immoral actions by the homeowner? Or, should I say, his INACTION?

chaunceydevega said...

@Anon. Always blaming the victim--proves my point.

@MB. Race trumps class again. Given that neighborhood, a place that I am familiar with, and where I have relative out on SI, the racism and hostility to "stranger", esp. of color is real. Thus my use of that thread and framework for thinking about what went down. Do you think that if she were white that said man would not have let her in?

Nebris said...

Ahhh, I wondered what was up with that.

I saw a TV newscast where Allen actually spoke on camera and he claimed it was 'a man' who tried to break in. Allen seemed nervous and is a small framed while male, one who could easily be called 'wimp'. So I can see how his fear would project a hysterical black female as a 'dangerous male'.

I got the feeling that he is now consumed with guilt, so his racism has victimized himself along with killing those two children and likely destroying their mother's life. *sigh*

Needless to say, the report did not mention that Glenda Moore was black. More 'post-racialism' at work.

Nebris said...

PS It was the above CNN report that I saw.

Anonymous said...

This would not be about race if you did not try to make it all about race. You are reaching hard to find anything to support your "victim" argument. Do you think white people don't get mistreated in predominately black neighbourhoods? Do you think white people are welcomed with open arms in Latino neighbourhoods? You are part of the problem trying to make race a constant issue. Start looking at people as people and not skin colour.

fred c said...

"Do you think white people don't get mistreated in predominately black neighborhoods?"

Not by the regular folks they don't, no, count on it. And the thugerific Black youth who might abuse a White visitor will cheerfully abuse the regular Black folk who live there, count on that too.

This shit is not simple. It's like the English language: even where there are rules, the exceptions soon overpower the rules.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous, granted, perhaps it wasn’t the smartest thing to do what Glenda did. However, are you then attempting to passively justify the immoral actions by the homeowner? Or, should I say, his INACTION?" - Black Sage

Given the conditions during the storm, the woman's crazed behavior, and the fact that her children were already lost I think it's presumptuous to accuse the homeowner of immorality for not helping her. Even if they had phone service at the time, which is questionable, 911 would not have been able to respond during the height of the storm. Let's not project guilt onto the homeowner for the mother's tragic mistakes.

Invisible Man said...

W.E.B. Dubois said the problem of the 20 Century is the color line.

In the 21 Century, the color line as turned into the largest and always expanding fault line in the country.

Because white America continues to get to deal with race on their own terms and when they chose to deal with it. While us Black folks must discover and negotiate mind fields of all sizes, almost every day, because white folks will not assists us in cleaning up what these weapons of mass destruction. Needless to say many of us die and are maimed from them

But, let me doff my cap to our gentile host for this brilliant essay.

However again, Mr. Devega cannot help but use this tragedy in to service of his dear Liege President Obama by superfluously tossing in a bard about Romney and FEMA.

So let me then sally forth( from the cheap seats) this Presidential observation. It has been reported that over the last four years, America has gotten more "racists" against Black people. Could that be the fault of President Obama for not only never addressing race and forcing America to finally grapple and confront "the mess" borrowing a term from Samuel Beckett, that keeps us stuck in the tar pits.

But, further, P using poor Black people as political fodder to gain white support, which clearly has been at best a poor investment and at worst catastrophic.

Maybe Obama's cynical and political handling of race will be one of his major legacy's of his Presidency???

Hotep good people, remember we are not safe.

Cavoyo said...

"The "one drop" rule is real in American society. For example, while some white folks are confused (and even offended) by Barack Obama's claim to a black identity, this tragic event is more proof that in this society African Americans of a "mixed race" background are still stigmatized by their blackness."

Here's how it works in white people's minds: if a black person accomplishes something, it's because they have white ancestry. If a black person fucks up, it's because they're black.

The Sanity Inspector said...

Shame on the homeowner for refusing her refuge. But don't, as some did in Katrina, hate on the emergency services, for not coming out in the middle of the hurricane.

The Sanity Inspector said...

...and before you use this one homeowner to stigmatize all white people, spend some time looking at pictures of the relief volunteers, in the days and weeks to come.

chaunceydevega said...

@Sanity. Review what I wrote; no where did I say that there were not white rescuers. Up your game.

I am focused on one neighborhood, where other people heard her crying and did nothing too, in what is a very segregated community. You can delude yourself into thinking that if this poor woman were white the white folks in that neighborhood would have likely treated her the same way. I do not live in such a fantastical universe.

Black equaled stranger equaled looter.

fred c said...

It might not be so fantastic, Professor, White people missing out on a good opportunity to help White people. Don't underestimate the fearful, selfish attitude of the typical prosperous White person. It is widely known that the world is not devoid of White thugs and junkies.

It's old news, but long ago I carried the mail in Jamaica, Queens, for a couple of years, both north and south of Jamaica Avenue. People north of Jamaica Avenue, a prosperous White neighborhood, never opened their doors for me, even if I was holding up a piece of registered mail. I was not the regular carrier, and I was in my early-twenties, with long hair. Ooops, danger.

The other side of this coin, as I hinted above, was that south of Jamaica Avenue, in the Black neighborhoods that varied from poor to prosperous, I found a general welcome, warm and fraternal, which I still deeply appreciate.

But yeah, this unfortunate woman's chances were hurt by her Blackness, even.

makheru bradley said...

Her skin tone is brown/black and she was within an unfriendly enclave, isn’t that suggestive enough?—Sage

Not in my opinion. If you are going to focus on white supremacy at the individual level, rather than the organizational or institutional level you have to prove that individual was motivated by white supremacy.

chaunceydevega said...

@mb. white supremacy does not work that way, nor has it always. implicit bias is real. check out some of the work on it. there is a matrix of power relationships where we all play a role. that man did not have to consciously say I will not let a black person in my house; it could have been an instinct, especially based on his lies about the situation where "two big men" were out there with her.

another example would be how police are faster by seconds to judge a black person without a gun as holding one, or alternatively to honestly "believe" that harmless objects held by black and brown people are guns. this has lethal results. Those results have been replicated with white test takers more generally.

Makheru Bradley said...

CDV, I understand how white supremacy driven by ethnocentrism and xenophobia works. I understand its ethos and asili.

The police are part of an institution, thus their activities, homicides, brutality, profiling, patterns of behavior etc. can be documented.

You’re making sociological assumptions about this man because he is white. What’s the difference between CDV and white supremacists who make sociological assumptions about Afrikan Americans based on their phenotype, communities, families, etc.?

chaunceydevega said...

@Makheru. I am right and the evidence is in support of my position and conclusions. Follow some of those links. It ain't rocket science. I am making assumptions about his behavior based on the context of what I know about his neighborhood and its norms. If he is an outlier so be it. I deal in the meaty part of the distribution.

makheru bradley said...

You have not presented specific evidence about him; only generalizations about his community.

I repeat: What’s the difference between CDV and white supremacists who make sociological assumptions about Afrikan Americans based on their phenotype, communities, families, etc.?

chaunceydevega said...

@MB. You can be his neighbor and advocate. Do some research about that community, contact him, and then come back and report. You are bright, I think you understand the deep and systemic stereotypes about black and brown people in this country. Moreover, I think you understand whiteness and racial microaggressions.

In short, you are comparing apples and donuts in this case when you want to conflate a claim about white racial attitudes and the notions of community in regards to black people, and a critical reading of those dynamics as somehow being at all similar.

What is your dog in this fight? Do you know the coward?

Invisible Man said...

So Chauncey, you never responded to my query above. Do you think President Obama is going to fully address race in America now that he's in four the next four years or will he continue to duck and dodge it only using it for purposes of political expediency? I mean he could force a lot of painful but much needed conversations if he wanted to?

What say ye?

chaunceydevega said...

@IM. Don't know. I would say expect more of the same. We shall see though.

makheru bradley said...

CDV, you leveld the charges. It's up to you to prove them. My issue is something I learned from Stokely Carmichael many moons ago: the amount of time we focus on actions of individual racists (alleged or actual) versus institutionalized white supremacy, e.g. the subprime mortgage crisis.

[According to a comprehensive report from the nonprofit group, United for a Fair Economy, over the past eight years the total loss of wealth for people of color is between $164 billion and $213 billion, for subprime loans which is the greatest loss of wealth for people of color in mod­ern history:
“According to federal data, people of color are three times more likely to have subprime loans: high-cost loans account for 55 per cent of loans to blacks, but only 17 per cent of loans to whites”. If there had been equitable distribution of subprime loans, losses for white people would be 44.5 per cent higher and losses for people of color would be about 24 per cent lower. “This is evidence of systemic prejudice and institutional racism.”

Before the current crisis, based on improvements in median household net worth, it would take 594 more years for blacks to achieve parity with whites. The current crisis is likely to stretch this even further.]-- Pam Martens

Likely is an understatement. The interesting thing about the loss of wealth calculated here is that the article was written in Feb/2008, six months before 9/15. Given the explosion of foreclosures after 9/15 how much wealth have Afrikan Americans now lost? This is one the most critical issues Afrikan American have faced this century, and it’s now even being discussed. But let one of these political Neanderthals say something about Michelle Obama’s butt and we’re up in arms. SMH

Anonymous said...

Let this serve as a painful reminder to those blacks that have hope that the white race can change.

Whites are the most destructive force on the planet. When I heard of this story, I felt sick. But this should be a warning to all:

Whites are not our friends. Never have been and never will be.

Am said...

I'm confused by the race issue. The last name "Ferretti" doesn't strike me as a caucasian name. I read that this man has been forced to leave his home due to the harassment from people who blame him for not helping Glenda Moore. I want to understand what anyone thinks might have happened differently if the man had been able to call and GET THROUGH To 911--which was getting 10,000 calls per hour instead of their usual 1000 calls per hour. Was I the only one who saw the news reports that said that 911 was overwhelmed and people who had real emergencies were not able to get through? I have not read any reports that say the man had a boat, a cell phone, a flash light, or was a powerful swimmer.

Anonymous said...

Here's a link I didn't find within your blog. This man may, in fact, be an outlier. Whether or not he was racially motivated to not help Glenda doesn't matter to me now. i would like to know what you think would be an appropriate remedy for everyone involved. Should the man's house be burned down? Should the court figure out a way to put him in jail? Should he lose his job? What can be done so that people won't feel like he got away with murder?

The Sanity Inspector said...

As per the above two comments, I'm having second thoughts about this story myself. The scene: violent rain, 90mph winds, roaring floodwaters. That's loud! I can well imagine someone not hearing a woman scream over that racket, even if she's right outside. I fear our host may have fallen for something from the Too Good To Check File, where a news item so closely fits our own conception of things, we don't bother overmuch confirming it as true. Happens to all of us...

liberti said...

First of all her kids weren't black nor did they look it, second the home owner was in no way responsible for letting them in HIS house..though it would have been the decent thing to do, and lastly it was her fault for being out there. The evacuation order had long been given, she should have been at home or to safety by then. She had more than enough time. As a mom of color also with two biracial sons ( so im not being racist against her) she made a few bad calls that got her kids killed. Follow the emergency broadcast instructions, they are given for a reason! RIP to those poor little boys