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 readily apparent. 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 weary 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.