Looking around at photos and video from the SoCal wildfires, I don’t see too many black faces. In fact, I don’t recall having seen a single black face. Which makes me wonder if all the comparisons of the fires with Katrina, from the headcounts to the Bush Administration’s (supposed) response, are missing a singular point.
Not to minimize the plight of the wildfire evacuees, it needs to be pointed out that they are (appear to be, till statistical analysis is done) mostly white (undoubtedly Latino will tally as well), mostly politically conservative (with at least a tinge of religiosity), and mostly well to do (especially contrasted with Katrina victims) if not rich by general American standards. There’s some grim irony, too, in the “we take care of our own” pledges emerging from wildfire coverage. The caretakers and the caretakees look a lot alike.
Where are the stories of widespread looting? Where are the paramilitary and outside police forces called in to maintain law and order? How many bands of wildfire refugees have been blocked from crossing bridges into neighboring jurisdictions, or turned away by bayonetted soldiers from returning to the site of their homes? Where are the bulldozers, scraping down houses that might be rebuilt?
And the pets. Any pet owner (I’m one) was sickened by the wrenching site of animals wandering around lost after being forcibly abandoned by their owners. Remember the video of the little white dog jumping up to the closed doors of the evacuation bus? Cut to San Diego, where entire “pet evacuation centers” have sprung up.
You had people dying in the Superdome, while Qualcomm Stadium abounds with stories of Starbucks’ lattes and human kindness. You had repeated suggestions that Katrina victims would simply have to relocate elsewhere, that New Orleans could — even should — never be rebuilt in its former image.
In a way, it’s too bad that the SoCal inferno didn’t happen a couple of years before Katrina. Then the “lessons learned” mantra (which, of course, has yet to be proven sincere) would have a truer test, and more meaningful execution. As it stands, the still unwhole citizens of New Orleans must be viewing the collective response to their supposed brethren halfway across the continent with a mixture of envy and disgust.