[Kaspit raised some concerns about my use of the word "genocidal" in my first post about FEMA and the Red Cross. Since others may have felt similarly, I'm going to offer an initial response to my friend's comment out here, as a new post. For ease of reference, I'm going to repost Kaspit's comment in the comments to this post. --BG]
Thanks for your feedback. I value it a great deal and hope we can have more exchanges on these and other related topics. At the moment it is a little difficult for me know how to modulate my anger in a way that isn't off putting to some (maybe many). Some of that may be warranted by the scale of injustice and some of that may be a reflection of my having much shorter experience than you in doing social justice work, and maybe with experience you learn how to take things better in stride in order to be more effective politically.
That said, this is my personal blog and not the website of an advocacy organization, and I don't know that I necessarily need to do anything differently. I provide the links for my sources, which others can use in other ways, if they wish. I also think there is some value in being open about how angry-making recent events are for me and, I'm sure, for many others (including you, I would guess).
A philosophical and moral question in many areas of the Katrina tragedy is at what point does willful neglect carry the weight of intent? The legal profession uses the categories of gross negligence and wanton misconduct* to describe forms of negligence that border on or are equivalent to intent. Regardless of what could be argued in a court of law, on a moral level I believe that government and Red Cross officials have crossed that line, showing "indifference to whether harm will result."
Willful withholding of food and water that can only result in death, illness, and irreparable harm definitely qualifies in this department, in my opinion—especially when the evidence shows that there is no practical or administrative reason, at this point, that the Red Cross could not have been delivering relief inside of New Orleans for some time. As I said in my post, it is a genocidal policy. That is, the policy has genocidal effects. I do not see how those crafting the policy can be unaware of those effects. Therefore, I hold them responsible.
Maybe it would be helpful if I say a little on how I think about the relationship between institutional and individual expressions of racism (and other forms of oppression). One of my analytical aphorisms is that institutionalized racism promotes individual, local acts of racism. For example, in the 2004 presidential election in Ohio, elections officials created long lines at the polls in heavily African American neighborhoods by purposefully withholding voting machines from those areas. Because there were up to 10 hour waits to vote in some of these places, there were horrendous parking problems. Many had to park illegally in order to be able to vote. At some polling places, poll workers went around threatening to have voters' cars towed, forcing voters to choose between staying in line and paying towing fees. There were also gross acts of cruelty against disabled and elderly voters whom poll workers forced to stand in line with no option to sit or receive other appropriate accommodations.
I feel reasonably confident that those officials, who were administering racist policies at an institutional level, did not instruct poll workers to discriminate against Black voters in local situations. I do, however, hold elections officials culpable for cultivating an atmosphere in which it was okay for individual poll workers to violate the voting rights of, and demean, Black voters. Maybe not legally culpable (lawyers, please opine...)—but definitely morally culpable.
Similarly, long standing institutionalized racism in NOLA made Black people disproportionately vulnerable to profoundly neglectful government policies, individual acts of neglect, and overt, racist aggression on the ground.
I think I understand part of your criticism to be that it is not practical to argue that policies under discussion are genocidal in their effects. In fact, I think you're saying that it's not even that practical to try to convince Americans that the Red Cross is messing up. Maybe from a political strategy / policy making standpoint you are right. However, I feel a moral obligation to speak about the ramifications of behaviors as I see them.
I do hear you when you point out that that the word "genocidal" is potentially inflammatory and that wielding it at the outset, before I've made my argument, may undermine my argument for some readers. On reflection, I think you are probably right and that if I had it to do over, I might have used the word later in my post and defined it in my post. Still, I stand by the usage and think that stating it upfront also has some value, the value of breaking a taboo on speaking directly about the nature of injustices that we have all witnessed.
I know there are fine points in your analysis that I have not addressed as of yet. As time permits, I'll try to get to them back in the comments thread.
*Links are to legal definitions in Michigan state law and are being used as reference points only. I make no legal claims about the technical application of "gross negligence" and "wanton misconduct" in Louisiana state or national contexts.