My friends argue as we eat lunch, munching on vegetarian middle eastern
wraps from the local coffeehouse and homemade banana nut muffins with
chocolate chips and extra wheat germ added for healthy measure. "It's not
racism; it's classism!" says Kevin, who agrees with Colin Powell that the
crisis in New Orleans exposes how people earning under $10,000 a year
live, and that just so happens to disproportionately affect people of
color. "And that is racism!" Jen retorts as we sit around the lunch table
overlooking the courtyard that is starting to show signs of the shifting
seasons. The grape vine crawling up the brick faE7ade of the old
building is beginning to turn from a lush green hue to tones of gold,
brown and red.
"Does it matter?" I ask. "Why do we need to compartmentalize?"
Oppression is oppression. They're all intertwined. It is no coincidence
that those making under $10,000 a year are the people from the margins of
society. Those with the least opportunity afforded them. Look at who was
left. Primarily black, yes. But many other features as well. Sick
people. People who could not walk. People on oxygen. People with mental
illness. People with addictions. People with little privilege. But
I agree that it is helpful to critically analyze what went wrong, to point
the finger at those to blame, to demand changes. But we must do this in
the name of all people. It does not help our cause to separate ourselves
from each other. To name ourselves as more oppressed than the other. To
argue racism versus classism. We must uphold one priority: the eradication
of oppression of all people.
But I wonder, can someone eating couscous, tofu and wheat germ understand,
I mean truly understand, oppression and survival? Can we sit in an ivory
tower and do anything more than pontificate the politics of oppression? I
don't think the people I saw standing on the bridge waiting for water and
food to arrive would hold a conversation about racism versus classism.
Not during their moment of crisis; not in the more secure confines of a
shelter; and not even in the sanctuary of their rebuilt lives. Only
privilege allows for such discussion.