People Get Ready

[ make levees, not war ]

“If you see a loved one get mugged, you don’t walk away”

Posted by schroeder915 on December 26, 2006

I first heard Harry Shearer use that line in an interview with (go ahead, laugh) Terri Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air.

He used it again in a Chris Rose 60-second interview (excerpt):

Many have left. Many more will leave. Why have you chosen to stay?

Because I think I understand what love is. It means sticking with it. If you see a loved one get mugged, you don’t walk away. …

Does the nation suffer from compassion fatigue in the case of New Orleans?

I don’t think it’s compassion fatigue because, for that to happen, there had to have been compassion in the first place. (Pause) Is that too harsh?

You mean they don’t love us out there in the Great Heartland?

Man, oh man. I’m afraid this city is teetering on the edge of changing its name to The City That America Forgot. This may not fit into this interview format, but I’ve started to think that maybe there’s a different way that white people and black people are acculturated in this country — because I’m trying hard not to face the utter racism of it all.

White people are acculturated to have less expectations of community and more expectations of individualism. The first time this occurred to me was when I went to a black church and saw somebody slain in the spirit and saw the group spontaneously gather around him so he wouldn’t hurt himself and I thought: You never see that in a white church. In a white church, people tend to sit by themselves and have a relationship with God.

It’s hard for other people to fathom the sense of despair that people here feel in the face of insurance companies and Road Home and Entergy and all the other villains. There is a hard surface of willful neglect that is almost impermeable. But then you run into so many people who have volunteered to come here and help and want to know what they can do to help, so . . . I don’t know. It’s weird.

You brought it up and it just doesn’t seem to go away. Why is everything here colored by race? …

Well, I just don’t think you can do stuff like enslave people and then walk away and say, OK, that doesn’t count any more, show’s over, let’s move on. We’re learning the same thing that the British are experiencing from their former empire: that your actions have consequences down though the centuries. Over there they’re saying, “Who are all these people in burqas coming to live in London?” Well, those are the people you colonized 200 years ago. I think it comes as a shock to Americans because we’re so contemptuous of the notion that history has any claim on us. And race is the claim check.

You come and go to New Orleans year-round, so my belief is that you see and feel the changes that occur here from a different perspective than most folks who live here.


Then let me ask you this: Where are we? How are we doing? How’s it going?

Not as far along as we should be but farther along than we have any right to be when you consider the people who are in charge.


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