Socialist Worker

The legacy of slavery laid bare

August Nimtz is a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota and one of the US’s leading Marxist historians. Here is his reaction to the devastation in his home city

Issue No. 1967

I’m originally from New Orleans. I know my immediate family there is safe after a few anxiety ridden days of not knowing their situation. The fate of members of the more extended family is not known and we hope for the best.

The images coming from New Orleans and elsewhere on the Gulf Coast are appalling and for many people shocking — the latter due largely to disbelief that such realities are occurring here in America.

Some of us have argued for a number of years that the world of advanced capitalism is increasingly wracked with inequalities, not only between countries, but increasingly within the most advanced capitalist societies such as the US.

Poverty

And therefore we should expect to see increasing pockets of the Third World within even the wealthiest capitalist society. That is exactly what the New Orleans reality represents.

In other words, we should be outraged at what we see — but we shouldn’t be surprised. The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, racial discrimination and the normal workings of capitalism go a long way in explaining this unfolding tragedy.

The fight to overcome the racist legacy made important gains that must be recognised. My family certainly benefited from those efforts. This is the basic reason we have fared better in the calamity than far too many others.

But the gains of the civil rights movement have been under attack since the 1980s, if not before, and many of our sisters and brethren have been excluded from the so called “American dream”.

Cuban example

One last point. Last year the United Nations declared that because of the way in which the Cuban government dealt with Hurricane Ivan in 2004, a storm of similar intensity, its approach was a model for other countries.

Almost two million of its citizens were evacuated and there were no fatalities. The Cuban government has offered to send immediately 1,100 of its medical personel — at no cost.

Cuban friends of mine have e?mailed me saying they are having trouble understanding how such a disaster could occur in the wealthiest country in the world.

They live in a society that instills human solidarity, whereas we live in one that promotes individual self?interest — a sad reality that has very much been on display in New Orleans and environs.


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.