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Surely God Has Better Aim Than That:

[UPDATE: Here's an item about Mayor Nagin's apology for this statement.]

Rev. Shanks, Pat Robertson (albeit in a different context), and now New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin:

Surely God is mad at America. He's sending hurricane after hurricane after hurricane. Surely he's not approval of us being in Iraq under false pretenses.

But surely he's upset at black America also. We as black people, it's time. It's time for us to come together. It's time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be, a chocolate New Orleans. And I don't care what people are saying uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day.

(Source: Transcript of video clip aired on MSNBC's The Situation, Jan. 16, 2006; there might have been some editing, but I presume that it didn't change the substance; CNN and also MSNBC's Scarborough Country reports this as "Surely God is mad at America. He's sending hurricane after hurricane after hurricane. And it's destroying and putting stress on this country. Surely he's not approval of us being in Iraq under false pretenses. But surely he is upset at black America also.")

But if God is mad at America, why exactly did he decide to kill, injure, and make homeless this particular chunk of America? Are poor people, who generally suffer the most from natural disasters, particularly likely to be guilty in God's eyes? (Though the dead in Katrina weren't disproportionately poor by New Orleans standards, the dislocation caused by natural disasters generally disproportionately hurts poor people, who are least likely to have savings to fall back on, least likely to have educations and other credentials that would make it easy to start over, and least likely to be adequately insured. Surely God knows that.)

Were those hurt by Katrina particularly able to control America's Iraq policy? Were they particularly able to prevent whatever problems of black America Mayor Nagin is pointing to? Actually, wouldn't Mayor Nagin and his fellow politicians have had more influence (though of course surely not unlimited influence) that could have helped "black America" "come together"? And, if so, why didn't God target them especially? (Or is it that Mayor Nagin was spared because of his righteousness, and others were punished because they were especially sinful? You can't have it both ways — it's either that, or it's that God was punishing people without regard to their own deserts.)

Of course, one possible response is that God works in mysterious ways, and either chooses not to control natural disasters, or sends them for reasons and in manners that are beyond human understanding. But if that's so, then why is Mayor Nagin so confident that God is mad at America, and that the reason is God's disapproval of America's actions in Iraq, or of the actions of black America? And how, if at all, is Mayor Nagin different from Rev. Shanks and Rev. Robertson in this respect?

Thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Mayor Ray Nagin Apologizes:
  2. Chocolate New Orleans:
  3. Surely God Has Better Aim Than That:
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Chocolate New Orleans:

[NOTE: See UPDATE below, which discussed Mayor Nagin's follow-up statement. FURTHER UPDATE:

Here's an item about Mayor Nagin's apology for this statement.]

If only it were just the name of a new dessert (a la Baked Alaska) — but unfortunately it's not. Rather, it's New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's aspiration:

It's time for us to come together. It's time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be, a chocolate New Orleans. And I don't care what people are saying uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day.

I don't think this is quite identical to a white politician talking about wanting a "lily Savannah" or some such, but closer to a Chinese-American politician or an Italian-American politician making similar statements about his own ethnicity. While black Americans, Chinese-Americans, and Italian-Americans are hardly entirely culturally homogeneous, there's enough of a shared black American/Chinese-American/Italian-American culture that such references may be seen chiefly as a form of mild cultural chauvinism, rather than outright hostility to other groups. Whites in America, on the other hand, are so immensely culturally varied that aspirations to making some place white or whiter are almost invariably aimed chiefly at derogating other groups, and not at affirming a nonexistent shared white culture. That's why, I think, we'd be somewhat less suspicious about an Irish-American who would like his daughter to marry an Irishman than about a white who would like his daughter to marry another white — I wouldn't be wild about either, but the former seems more animated by excessive love of the Irish, while the latter seems likely to be more animated by dislike of nonwhites.

Nonetheless, Mayor Nagin's sentiments surely aren't very good, either. Cultural chauvinism of this sort may not be the same as outright racism, but neither is admirable, especially when a government official engages in it. (Note that this isn't just a broadly applicable "what a wonderful group you folks are!," which is pretty normal in American politics and mostly unobjectionable because it can be said equally to a wide range of groups, but rather a statement ascribing one color to a city, state, or nation.)

What's more, this isn't just a moral or symbolic concern; it's also a serious practical matter: To thrive, New Orleans has to have investment of time, money, effort, and commitment from nonblacks as well as blacks; the sad fact is that for various reasons black areas already tend to draw less outside investment than they need to thrive. Would expressly stressing — not just as a descriptive matter but as a matter of the local government's aspirations — that those areas are and should be "chocolate" mitigate or exacerbate that condition?

Thanks again to InstaPundit for the pointer to this story.

UPDATE: Thanks to Bob Bobstein for the correction — I originally wrote "more suspicious about an Irish-American" when I of course meant "less." Whoops!

UPDATE: Reader DNL points to a CNN story in which Mayor Nagin elaborates on his comments:

Pressed later to explain his comments, Nagin, who is black, told CNN affiliate WDSU-TV that he was referring to creation of a racially diverse city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, insisting that his remarks were not divisive.

"How do you make chocolate? You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink. That is the chocolate I am talking about," he said.

Well, I appreciate Mayor Nagin's clarification; his second statement suggests that his intentions were far better than those I inferred from the first statement.

Yet whatever his intentions, it seems to me that the meaning that most people would have drawn from the original statement would have been quite different; it just seems to me that that this isn't really how most people would understand references to "chocolate." There are lots of phrases that are generally understood as referring to racial or ethnic diversity or mixing (melting pot, rainbow, salad bowl, and more). "Chocolate," as best I can tell, isn't usually one of them. Still, as I said, at least I'm happy to hear that Mayor Nagin's intentions were good, even if his expression was somewhat inapt.

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Mayor Ray Nagin Apologizes:

The AP reports (thanks to reader Dan Schmutter for the pointer):

Mayor Ray Nagin apologized Tuesday for a Martin Luther King Day speech in which he predicted that New Orleans would be a "chocolate" city once more and asserted that "God was mad at America."

"I said some things that were totally inappropriate.... It shouldn't have happened," Nagin said, explaining he was caught up in the moment as he spoke to mostly black spectators, many of them fearful of being shut out of the city's rebuilding.

During the speech Monday, Nagin, who is black, said that the hurricanes that hit the nation in quick succession were a sign of God's anger toward the United States and toward black communities, too, for their violence and infighting. He also said New Orleans has to be a mostly black city again because "it's the way God wants it to be."

On Tuesday, Nagin said his comments about God were inappropriate and stemmed from a private conversation he had with a minister earlier. "I need to be more sensitive and more aware of what I'm saying," he said.

The mayor said his speech was really meant to convey that blacks were a vital part of New Orleans' history and culture and should be encouraged to return. "I want everyone to be welcome in New Orleans -- black, white, Asian, everybody," he said.

Nagin said the other main point he had hoped to make Monday was that when blacks do return, they must work to stamp out the crime and political infighting that have held them back....

[Ed Renwick, the director of Loyola University's Institute of Politics said of the remarks,] "It seemed to be another Nagin-being-Nagin. He has a penchant for just speaking off the cuff and not thinking it through.... He also tends to speak to the literal audience he's with at the time instead of the whole world he reaches through the TV, radio and print media."

Very glad to hear about -- and to report -- the Mayor's apology.

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