NEW YORKTo African-Americans, Hurricane Katrina has become a generation-defining catastrophe—a disaster with a predominantly black toll, tinged with racism. They’ve rallied to the cause with an unprecedented outpouring of activism and generosity.
The unlikely alliance touched by the disaster is not only donating money but gathering supplies, taking in friends and relatives, even heading south to help shoulder the burden of their people.
“You’d have to go back to slavery, or the burning of black towns, to find a comparable event that has affected black people this way,” said Darnell M. Hunt, a sociologist and head of the African American studies department at UCLA.
Some 71 percent of blacks say the disaster shows that racial inequality remains a major problem in America, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Sept. 6-7 among 1,000 Americans; 56 percent of whites feel this was not a particularly important lesson.
And while 66 percent of blacks think the government’s response would have been faster if most of the victims had been white, 77 percent of whites disagreed.
Katrina has spurred other blacks to take crucial roles in relief efforts—and they’re in a better position to help than they were even a decade ago, when rap still scared people and being paid $30 million per year to play basketball was beyond imagination.
Now billionaire Mississippi native Oprah Winfrey is bringing her top-rated show to the Katrina zone, famed defense attorney Willie Gary is planning to transport victims in his 737 jet, and rapper Kanye West can excoriate President Bush’s response to the hurricane in front of a nationwide audience.
Hip-hop hitmaker Timbaland said that he is renting trucks, buying clothes and toys and heading “to the trenches”—first stop, the Houston Astrodome. He challenged peers who splurge on jewelry and cars to do the same, because “these people in the dome listen to our music.”
“Don’t give to no Red Cross, that’s the easy way. Not to say anything bad about the Red Cross, but who knows where that money’s going,” the producer said. “Take your money and do your own thing.”
Timbaland estimated he was spending several hundred thousand dollars, up there with Diddy and Jay-Z’s half-million each. The donation of time, money and free performances by hip-hoppers is a watershed for what had become a largely apolitical genre.