The Guradian's odd notion of candor
The enduring lesson of the OJ Simpson trial is that no matter how many times black and white Americans rally around the same flag, black Americans occupy a philosophical and material landscape that white Americans only become aware of in times of crisis and conflict.Younge has taken Brown’s words totally out of context. Brown didn’t say anything like what he’s being presented as saying.
When tens of thousands of mostly black Americans were forced to take shelter in the New Orleans convention centre, the then head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency admitted as much. In a rare moment of candour, Michael Brown told one interviewer: "We are seeing people we didn't know exist"
The quoted statement was made during an interview with Jim Lehrer. Brown had said that FEMA was getting relief to people inside New Orleans "as fast as we can", and Lehrer responded by citing numerous people who had "walked across the bridge and they got to the other end of the bridge and there was nobody there, nobody to help them." Lehrer then asked "So what does 'as soon as we can' mean at this stage of the game, Mr. Brown?"
Brown answered as follows:
Well, let me answer the question two ways: First, with regard to the evacuation of the Superdome and the convention center, we have had an ongoing supply food and water to there. They've had meals every day that they've been there. They had meals this morning.Clearly Brown was not talking about a class of people normally hidden from the eyes of the country suddenly making their existence known. He was, instead, making a rather mundane differentiation between those victims who had gone to the Superdome and the convention center, whose presence the relief effort was aware of and who were being tended to, and those people that the relief effort was unaware of, who happened to be just showing up on bridges and overpasses.
We have five trailers moving into the Superdome this evening and to the convention center to provide both water and meals to those people, so they're getting regular amounts of food in the morning and evening in both of those places.
The second part of my answer, Jim, which, I think, again, the American people understand how fascinating and unusual this is -- is that we're seeing people that we didn't know exist that suddenly are showing up on bridges or showing up on overpasses or parts of the interstate that aren't inundated, and that now we're trying to get to them by Coast Guard helicopter to at least get them some immediate relief so we can start airlifting them out. [emphasis added]
Indeed, while Younge makes it appear that Brown was speaking about the "tens of thousands of mostly black Americans" who "were forced to take shelter in the New Orleans convention center," a look at what he actually said makes it plain that he was speaking precisely about the people who were not at the convention center.
How ironic that Younge needs to totally misrepresent Brown’s words in order to claim that he has given us a "rare moment candour" on race relations in the States - an alleged candor which, naturally, lends support to his own over-generalized view.