Archive for the ‘The Barbara Bush Award for Deluded Whiteness’ Category


From time to time this blog will give out the Barbara Bush Award for Deluded Whiteness to worthy souls. No prize money, no gold medal. Just the mere honour. You do not have to be white to win – you just have to buy into the lies that white people tell themselves. You can add your nominations in the comments below.

The first winner is, of course, Barbara Bush herself.

On September 5th 2005 she visited the Houston Astrodome where 15,000 had fled Hurricane Katrina, having lost almost everything but their lives. Most were poor and most were black. She said this to an NPR reporter:

Almost everyone I’ve talked to says, “We’re going to move to Houston.” What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.

And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them.

Many compare this to the queen of France, Marie Antoinette, saying “Let them eat cake” when she was told that Paris had run out of bread to feed the poor.

But this is not a case of a rich and powerful person having no idea about how the other half lives. It is worse than that. It is a piece of racist excuse-making. The “sort of scary” tells you she is thinking of them as blacks, not as the cake-eating poor.

The better comparison is with statements that White Americans used to make about black slaves. Here is Robert E. Lee in 1856 on the good fortune of being a black slave:

The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things.

Here is the pattern (the unsaid parts in parentheses):

  1. (I know it looks bad but) blacks are better off here (America, the Houston Astrodome) than where they were (Africa, New Orleans).
  2. Things will get better.

This is also the pattern of those news stories on the state of Black America that you see on Martin Luther King Day.

It is an exercise in playing down black suffering. What makes it strange and unsettling is that no one who truly cared about such suffering would even think to talk like that. But whites do because they are driven more by their own sense of white guilt than other people’s suffering.

Katrina was hardly her fault, so why did Barbara Bush say this? It could just be habit, but more likely it was in answer to charges that her son, President George Bush, did not do enough to help poor blacks stuck in New Orleans during and right after Katrina. As Kanye West put it just three days before in one of the best pieces of television ever: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

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