[NOTE: This originally posted via Put On BLAST! (R) and was written the same day the NYC Marathon was called off, but before it was announced.]
Oh Sandy, Dear Sandra (Part 1)
Far Rockaway and The NYC Marathon
by April R. Silver | November 2, 2012
Four days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in my hometown New York, I’m still heartbroken and amazed. Amazed at how, for some people, Sandy was not intrusive at all: a scary superstorm that was more annoying than catastrophic. No material damage, no property lost, no loss of life. A not-so quiet (but hardly fatal) storm. But tragically for others, it was a life-ending thrust of nature, a God-awesome force so powerful that one could not help but be reminded that our ultimate submission is inevitable. Our eldest don’t even recall a storm this horrific in the Northeast United States, ever.
I was not in New York when it all began but days later, I’m still rattled. And I have mixed feelings about the epic poetry of it all. My higher self longs to unpack and embrace the spiritual meaning of Sandy; to find comfort in the new birth that her bold arrival could symbolize for many of us. ASAP, I want to leap to better days and fertile ground, trusting that all will be well, eventually. My other self – the politicized, social justice activist version, is not as patient. Far Rockaway is catching a bad one. The Black and Brown people there, regardless of their economic status, are being disrespected and neglected. Racism in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is trauma times trauma for that community. This morning, I spoke to my cousin, a proud life-long resident of Far Rockaway. “April, FEMA, the National Guards, the police, the media…they are all here. We see them. We see them driving right pass us…headed straight to Breezy Point, a gated, wealthy white community out here.” Her family, my other cousins, aunts, and uncles (and their neighbors) do not have heat, water, or power. In some cases, they have been told by officials in their buildings that utilities will not be restored for another four to six weeks, if they’ve been told anything at all. And what’s more insulting to them is how, suddenly, Breezy Point has become all that matters in The Rockaways. The residents know better. The media does not. In fact, residents in Far Rock (as it’s affectionately called) have tried to get their voices heard by diligently contacting local media and their elected officials. Not only are they being mostly ignored, but some are being chastised for seeking help. A resident of Far Rock called one of the major TV stations in an attempt to raise awareness about how desperately their part of Queens needs help. She was scolded instead. The media personnel asked the suffering caller (who has been living without power, heat, and water for four days), “How dare you imply that we haven’t given coverage to your needs? We’ve been in Breezy Point for four days!” Data indicates that Breezy Point is 99% White…and affluent. Far Rock and other parts of The Rockaways is largely every other color in New York’s diverse rainbow. The woman at the TV station was clueless. Worse, she did not care enough to listen, to consider that there was more to the story.
In other short-sighted media coverage, the new bromance between New Jersey Governor Christie and President Obama is over the top. We get it, you’re tickled pink. Next, please. But no more stories about the crane that’s dangling over W. 57th Street, please. And yesterday, the national news made a big story about the neglect of Staten Island. That’s fair coverage, I firmly believe. But what’s unjust is that communities of color are – in effect – being non-treated as though they don’t even exist. It’s clear that the full face of the storm has not emerged. My heart is heavy over the loss of life and the loss of property for everyone affected by the storm. Yet I’m equally sadden, and coiled with outrage, at how Black and Brown people have been marginalized by elected officials and national media outlets who are over-saturating their top stories with how the affluent and/or White residents of New York and New Jersey have been devastated. Affluent and/or White people should have their voices heard and their desperate needs in this disaster should be immediately addressed. Period. It is simultaneously true, however, that their rescue should not come at the gross avoidance of other rescues. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the hierarchical, exclusionary approach to who gets saved, who gets attention, and who gets to lay their head on the president’s shoulder is steeped in this country’s obsession with saving, comforting, and sustaining White life. A post-racial America would not stand for this, now would it?
The 2012 NYC Marathon, officially billed as a “Race to Recover,” will make its way through the city in two days. Unless something is done now my family – with countless others in Black and Brown communities – will be on their sixth day without water, heat, and power when the marathon makes landfall. The marathon itself, its runners, the city, and the corporations that are (stupidly) hell bent on going ahead with the race, will be heralded as symbols of resilience, not just for New York, but for all those affected by Hurricane Sandy in the entire Northeast United States. A week after the storm hit, the marathon would be a divinely timed, perfect feel-good story; the kind of story that gives birth to triumphant folklore. The reality, however, is that life is not that shallow and we don’t have enough feel-good stories to go around just yet. There are troubled waters raging in our communities in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy that a marathon cannot bridge. It is shameful and completely unjust that the world will watch people running past – however figuratively – the devastation that Hurricane Sandy left behind. That emergency first responders, elected officials, police officers, and other people whose duty it is to serve all New Yorkers will be concentrated and focused on this sports event is absurd. That people who were forced to evacuate their homes (and some did so to hotels in Manhattan) will now have to re-evacuate to make room for NYC marathon out-of-towners is absurd bold. That NYPD will be focused on lining up barricades along the marathon route as opposed to doing their jobs in under-served communities in crisis is absurd, ALL CAPS. To have paramedics and other medical officials at the marathon, on-call to cater to people privileged enough to chose to run this marathon (as distinguished as it is) instead of having them caring for those who have been without food, water, or heat for days must be shattering a few moral codes, I’m sure. I respect sports immensely and I have no doubt that this marathon is somebody’s personal triumph; that it means more to those runners that I can imagine. But these questions have not been fairly addressed in the eyes of many: How many thousands upon thousands of people have to suffer needlessly so that a runner can make his or her dream come true? What level of devastation is required before Mayor Bloomberg (and all those who agree with him) would concede that the emergency well-being of New Yorkers is more important than making money? Identify for me please just a sliver of logic and fairness in the statement that the city’s priority right now should be in bringing a massive group of people into all five boroughs of a city that is still disoriented and traumatized by Hurricane Sandy, people who aren’t even here to help. But the height of absurdity is Mayor Bloomberg stating that he doesn’t want the President of the United States to come to New York to survey the damage of Hurricane Sandy because such a visit would pull too many resources away from relief work, yet days later he (Bloomberg) announces that the marathon will proceed on schedule, as though somehow magically the marathon will not do the same.
Sunday, the City of New York will show its obnoxious side under the guise of being New York tough. I hope the city I love so much will show its other side and protest. In true New York fashion, we should continue to make the nation and the world appreciate the fact that the impact of Sandy is as layered as the city itself and that our communities, including Far Rock, need more help than the runners.
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