September 06, 2005

What is "just privileged enough"?

From Barbara Bush to Joi Ito (and that's quite a range!) people are using the term "underprivileged" to describe the evacuees, dead, and dying from Katrina. I haven't heard that term used in a sentence since I was probably 14, and a relative was describing the plight of children living in entire countries that were very, very poor as I asked, "Who are those children on TV?" Bloated bellies. Flies in the corners of their eyes. Puss filled wounds. Eating mash from a wooden bowl. These are images that come to mind. Oh, and of course the skin of these underprivileged children was very, very dark.

To Barbara Bush, underprivileged individuals are those who live in public housing. Period. She said that today. These are the folks she thinks are taking a step up by sleeping on cots in a gym. Look mom, no roaches.

And while it's true that the superdome and convention center and I-10 overpass were full to capacity with people who did not have the means to flee, it's also true--and what America isn't prepared for is--there are going to be a lot of white people dead too, because some of them couldn't or didn't flee either. From Mississippi and New Orleans. Maybe those white bodies will wake up the folks who are still sleeping.

WHOLE NURSING HOMES FULL OF ELDERLY DROWNED IN THEIR BEDS a week after the hurricane, while FEMA was busy turning trucks of water sent by Walmart away. Well, those elderly people are underwater, but I'm not sure if they would rank as underprivileged--would they? Do we need to determine if these were private nursing homes or medicaid-subsidized? I suppose they would have been better off at the Astrodome, but unfortunately they didn't make trek to the superdome to wait a week for a bus ride. Where do they rank on the privilege scale?

THE REAL AMERICANS WHO STAYED BEHIND TO TAKE CARE OF THEIR SICK OR ELDERLY NEIGHBORS WHO WOULDN'T LEAVE. Is that underprivileged? Is that heroic? I get confused. I wish I could have a cup of coffee and and Barbara could tell me. There's probably a cap on privilege that I'm not aware of. Or a checklist her maid keeps for her.

THE PET OBSESSED who know they cannot take their pets with them to shelters during evacuations and always remain behind. These people have pets that are privileged, but sometimes their pets live better lives than their human owners do, so I'm not sure--does that make their owners relatively-speaking underprivileged? But if you can buy a bag of Purina, maybe that makes you over-privileged? Man, this is hard.

THE ESTIMATED THOUSANDS who tried to go within the RAPIDLY CLOSING window but ran short on gas and turned around--stations had no gas within hours of the evacuation notice as cars sat piled on the highways. In this case--when you are in need of gas--I guess having a debit card makes you sort-of privileged? But having a Platinum Mastercard makes you just-right privileged? And maybe paying huge legal fees to get your son off on a DUI charge makes you over-privileged?

I wonder what Barbara would think about that.