Look South Column

Is it coz I iz black?

Brandon Hamber
3 min readSep 16, 2005

It was the infamous catchphrase of UK comedian Ali G — “Is it coz i iz black?” — that perversely came to mind as I watched the desperate scenes unfolding in the US in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

It was not the most politically correct thought to have, since Sasha Cohen, the Cambridge-educated white man who plays Ali G, a misogynistic black man, has been criticised for his strange brand of humour by some black comics — but in Katrina’s aftermath his little adage is worth considering.

“Ali G Indahouse (2002)” by Gene Hunt is licensed with CC BY 2.0.

To put it another way; was the slow response by the US federal government because those mainly affected were indeed black and poor?

Some feel convinced about this. Well-known Rapper Kanye West stated at a recent benefit concert that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”.

Jesse Jackson weighed in with his usual emotive language, comparing the situation of many of the evacuees to “Africans in the hull of a slave ship”. The reply from the US administration has been to fob these criticisms off. Bush supporters brand such views Leftie hatred for Bush and nothing more. But let’s face it, the initial response was pitiful. If the areas most affected were upmarket Boston or even George W Bush’s beloved Texas would there have been such a lacklustre attitude? I doubt it.

But I do not want to get too deep into the blame game. Although one can blame Bush for many things, one cannot hold him responsible for the weather. We also have to be careful, whether initial responses were fuelled by racism or not, that all the finger-pointing distracts us from what Katrina really exposed — the reality of hidden America: black and on the breadline.

As I watched the television reports I wanted journalists to ask one question of the officials they interviewed: why were almost all the television images of African Americans?

The evasive response would be that 67% of New Orleans residents are black, and much of the coverage focused on New Orleans. But anyone watching the television coverage could see that it was not only race that was an issue, but class, too. Nearly 30% of New Orleans residents live below the poverty line, and these seemed to be the people left behind. Some were too poor to get the money or transport…

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Brandon Hamber

Hume O'Neill Professor of Peace at Ulster University in Northern Ireland. Medium is my popular writing space. Academic publications at brandonhamber.com