Our national conversation on Hurricane Harvey should be much like those about Charlottesville, Va., or Flint, Mich. But as the Houston area braces for much more flooding, that won’t happen until receding floodwaters reveal the dangerously gaping holes of disparity between white haves and black have-nots.
Right now the nation just sees flooding and burly, boat-owning white dudes saving people from immediate disaster. There’s no talk of what is happening to Houston’s vast population of disproportionately low-income black and brown residents. And public officials, like Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott—each playing public hot potato over who will, ultimately, bear responsibility for a lackluster response—don’t seem to care about that part, either. And forget about any shred of empathy from President Donald Trump.
Yet the socioeconomic aspect of Harvey is the biggest part of the story. We’re already seeing those random television reports of frustrated black women stuck in flooded apartment buildings, getting busy signals for 911 and helplessly watching helicopters fly overhead. That’s already getting worse because several hundred thousand Houston-area residents didn’t have the luxury of packing up and leaving, despite Abbott’s calls to do so.