Sunday, January 31, 2016


Many people have looked at the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and concluded that officials would never allow something like that to happen in a predominantly white community, or allow it to go on for as long as it has without a solution.

I agree that the crisis is worse than it would have been in a white community. But are we sure that in a white community it would never happen at all?

I ask because, as The New York Times notes today, people are still being killed by Takata airbags -- an assault on the safety of ordinary people that's not race-specific -- and the response by Takata, car manufacturers, and the government seems as slow and inadequate as the response to the poison water in Flint:
More than a decade after the first confirmed rupture of a Takata airbag in Alabama, and despite a vast recall spanning 14 automakers, a stark reality remains: Tens of millions of people drive vehicles that may pose a lethal danger but have not been repaired or ... have not even been recalled.

Since 2000, Takata has sold as many as 54 million metal “inflaters” in the United States containing ammonium nitrate, an explosive compound that regulators believe is at the center of the problem.... About 28 million inflaters in 24 million vehicles have been recalled. And of the 28 million recalled inflaters, only about 30 percent have been repaired. The rest of the inflaters, about 26 million, have not been recalled.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has stepped up its scrutiny of the problem, after a series of missteps over nearly a decade, but has stopped short of an immediate recall of all Takata airbags containing the compound. The agency does not have the authority to order people to stop driving the cars and has not advised people to avoid driving them....

Car manufacturers, at the same time, have been reluctant to sound alarms. They would face huge costs if they needed to provide loaner cars for millions of owners. Of the 14 manufacturers affected by the Takata recalls, not one has offered a blanket policy of supplying loaners.
You may have known that the recalls have been proceeding slowly, but did you assume that we've at least identified all the cars that are at risk? Nope. The last American to die as the result of a defective Takata airbag, Joel Knight of Rock Hill, South Carolina, did so last month, and his vehicle hadn't been subject to a recall.

I agree that it's been a lot easier for the government in Michigan to get away with poisoning the people Flint because most of them are black, and therefore, to a lot of Americans, they're "others." But Joel Knight was white, and the law of averages suggests that most of Takata's victims in this country are white as well. The powerful -- in government and private industry -- might avoid treating fellow elitist whites with this sort of contempt, but they have plenty of contempt for the rest of us non-elitists, even though race plays a factor in how that contempt is distributed.

Let's face it: The powerful think they're bulletproof. They think they can get away with pretty much anything. This is a global phenomenon -- and they do get away with a hell of a lot. And while it's still easier to unleash contempt on communities that don't get much respect, why would they be shy about trying to take advantage of white people, too?


Victor said...

Yes, the rich and powerful think they're bullet-proof.
And who's to say they're not?
At least not yet.

Look at fossil fuel extraction.
You dig and frack in 3rd world countries, and maybe, MAYBE, it ends up on page A17 in the NY Times - but only if there's something major that called attention to it.

But, you get people in rural white SiblingSchtupp, PA, with kitchen faucet that acts like a giant Zipp lighter, and after a while, it may appear in the NYT's, on page A9.

8 whole pages!

Look at Flint:
What did it take to become newsworthy?
About 2 years, right?

Now, mess-up the water in Scarsdale, and within days, you'll have a page 1 NYT's article, with a suitably large headline!
Ditto, in any white DC suburb.

As for the defective air-bags, that's an easy story to get lost.
People don't want to think about car accidents, because outside of home and work, that's where many of us spend the most amount of time.

So, people put those stories somewhere in the back of their minds (outta-sight, outta mind).
Unless it's someone they knew who died - to whatever degree of seperation - or, they find out there was some major un(der)-reported major mechanical issue. And then, only if it's the same year/maker/model, as they or someone close to them drive.

And in fatal car accidents, the fault can as easily be human error, as it is some mechanical failure.
In other, the mess that's left of a person, could have a whole mess of causes.

To sum up, yes, I think it's easier for the rich and powerful to get away with murder - both figuratively, and literally - in non-white communities.
But when some problem that hits white folks well, then it can be a major issue, since the rich and powerful live amongst other rich white people, and those people may have non-rich family and friends whose lives were affected.
And that can spoil a great cocktail perty, or catered cook-out!

retiredeng said...

The type of negligence that happened in Flint can happen anywhere. It was a perfect storm of economical downturn, mean spirited state government and ignorance of drinking water safety. The question to ask is: Could it go on for such a long time as to cause severe damage to a whole water delivery system anywhere else except a mostly poor city? said...

I believe it might happen in a predominately white community, as long as the community was poor and powerless. It would be easy to see something like this happening in a poor Appalachian backwater or isolated rural poor white community. Interestingly, working-class urban whites appear to be joining their black cousins at a rapid rate. It's almost as though elites have decided to address racial inequality by deprecating the white working class.

Danp said...

In West Virginia, it barely makes the local papers. We don't want to lose jobs to regulations you know.

Gerald Parks said...

And while it's still easier to unleash contempt on communities that don't get much respect, why would they be shy about trying to take advantage of white people, too?

The answer is not that complicated
1) White privilege blinds the 99% of white folks ... it NEVER occurs to them that anything like that could happen to them.
2) AND when it does (white male Christian domestic terrorist have killed more whites , Sandy Hook, Columbine, Dr Tillman, etc) white folks are easily distracted by their fellow white folks who play on their fears (Muslims, Benghazi, Obama Care, Mexicans(immigration), Abortion, Black POTUS, etc).
3) 24/7 News Cycle does not do follow up very well. Think about all the polluted rivers last year, the exploding rail cars last year, fracking, the methane gas leak in CA ...what happened with the clean up in those communities??

Paul Gottlieb said...

They've been poisoning white people in West Virgina for decades