Mississippi water crisis: Biden abandons black people, again

Mississippi water crisis: Biden abandons black people, again
5 min read

Richard Sudan

24 September, 2022
Richard Sudan explains that just like the US government’s catastrophic response during Hurricane Katrina, which disproportionately impacted poor black people, Biden is also failing those communities affected by the Jackson Mississippi water crisis.
A man carries a case of water given out by Operation Good at an apartment complex in Jackson, Mississippi. [GETTY]

The Mississippi water crisis reeks of systemic racism and longstanding neglect - and it’s deeper than a matter of decades, as the media is reporting. It’s symptomatic of the historical racial reckoning which the US has refused address, despite seeing fit to lecture the rest of the world about human rights issues.

August saw historic flooding hit Mississippi, damaging the main water pump in the central water treatment facility in Jackson, leaving around 150,000 residents without access to safe drinking water.  Most of those residents are black. They've had to content with filthy drinking water for weeks, the result of decades of neglect.

The central issue here, is not the faulty mechanics of the pumps and treatment facility which thousands of black people essentially depend on for survival, but the fact that the core infrastructure had been neglected for so long by the authorities.

Indeed, it is not the first time in the midst of a major national catastrophe, that black people have been abandoned by the country they built and continue to prop up with tax dollars. If Jackson was a rich predominantly white affluent area, measures would have no doubt been implemented to avoid the potential of any catastrophe.

A few things spring to mind when looking at this Mississippi water crisis and the dynamics within it.  One can’t help but be reminded of the US government’s disastrous response to hurricane Katrina, which saw scores of largely affected black residents of New Orleans left to fend for themselves in the aftermath of a dangerous natural disaster. The federal government took too long to organise an effective response. The delay cost lives.

And, just like in Jackson Mississippi, had the infrastructure designed to protect vulnerable black residents against flooding been properly maintained, black neighbourhoods would not have been the hardest hit by the disaster. New Orleans felt the greatest impact. At the time, almost 70% of people in New Orleans were black with about 30% living in poverty.

Just as it’s impossible to remove the politics of race from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, it’s impossible to do so with the current water crisis in Mississippi.

Jackson is also has a black majority (more than 80%).  Just like in the wake of Katrina, the government’s response to the crisis has been inefficient and slow, in stark contrast to the speed with which Biden’s administration signed off billions of dollars to support emergency efforts in Ukraine, for example.

The last few decades has seen Jackson’s population drastically reduce, with more and more white residents leaving the area. This “white flight” has resulted in less tax money and therefore less resources for development.

If a different page had really turned in America’s history, Joe Biden would have immediately travelled to Jackson, if for nothing else than to display solidarity. Naturally though, that did not happen. And frankly, given Joe Biden’s terrible track record with black America, we should expect nothing less. He was, after all, the author of the 94 Crime Bill, which disproportionately criminalises black communities in the supposed state “crack down” of serious crime. It was widely criticised for punishing the black community, and imprisoning thousands, many arguably unjustly.

What makes matters even worse, is that this is not even the first water crisis to affect large numbers of black Americans. The Flint water crisis of several years ago, once more shone light on the systemic racism and neglect of poor black communities which is sadly practically a “normal” feature of American life.

Thankfully, help has been at hand from people who have tirelessly helped their communities, compared with the leaders who spent their time making empty political gestures.

Lee Coffey, runs a black-owned water business and has been filling the vital gaps left by the government by working with grassroots activists to help local people.

“A lot of people take water for granted until they can’t have it,” explained Coffey to the press. “You really don’t think you need that much water until you are in a crisis like now. The most shocking thing I’ve seen was more the elder people who didn’t have transportation to get the water they needed,” he added.

Coffey and his company MSM distribution have been providing water to those that need it since the crisis began. He says he has distributed approximately 300,000 bottles in a matter of weeks.

Were it not for local heroes and leaders like Coffey and his team, things may have spiralled from bad to much worse.

The White House can learn from the likes of Coffey. Black people should not be treated as an afterthought by a central government which owes its lifeblood to them.

Joe Biden promised when elected that he would have the backs of black Americans. So far, he is failing to live up to that promise.

Nevertheless, measures must be taken urgently to get a handle on the current water crisis and to prevent it from repeating.

Richard Sudan is a journalist and writer specialising in anti-racism and has reported on various human rights issues from around the world. His writing has been published by The Guardian, Independent, The Voice and many others.

Follow him on Twitter: @richardsudan

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.