Helping the Helpers
Understand Mass Victimology
When Faith in the System Is Gone
Story by Dr.
Monday, 5 September 2005
First-hand reaction to Katrina refuges
The following comes from a friend
of mine who is a licensed psychologist.
She donated her time and her talent working with Katrina refuges
at first, Reunion Arena and then, the Civic Center. This is her
first hand account and reaction to what she had to deal with. If
you blog, please
put this out there. We want everyone in the country to read this
first-hand account of the horror that is Dallas. If you
have an extensive mailing list like I do, please forward it,
There are so many words that come to mind. As a scholar I am
thinking Diaspora, social displacement, systemic disruption,
mass trauma, pandemic and unbelievable chaos. As a clinician, I
am looking at something that we have never been trained to
handle in this country--a level of victimization and its
resultant psycho-social ripples that mandate a whole new field
of clinical practice—mass victimology. Katrina kicked the top
off of a racist and social termite's nest that has been growing
beneath the ground since Reconstruction. These were deeply
religious people who have lost God and for that matter, faith
Hope has been replaced by magical thinking
that augurs a second and more terrible level of social
disruption and anger not far down the road.
Over and over, I kept hearing a framing of self that puzzled me
until I realized that this is how it must have been for blacks
after Reconstruction. Over and over, people said, everyone has
been so wonderful, thank you, thank you." When I said,
"there is no need to
thank us, you are our fellow citizens and we want to help
you--American to American," there would be a long pause as
if the idea of being the same never struck them before.
They are angry and it is growing. The system failed them. For
that matter, there is no system because all the safeguards and
preparations that we thought were in place aren't there. I have
been begging anyone who would listen over the past two years for
a program in mass victimology to prepare for the next tragedy
after 9/11. Now it is here and the lack of organization,
science, and preparation are going to result in terrible
consequences for us as a nation.
Imagine sending people who have been assimilated into the most
stable demographic population in America into cities and towns
all over the US who are as unprepared as the victims to
understand their sense of dislocation and their support needs.
The lower Gulf States have a language, a history, a social
dynamic, a faith, a societal structure, and a ritual system
unlike any other in America. These people have lived in and been
acculturated to this system for generations.
When the dust settles and the mud dries, we
are going to see all over America, a nation that will lose
patience with the needs of a foreign refugee population.
Abandoned once again, the fury and the trauma that have been
momentarily quieted by the outpouring of empathy and support
post-crisis, will arise larger and more terrible than we have
been equipped as a nation to handle. I hear it now, over and
over, in the survivor stories, in the loss of self, and the need
to reclaim dignity and power.
Right now, numbness is being replaced by magical thinking.
"People want me here--here is better. I think I'll stay
here." What is going to happen when reality sets in? The
bulk of people who are planning to stay don't understand the
system here. Even though we abut borders, we are a vastly
different nation. At least we are southerners. What is going to
happen to the thousands being sent to Connecticut or Illinois or
New Jersey? They are being offered free apartments, furniture
etc, by generous and well meaning people who haven't thought the
long term consequences through very well. A lot of the
apartments are in areas where they won't have transportation or
jobs. What is going to happen six months down the road when the
magic wears off and the help slowly fades? How about the
holidays for a people who thrive on ritual, tradition, and
The trauma they are experiencing is so profound that we have no
cultural term or machinery set up for it. The dead and nameless
bodies by the thousands rotting in the water, arriving dead on
the buses with them, or dying next to them in the shelters are a
huge festering wound that no one dares mention. This is a true
Diaspora the likes of which we haven't seen since
Reconstruction. The immediate needs that are being addressed
ignore the greater traumas yet to be spoken. No governmental
system can survive the number of wounded and disillusioned
people that we are going to see sprouting up all over America.
Something far greater and more organized has to be done.
Then to the helpers and what is happening there. Turf wars have
already sprung up. In the name of "I know better than you
do," chaos and wasted energy are multiplying. The Red Cross
was initially in charge of certifying the credentials of the
helping therapists. After Oklahoma City and the pretenders who
arrived there, this seemed like a wonderful clearing house.
Everyone who wanted to help had to go through a brief
orientation and a thorough checking of credentials. Only
licensed professionals were allowed. Driver's licenses were
checked for criminal records. This seemed to be a common sense
excellent approach to the question of rapists, pedophiles, and
other thugs being denied access to a vulnerable population.
Actually, things ran better than I expected
at the beginning. Then in came the physicians who I guess felt
that their non-existent coursework in this area qualified them
to better run things. Immediate chaos, disorganization, and all
sorts of ersatz "helpers" began running around. They
grabbed our current Red Cross badges and then stopped us from
going back on the floor to finish seeing our patients without
the new badges, which they just happened to be out of. We had an
optometrist with prescriptive lenses but no glasses or readers
and no idea when he'd ever see any.
We had a deaf booth but no deaf helpers. In
the midst of all this chaos, thousands and thousands of the
walking wounded mixing with the powerless well-intentioned came
the whispered word, pandemic. Lots of people are suddenly
getting sick, and we have to have precautions. Don't eat or
drink or touch the patients. We only have one bottle of
disinfectant in the mental health section, so come back
here--the length of the Convention Center--after each patient.
"What of the people who are being cycled
out of here?" "What are we sending into the
population?" If people are sick and contagious, where are
the precautions to separate the vulnerable? What of precautions
such as masks and gloves to keep the medical professionals and
first responders safe? All the here and now is suspended in the
hope that maybe tomorrow will take care of itself and the worst
Those are the question we asked on the first day. NO ONE IS IN
Therefore, there is no consistent answer or approach or
forethought. I am no infection guru but as soon as I heard on
day one that people with no water were forced to drink water
with bloated bodies, feces, and rats in it, the thought of
cholera, typhoid, and delayed disease immediately occurred to
me. What if the fears of disease are correct? People are fanning
out throughout America. Where is the CDC?
In the age of computers, we are doing worse than the pencil
squibs and the rolls of paper to log in the displaced after
World War II. Literacy and computer access seems to be
considered as a given for people who have lost it all. Accessing
FEMA is through a website. People are in shelters waiting for
FEMA to come "in a few days." "Be patient."
The Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana pumped my hand and replied
to my desperate queries about how to help people find their
parents and babies, "Be patient--give us a few days."
The mothers who have lost their children, and there are many,
and the children who have lost their parents, have had it with
the "be patient" response. The shelters are
surprisingly silent. It is hard to find the traumatized mothers
because they cry silently. One mother asked how patient I would
be if my five-month-old was somewhere unknown for over a week.
Over and over, others would ask," Do you think my baby has
milk and diapers?" "Do you think they are being kind
to my baby?" And then, so softly that I would have to ask
them to repeat, "Do you think my baby is okay?" My
response—the convenient lie. Every time I said, "of
course"; I prayed to God that it was true.
I am sure that there is a special ring of hell for the media:
The survivor stories end-on-end for the titillation of the
public. I heard Soledad O'Brien say something about the still
unrecognized need to address the psychological trauma. I sent a
response to the CNN tip-line that there were hordes of every
manner of mental health professional working 24/7. CNN's
response? Dr. Phil and the stories of the survivors" on
Larry King. They went to the guy who lost his clinical license
for serious professional infractions to tell the stories? I
could see the "entertainer" down there gathering tales
of the already exploited so that he and Larry could both pimp
The real unsung mental health heroes, the
counselors, psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists
dealing with un-medicated psychosis and severe traumatic
responses were represented by Dr. "Keep-It-Real"? We
don't need tabloid help from the media. Scream about
accountability and point fingers for those who can't. Where is
the real help from the media? Help us find those babies and
parents and missing family. We have a man in one of the shelters
who is caring for four kids. They call him uncle. He is actually
the cousin of the fiancé of the mother who is probably dead.
The children are silent. They sit and play and
weep with open mouths that can't scream. Where is the media to
scream for them?
Finally, to hell with this "no blame game." The
stories that I know to be true are enough to make me boil. The
compassionate foreign doctors who can't find anyone to validate
their credentials, the expensive mobile hospital still sitting
parked waiting for federal paperwork to move into Louisiana, the
five C130s sitting on the Tarmac in San Diego since the night of
Katrina, still waiting for orders to move. Where the hell are
the beds? We have some old people sleeping on hot plastic pool
floats with no sheets. There are still no showers for people who
have walked for hours through fetid waters. Their skin is
breaking out in rashes.
Still no showers. Where the hell are the DeCon
showers bought with Homeland Security money that can shower 30
people at a time. The convention centers have no bathing
facilities so the filth and skin reactions are getting worse.
What of lice? There are no clothes for the really heavy and
large. I was reduced to writing the women I knew who went to
Weight Watchers to comb their attics for "before"
outfits. When I arrived with the sack of my gatherings, I had to
engage in a full scale battle and puff myself up to all my
red-headed doctor fury to get them distributed to the women
still sitting there in their stinking clothes.
The survivors are like the Mayor of New Orleans who apologized
to George Bush for his anger. "If we tell the way we feel,
maybe help will stop." All the apologists on the air
distancing George and his co-vacationers and idiot appointees
should be impeached. I liked Nagin when he called it all
bullshit. He was right. How about Haley Barbour complaining
about the lack of support for his state? Did he so soon forget
his past life and what he did to set up this government of spin
artists? If they had acted like a government the body count
would be less.
The aid would be better managed. The days of
filth, and feces, and death would have been ended sooner. God
help all of the poseurs in charge when these folks finally get
in touch with their justifiable rage. Did you see the White
House's logo for the hurricane? George and some asshole in a
ball cap against a background of Katrina waving the flag. They
had the energy and time for a nice logo but no time to get the
elements of help in gear?
The tragedy is leavened by some moments of farce, the guy who
arrived with a case of Gucci shoes in various sizes that he
"saved" from his closet. The man wearing twelve
expensive watches up his arm. I guess he is a punctual sort.
There are the too-poignant-for-words vignettes. I saw a lady
sitting on a blanket holding a photo of two children that she
had pulled from the water. She kept crying and looking at it. I
thought they were her children. She didn't know whose they were.
They were just losses and she mourned them.
Of course there were the criminals, thugs, and mobsters. One of
the greatest indictments of the "spin machine" that is
going to come from this situation will be the repeated
characterizations of the victims as lawless and criminal. Over
and over I heard people tell me about how ashamed they were to
be portrayed that way. Ninety-nine percent of these people never
were characterized as anything but lawful and good citizens. In
their most desperate hours to be reduced to taking food and
water to survive and then to be lumped with the television
thieves and the shooters is too shameful for most of them to
bear. I heard from hospital employees that survived on a cup of
watered grits so that the patients could make it. And then I
heard had they had to hide the ones that didn't in closets to
keep up the morale of the others.
The people that survived this tragedy and the people who help
them all know one truth. The help and the love and the care that
has been extended to them have been on a citizen-to-citizen
basis. The churches, doctors, therapists, and ordinary citizens
who are giving all they can in time and resources are managing
to band-aid at the most elementary level-neighbor to neighbor.
The government has failed!!! We are more vulnerable now than
before 9/11 because faith in the system is gone. No system can
sustain itself as a viable entity when the citizenry are the
walking wounded. Victims implode a system from within and expose
its decay. This is the beginning of the end unless we can get a
drastic change of philosophy and restore the government to a
system "by the people for the people." Right now
nobody down here believes we have that.
from Anne Gervasi firstname.lastname@example.org
posted 14 September 2005
* * *
* * *
The Persistence of the Color Line
Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency
By Randall Kennedy
Among the best things about
The Persistence of the Color Line
is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the
positions about Mr. Obama staked out by
black commentators on the left and
right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel
West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley.
He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr.
Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism
regarding whether blacks should back
Obama” . . .
finest chapter in
The Persistence of the Color Line
is so resonant, and so personal, it
could nearly be the basis for a book of
its own. That chapter is titled
“Reverend Wright and My Father:
Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”
Recalling some of the criticisms of
America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s
former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with
feeling about his own father, who put
each of his three of his children
through Princeton but who “never forgave
American society for its racist
mistreatment of him and those whom he
most loved.” His father distrusted
the police, who had frequently called
him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr.
Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad
Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never
called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places
his father, and Mr. Wright, in
sympathetic historical light.
* * * *
The Last Holiday: A Memoir
By Gil Scott Heron
Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio) / Gil Scott-Heron
& His Music Gil Scott
Heron Blue Collar
Remember Gil Scott- Heron
* * * * *
Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power
By Zbigniew Brzezinski
By 1991, following the disintegration first of the Soviet bloc and then of the Soviet Union itself, the United States was left standing tall as the only global super-power. Not only the 20th but even the 21st century seemed destined to be the American centuries. But that super-optimism did not last long. During the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, the stock market bubble and the costly foreign unilateralism of the younger Bush presidency, as well as the financial catastrophe of 2008 jolted America—and much of the West—into a sudden recognition of its systemic vulnerability to unregulated greed. Moreover, the East was demonstrating a surprising capacity for economic growth and technological innovation. That prompted new anxiety about the future, including even about America’s status as the leading world power. This book is a response to a challenge. It argues that without an America that is economically vital, socially appealing, responsibly powerful, and capable of sustaining an intelligent foreign engagement, the geopolitical prospects for the West could become increasingly grave. The ongoing changes in the distribution of global power and mounting global strife make it all the more essential that America does not retreat into an ignorant garrison-state mentality or wallow in cultural hedonism but rather becomes more strategically deliberate and historically enlightened in its global engagement with the new East.
* * * *
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