Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa speaks during the Freedom Summit, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Rep. Steve King of Iowa has been under fire for months following a quote in the New York Times in which he questioned why white nationalism was so wrong. Stripped of his committee assignments, King has refused to apologize for his remarks.
Now, at a town hall in Iowa, King has opened his mouth in public again to disparage victims of Hurricane Katrina. His remarks were, at best, tinged with racism.
“We go to a place like New Orleans, and everybody’s looking around saying, ‘Who’s going to help me? Who’s going to help me?’” King said, recounting what he said officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, had told him about the relief effort, in which he said he had participated. Yet, he was also one of 11 members of Congress to oppose a bill providing federal aid to Katrina victims in 2005.
“We go to a place like Iowa, and we go see, knock on the door at, say, I make up a name, John’s place, and say, ‘John, you got water in your basement, we can write you a check, we can help you,'” King said. “And John will say, ‘Well, wait a minute, let me get my boots. It’s Joe that needs help. Let’s go down to his place and help him.’”
The town hall was in Charter Oak, Iowa, which the Washington Post story referenced above says is “99.4 percent white, according to census estimates.” Meanwhile, more than half of the 1,833 deaths resulting from Hurricane Katrina’s victims were black, 73 percent of those displaced by the storm were black and nearly half of those displaced never returned to the city.
Even if you gave King the benefit of the doubt, the comparison between Katrina’s victims and the severe flooding in Iowa is over the line, given the significance of the damage and the number of people who were killed as a result.
King himself has lived a life that has never had to go through what New Orleans went through in 2005. It is nothing short of a privilege to have never had everything you love ripped from you by a storm while you had to sit on a roof waiting for rescue. To belittle what the people of New Orleans, and the rest of Louisiana as a result, had to go through because of that storm – and subsequent storms that year and beyond – is insensitive and offensive at the very least.
But, you cannot separate the issue of race from his remarks. King has made far too many remarks in recent years that reek of racism to simply ignore it. The government response to the impending storm was a disaster in and of itself (though you can place a lot more of that blame on local and state leadership than federal) and people were left in a virtual no man’s land for far longer than most could stand.
Of the people who didn’t evacuate, most were poor or had no means of leaving and nowhere to go if they did. They were living day to day as it was prior to the storm. Afterward, it was simply horrifying.
And most of them were black. That is something you cannot separate from King’s remarks. It played off the usual trope that the black community as a whole is far too dependent on government and expecting a handout at every turn. But this wasn’t just every turn, this was a natural disaster that destroyed their homes and their lives.
That King is a representative in the United States government is a travesty. That he feels no remorse over his past statements is worse. I wish we could be rid of him in the House.
At the very least, though, he needs to apologize for these remarks. It is a classless take on a national disaster and only further pits Americans against each other.