Christopher M. Rabb's antennae twitch every time he hears the word refugees used to describe those dislocated by Katrina.
"Hurricane Katrina victims are Americans!" writes the Philadelphian on his Afro-Netizen site, one of the disproportionately few places of color in the blogosphere. "If Mississippians fled to Jamaica, then they would be refugees. I don't recall the media referring to Hurricane Andrew victims in '92 as refugees. Do you?"
A post added Wednesday night deconstructs the term you people. Meanwhile, the National Association of Black Journalists is cautioning against the use of refugee. The Chicago Tribune's Don Wycliff can't see why.
Rabb writes Afro-Netizen from his Mount Airy home; he's lived here a little more than three years, happily trailing his wife to Philadelphia after she got a job teaching law at Rutgers and Penn. Newspaper blood flows through the 35-year-old Yale graduate - his family publishes the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper - but his own roots are in entrepreneurism and political activism. He worked on The Hill as a legislative aide to former Ill. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.
It was his connections to Democratic party officials that launched him to prominence last year. A friend told him the party was credentialing bloggers for the national convention in Boston. As he told it to an audience at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York in May, he made this pitch:
"It would be really messed if you had all these bloggers and didn't have a single black blogger."
In Boston, he wound up pointing out speeches ignored by the mainstream media, and wrote in a style that caught the attention of the Los Angeles Times. Its reporter quoted this Rabbism: "As Ohio is a bellwether for the nation, if Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) delivers in her congressional district and beyond, she would most certainly deserve 'honorary white boy' status and all the perks that come with it."
Although relatively new to blogging, Rabb has been writing on the Web since the mid '90s. He began grabbing articles that interested him and emailing them around, developing a list of family, friends and college pals that has since swelled to 10,000 people.
His gives this personal history on his site. A life-long student of Black history, politics, and genealogy, I often found myself reading and forwarding compelling articles and other information related to Blackfolk within my personal sphere of influence. In essence, I had become a "news aggregator" before this buzzword became en vogue amongst the digerati. Moreover, I sought to leverage the Internet for expressly civic matters as well, and it was in recognition of this latter distinction that begged the question: Knowing how few Blackfolk (in the U.S. and abroad) had regular, if not frequent access to the Internet at home and/or at work, what does one call this small subset of Blackfolk who represented intellectually-curious, computer-literate and civic-minded Internet users?
The answer: Afro-netizens.
Rabb says in an interview that he is actually encouraged by the public's reaction to the government response to Hurricane Katrina
"For the first time we are hearing from a lot of white people who otherwise wouldn't talk about race. 'Wait, why this treatment and neglect? It has to be race.' This is a catalyst for racial awakening among people who often don't have to think about race. It can be used for good and evil and probably somewhere in between.
"I've been pleasantly pleased how many people across the political spectrum are seeing what a lot of black and brown people and progressive people have seen from time immemorial, that this is a racist society and it impacts on everything we do."
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, reports "a huge racial divide" in views of the disaster and lessons it tells.
For example, 71% of blacks say the disaster shows that racial inequality remains a major problem in the country; a majority of whites (56%) feel this was not a particularly important lesson of the disaster. And while 66% of blacks think that the governments response to the crisis would have been faster if most of the storms victims had been white, an even larger percentage of whites (77%) disagree.