The black establishment that rose under the banner of economic equality and social justice has also abandoned mass-based movements in favor of “representational politics” that seek a seat at the corporate table. Black leadership’s lukewarm reaction to the disaster reflected those ties to corporations and the overall power structure.

1) New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was cheered by many for his vocal criticism of FEMA’s handling of the Katrina crisis. However, Nagin was formerly a Republican and contributed to George W. Bush’s 2000 election campaign. He only switched party lines to run for mayor, after whch he promptly opposed a living-wage bill.

2) National Action Network chair and former presidential candidate Al Sharpton responded by comparing the rapid response to last year’s hurricanes in Florida with the slow response to Katrina. Still, the very week of the Katrina disaster, NAN was slated to give awards to WalMart and Tyson Foods. Both companies are being sued for violating the civil rights of their minority workers.

3) With charges of racism filling the media, Bush quickly sought to deflect criticism. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was dispatched to speak to a black Baptist church, while conservative black preacher T.D. Jakes held a summit with Bush and Operation Blessing led by 700 Club founder Pat Robertson. Jakes, a recipient of federal grants for prisoner outreach, called for “faith-based initiatives” for Katrina victims.

4) The Congressional Black Caucus criticized FEMA’s slow response, yet held back on charges of racism. “There’s been much attention in the press about the fact that those who were left behind in New Orleans were disproportionately poor and African American,” Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said in a statement. “I’ve said publicly that I do not subscribe to the notion that the painfully slow response of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security was racially based. The ineptitude was color-blind.”

5) Long the go-to guy for optimistic platitudes in the face of black catastrophe, Jesse Jackson’s contribution was to complain about the word “refugees” in describing the refugees from the floods.