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Rice: Disaster shows 'ugly way' race, poverty collide

'It's a vestige of particularly the Old South in this case'

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the people who were stranded in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina are evidence that race and poverty can still come together "in a very ugly way" in parts of the "Old South."

"The United States should want to do something about that," Rice said in an interview Monday with the editorial board of The New York Times. "There are still places that race and poverty are a huge problem in the United States, and we've got to deal with that."

According to a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday, more black Americans than whites view race as contributing to troubles with the federal response to Katrina. (Interactive)

President Bush on Monday denied allegations that the response to Katrina was slower because thousands of people stuck in New Orleans without food, water or medicine were mostly poor and black.

"The storm didn't discriminate, and neither will we in the recovery effort," Bush told reporters during a tour of New Orleans. (See video of Bush responding to criticism -- 2:28)

Rice, the highest ranking black official in the Bush administration, defended national race relations saying the United States "is about 100 percent ahead of anyplace else in the world in issues of race."

"And I say that absolutely, fundamentally," she said. "You go to any other meeting around the world and show me the kind of diversity that you see in America's Cabinet, in America's foreign service, in America's business community, in America's journalistic community.

"Show me that kind of diversity anyplace else in the world, and I'm prepared to be lectured about race."

Rice -- who was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and spent most of her childhood there -- said the confluence of race and poverty is a vestige of American history.

"It's a vestige of particularly the Old South in this case," she said.

"We will be making a mistake if we let people jump to the conclusion that the United States has therefore not dealt with issues of race, particularly if you look at how issues of race are dealt with in most of the world."

Rice also said she believes the Hurricane Katrina disaster provides an opportunity for Americans to launch a comprehensive attack on poverty.

"Not just the federal government, but state and local officials ... as well as the private sector -- and I mean non-governmental organizations and I mean the private business sector -- to address how we might deal with the problem of persistent poverty," she said.

Black members of Congress also have expressed anger about what they said was a slow federal response to Hurricane Katrina. (Full story)

Joining the Congressional Black Caucus in their concerns are the Black Leadership Forum, the National Conference of State Legislators, the National Urban League and the NAACP. ( See video of Congressional Black Caucus criticizing response -- 5:50)

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