There is an issue that has been conspicuously absent from this, my blog of New Orleans. The issue, of course, is Katrina.
The issue of Katrina is huge. So big that I've been daunted at the prospect of posting on it but I knew it was something I would have to do. So I'm going to do it in bite size pieces. I was inspired to finally begin this endeavour by a comment that Darren got at work and one I have often heard myself: "Welcome to the Third World".
I was puzzled upon hearing this the first time and attributed it to the response (or rather lack of one) to the Katrina aftermath. It was a phrase that the national media latched onto to describe the scenes of homeless citizens crying out for assistance. I have to admit I remember asking at the time if this was pounced upon so eagerly because most of these poor suffering people were black? The correlation of the circles of enslavement, debt and exploitation of African countries certainly fits with how the black community of New Orleans has been treated.
But this term also annoyed me. Yes the suffering was terrible and yes it should never have happened. But this suffering was different from that of people who have walked for days with little food or water for months on end through the African desert to get to a refugee camp. This suffering was First World! It was so awful because in America these people should have had government assistance, should have had proper levees protecting their homes, should have had water flown in to help hydrate them in the stifling heat. If this tragedy is looked at in the classification of Third World then there is done a great disservice to the magnitude of the wrongs that were done and the injustices suffered.
Yet I think there is more to what these people have meant when Darren and I have been met with the greeting "Welcome to the Third World" and I think its a greeting we would have heard had we come to this city prior to Katrina. This phrase is said almost with a degree of pride. I find it very odd.
I realise it is in reference to how inept and corrupt things can be run down here. I realise it refers to the way the rest of America has always neglected New Orleans. I don't realise how it can be accepted here. Or how flippantly it is bandied around. It has a degree of fatalism about it. If New Orleans is the Third World then its doomed to always fall behind other American cities.
If it was being used to describe the abject poverty that the New Orleans poor live or rather exist in, then I can understand it. The projects were slums (they are presently sitting empty waiting for either the old occupants to return or to be torn down). The poor live in housing which is totally unacceptable and try to eek out a living on next to nothing. And, of course, like the Third World, the poor here were/are mostly black. And like the Third World, they are OK when confined to their neighborhoods but condemned when they dare to misbehave and invade the richer areas. But this is also true of most big American cities: 'over the rhine' in Cincinnati, east Cleveland, Detroit.
It makes me mad when I hear (white of course) people claim that it is 'unfortunate' but you have to admit most criminals have black skin. This is something that the national media have been good at projecting and, of course, it goes back to slavery, segregation and civil rights. Instead of associating the color of their skin as a reason for their behaviour, we need to see the common thread of poverty. The don't turn to crime because they are black but because it is a means of surviving because you are poor. Perhaps if this reality was addressed the crime in America could be properly addressed.
New Orleans is not the Third World. Katrina was devastating but it wasn't a Third World event. Yes, some people lost their lives (close to the same figure as 911 - this is another post), yes some people were treated live animals, yes there was too little too late. But what people lost were homes with running water and electricity, they lost possessions, they lost pets, heirlooms, photographs. In the Third World when there is a crisis they don't have such things to loose.
There are some other articles on this issue I found online here and here and a blog post here.