Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Katrina and U.S. inequity

marjorie says...

My comment in reply to Mikaela’s got kind of long so I thought I’d just make it a post.

How am I supposed to wrap my mind around one *moment* in Bagdad in which 650 people, primarily women and children, died in a stampede--because of fear due to a burgeoning civil war? The reality of that loss of life is unfathomable really--from over here, all I can do is think about the reasons for it. I'm pretty good at that. And I’m pretty good at laying the blame at the feet of the U.S.

How am I supposed to wrap my mind around the devastation that just happened in the American south, the loss of entire communities? Well, it’s a lot easier--because I know that place. I can picture it.

The thing is, the closer something is to home the more real it is for folks. Personally, what's happening in New Orleans is distressing the hell out of me. It's an overwhelming event for the United States.

To see a million people streaming out was pretty amazing.

To see the poor, primarily African-Americans, remain stuck there is damning to us all.

As someone who loves New Orleans, I think it will be tragic if that city is wiped out.

I agree that comparing this catastrophe to the Tsunami or Hiroshima is misguided. Nonetheless, I understand the passion and the heartbreak behind those words.

There are certainly some interesting observations to be made in the end. Here are a few that I think are important:

  1. Race and Poverty: I got an email today that described what happened on Sunday as a “laissez-faire” evacuation. In my mind this is quite accurate. Those who had the resources were able to leave. Those who didn’t had to remain--the state did nothing to evacuate poor people with no transportation. There is a heartbreaking story in today’s paper about a couple who couldn’t find a way out. The man’s life depended on a supply of oxygen and when it ran out he died. Almost needless to say, they were black. If anyone of you has seen even one picture of a group of white people left behind in New Orleans please send it my way. In a city that has turned into a disease ridden toxic soup bowl, it's black folk who are left behind. Nothing could be clearer than this catastrophe to show the structure of our society in terms of how race and wealth coincide, and the consequences of being poor. It is a clear demonstration of who gets to leave and who has to stay.

  1. Infrastructure: In my mind the primary thing that makes this catastrophe different from others that have happened recently around the world is that we live in a first-world country with excellent infrastructure. The majority of the people of New Orleans were able to get out because of our infrastructure. And the response after the fact has been incredibly large due to the infrastructure available in this country, both human and physical. Much of New Orleans itself could possibly be destroyed at this point, but its ultimate survival as a city will be largely due to the ability of this country to respond due to our enormous wealth.

  1. Climate Change: As noted by many outside of the mainstream media, climate change is wreaking havoc on our natural systems. We can only hope that this natural disaster will be a wake-up call for our elected officials in terms of needing to get on board with the international consensus on this topic. Our consumption of the world’s resources is shameful, and it is deadly.