This morning, I awoke to Carl Kasell reporting on our useless leader’s visit to the Gulf Coast region on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Memories of that disaster, natural yes, but also horrifyingly political, flooded my mind.
I checked news reports constantly the day the storm barreled into New Orleans, hoping that the city would be spared. Although I’d never been to New Orleans, the city held a special fascination with me. It was a unique place in the world, I thought. I’d heard countless stories of New Orleans from history classes, novels like Jitterbug Perfume (and, OK, a couple of very guilty pleasure Ann Rice novels), and my first grad school roommate who had gone to Tulane for his undergrad. I never had much of a desire to see Mardi Gras, as it seemed a ritual too far removed to have much meaning any more, but still, the city had a creepy allure that placed it on my list of cities I wanted to wander through before my wandering days on this Earth cease. Afraid of voodoo, yes. Want to see some little old lady with a certain gleam in her eyes, absolutely.
And so I checked the news the day the storm struck. I remember early photos, with the winds blowing lampposts on Bourbon Street. I remember cheering when I heard that the French Quarter had been spared, and it looked as though the rest of the city, while battered, would survive.
But then all hell broke loose. As the city flooded, the waters covering the city exposed an ugly fact about America. We claim that we want freedom and democracy—and prosperity—to spread around the world, but if you are black and poor in the United States, you are shit out of luck. While the National Guard was sent off to kill people in Iraq, Brownie was doing a heckuva job in New Orleans.
My romantic vision of New Orleans fills me with shame as I see its reality, the ugly reality of race and class in the United States. It is just so disgusting that for days on end people had to scream for help from their rooftops to keep from drowning in fetid waters while our leaders did absolutely nothing. That people died from thirst in overheated stadiums. That people who had nothing are left with still less. I don’t have much by way of analysis here, just a deep sense of shame that in the richest country on the Earth, people live like this, and we still do nothing.