Vol. 22, No. 5,514 - The American Reporter - September 7, 2016

by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
Dummerston, Vt.
Sept. 3, 2015
On Native Ground

Back to home page

Printable version of this story

DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Economic inequality is nothing new in America, particularly for people of color.

But nothing prepared America for the sights and scenes from New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit 10 years ago last week.

"The economically secure drove out of town, checked into hotels and called their insurance companies," wrote Naomi Klein in her best-seller, "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism."

"The 120,000 people in New Orleans without cars, who depended on the state to organize their evacuation, waited for help that did not arrive, making desperate SOS signs or rafts out of their refrigerator doors. Those images shocked the world because, even if most of us had resigned ourselves to the daily inequalities of who has access to health care and whose schools have decent equipment, there was still a widespread assumption that disasters were supposed to be different.

"It was taken for granted that the state - at least in a rich country - would come to the aid of the people during a cataclysmic event. The images from New Orleans showed that this general belief - that disasters are a kind of time-out for cutthroat capitalism, when we all pull together and the state switches into higher gear - had already been abandoned, and with no public debate."

About 2,000 people were killed by Katrina, nearly 1,200 them in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans.

And very little has changed for the better for people of color in New Orleans since then.

These facts and figures, compiled by the Institute for Southern Studies, tell the story.

  • The mostly white sections of New Orleans and its suburbs were quickly rebuilt. The mostly black sections of the city - such as the Lower Ninth Ward - weren't. Black homeowners were more than three times more likely to be flooded out of their homes than white homeowners.

  • The public school system was obliterated in favor of privately-run charter schools. The city fired 7,500 public school teachers.

  • Public housing was decimated. There were 5,146 units available before Katrina. There are 1,925 today, and the rents have nearly doubled on what low- and moderate-income housing remains.

  • Charity Hospital, long the primary health care provider for the poorest of New Orleans. still lies abandoned and will likely never be reopened as a hospital.

  • The public transit system, inadequate before the storm, remains barely functional.

  • The mostly white sections of New Orleans are safe and prosperous. The mostly black sections are not. About 100,000 black residents who lived in the city before the storm no longer call New Orleans home.

  • Half of New Orleans' black children live in poverty. Fifty-two percent of black men in New Orleans are jobless. Seven of every 10 jobs in the New Orleans area are low-wage positions in the tourism and retail sectors.

As Malik Rahim, co-founder of the Common Ground Collective, which helped bring thousands of people from all over the world to help rebuild New Orleans after the storm, said an interview on Democracy Now! last week, "New Orleans is still a story of two cities. You know, if you're white or if you're part of that privileged black class or free people of color class, then, you know, I mean, it's recovered.

"But if you're poor and part of that African or Maroon class, then it's like the hurricane just happened last year."

Some say you can draw a direct line between what happened in New Orleans a decade ago - a toxic brew of racism, political and economic opportunism, and sheer incompetence by government at every level - and the events of the past year or so that inspired the Black Lives Matter movement.

It's hard not to. Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans demonstrated that black lives didn't matter, not when the opportunists saw a chance to remake the city as a whiter, more gentrified free market paradise.

But it's not just black lives that don't matter to the free marketeers. The living standards of poor and working people of all colors have been under assault for decades. The assault just happened faster and harder in New Orleans, a city where democracy and the public good was swept away when the levees broke.

AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at randyholhut@yahoo.com.

Copyright 2016 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter