Remembering Hurricane Katrina: The Uses and Abuses of the Past
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Today marks the 7th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s fateful landfall in the Gulf States of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas.
To many, this day will always be a day of infamy, as it marks one of the greatest catastrophes to be deliberately visited upon African people in the United States. Lest we forget, government negligence (on all levels) and systemic and blatant white supremacy were responsible for the displacement of a million people (most, but not all Africans) and the death of close to 3,000 people (an official count has yet to be produced by the US government) between August 29th and September 8th, 2005. It has also resulted in the deliberate “ethnic and class” cleansing of New Orleans. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina a significant portion of the African working class have been systematically removed from the city as a result of the destruction of their housing (public and private) and essential public services (health care, education, and transportation). To those who care, Katrina’s landfall will forever be a part of the pantheon of the commemorative spirit of Black August.
Many excellent commentaries about the 7 ongoing years of pain, suffering and displacement of the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have recently been written. One in particular that I recommend is the “Katrina Pain Index 2012: 7 Years After”, by Bill Quigley and Davida Finger (see http://www.blackagendareport.com/content/katrina-pain-index-2012-7-years-after).
The ongoing pain of the displaced, dispossessed and disoriented is not being told. As far as the mainstream media is concerned these stories don’t deserve to be told. Their focus is on the “praise of the few”, the vast majority of whom are not pre-Katrina “natives” of New Orleans, who are allegedly turning the city around – which means making it whiter and more petit bourgeois.
Then there is the other story. The story of how the Republican Governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama sacrificed their time at the Republican National Convention to provide leadership to their home states in a critical time of need. However, the supposed acts of valor committed by Bobby Jindal (LA), Phil Bryant (MS), and Robert Bentley (AL), amount to political posturing and nothing more. None of these Governors wanted to be portrayed as the next George W. Bush or Kathleen Blanco (the former Governor of Louisiana), which reflects a degree of learning from Hurricane Katrina. But, in reality, neither they, nor the top Republican brass, wanted to give President Obama a moment to demonstrate his leadership and shine in a moment of crisis – which admittedly, the President was indeed aiming to do in part. Thus Hurricanes Katrina and Isaac became political fodder to be exploited for the political benefit of both major political parties.
Lost, if not completely ignored, are the stories of those who have been in need of critical help for 7 long years, the tens of thousands who have been abandoned or betrayed outright by the government on every level. These are the stories that must be told, and which must never be forgotten. To forget these stories means that we condemn ourselves to repeat the experiences of the past. We must never forget.