Thursday, September 08, 2005


Ah, here it is, the obligatory Katrina post. I hadn't intended to write one, but here I am.

In conversations with friends over the last couple of days, Paul and I were both surprised (and infuriated) to realize that not everyone feels that the devastation of New Orleans is a tragedy. Each of us has heard from two different people who feel like this is probably a "blessing in disguise." After all, New Orleans is a cesspool of sin and crime anyway, so why not wipe the slate clean and start all over again?

For you sociologists, all four of these subjects are men, ages 30-45, upper middle class, white suburbanites. 3 call themselves liberals. 1 is a conservative, but one of the "spend my vacation building homes for the poor" type of conservatives. None of them has ever been to New Orleans. Obviously.

1) How can families being separated, hundreds of women being raped, thousands of human beings dying, and many many more losing their homes and all of their belongings be anything but a tragedy? If this happened to me and some man hundreds of miles away told me it was really a "blessing," I'd pop him right in the mouth. (Hey, didja hear the one about the 15-year-old in the hospital with the 300 pound machine that beats his heart for him?)

2) How can someone feel comfortable suggesting that someplace they've never been is so awful that it needs to be destroyed utterly, in Sodom and Gomorrah fashion? The pride! The entitlement!

3) Even if New Orleans was a pit of depravity, how does that make it different from anywhere else? Should we pray for natural disasters in all of our major cities? Certainly Las Vegas has got to go. Of the most dangerous cities in the United States, New Orleans ranks about 8th. So let's wipe out Camden, NJ; Detroit, MI; Atlanta, GA; St. Louis, MO; Gary, IN; Washington, D.C.; and Hartford, CT before we even start talking about New Orleans.

New Orleans is a beautiful city. It has so much character and charm. Yeah, there are dark alleys and there is crime. But this is true of any city. And sitting in your suburban home, just outside a city that's far more dangerous than New Orleans was before this hurricane, suggesting that it's a blessing that the city was flooded just because you've heard some scary stories, well, that's just beyond the pale.

And these people seem to be ignoring the fact that it wasn't the "scariest" neighborhoods that flooded. This wasn't God smiting just those who live in sin. The worst effected areas were along the levees that hold Lake Pontchartrain. Golly, who'd want to build near a lake? It turns out that a lot of families like to live near lakes, so many urban and suburban residential neighborhoods were flooded. (Here is God smiting an SUV.)

Can we think of any other cities near bodies of water that might be in danger of flooding if their levees or other water containment systems were breached? (How about Chicago and St. Louis, right off the bat?)

But, hey, white guys, you're not alone. Here's another white guy who agrees with you.

You're all wrong. Why build in a hurricane zone? Why build at the mouth of a huge river? Uh, how do you think all that shiny stuff gets to a Wal-mart near you? Where do you think your food comes from? Big hint: the Mississippi River is a huge shipping lane. Without a port at the mouth of the Mississippi, look for lots of wilted produce and extremely expensive goods being air-lifted into the Midwest.

Edited to add: OK, the "white guys" stuff is a bit harsh. But it's very hard for me to not see this as a race and class issue to some extent. If New Orleans wasn't so poor and black, would it be as easy to write off?


ccw said...

I'm in complete agreement. It is impossible not to want to wrap your hands around the throats of people like this. The lack of compassion or empathy is appalling. I don't understand how anyone can be so heartless. The victims are people and to see the destruction as some sort of blessing is disgusting.

I'm so glad that I have not had to hear this sort of bs in person because I would be unable to control my loud, opinionated self.

Quantus said...

I have to agree- I'm a "build homes on my vacation" conservative white guy, but I think that anyone who says this was a blessing of any kind is stupid, selfish, lazy or all three.

However, I don't think that the idea that New Orleans should be rebuilt exactly as it was is valid - it obviously had some problems. And it's likely that New Orleans will become another Galveston albeit with a cultural history. The loss was tragic, but looking forward it may be better to move the port of New Orleans upriver some....

Redhead Editor said...

Say "Amen," Somebody!

Tara Marie said...

I agree with you 100%.....and I too have heard those same disgusting comments [although I have not physically bashed them in the mouth, but verbally let them have it]

Did you read Ann Rice's piece on 'Katrina'?

Peace, Tara Marie