It has been two years since the greatest natural disaster in American history, Hurricane Katrina. After two years the residents of the Misssissippi-Louisiana Gulf Coast, especially the grand American city of New Orleans, still suffer economic and psychological devastation unheard of in the history of the United States.
The destruction of New Orleans is akin only to what happened to the ancient Italian city of Pompeii, when it was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Pompeii, like New Orleans, was a center of religious, civil, cultural and economic life for its part of the nation. It is remarkable how modern the ancient city actually was. It had sophisticated water systems with cold and hot running water in its bath houses. It had fast food restaurants all over town. It had paved streets and other amenities which would remind one easily of the modern conveniences of today.
It also had a large poor population -- slaves and other servants -- ensconced in a society that was rich with culture and yet didn't seem to properly provide for this lower class of people who actually drove the society by serving the ruling class elites. Of course when the city fell to the fury of the volcano these people were the most vulnerable. The elites left the city as the fires raged down the mountain, without giving thought to the poor citizens who had served them so well. These poor people, like the poor in New Orleans, had been left by their government to fend for themselves.
Questions linger, two years later. Why did New Orleans' black and poor get left behind? What took the government so long to get to New Orleans? Why, two years after this disaster, have the governments still not come to the aid of these poor people? Why was it such a shock to the nation people lived in such squalor? Why has this administration been so slow in identifying with the suffering of the citizens in New Orleans on an emotional level? Professor Michael Eric Dyson asks: Can we really move forward as a nation and not address how race, poverty, and class destroyed the lives of over 200,000 citizens of New Orleans at one time?
When the water receded, many had drowned in the toxic cesspool the streets and neighborhoods of New Orleans had become. Dead bodies lay on curbsides. People had collapsed from the want of water and food. Poor citizens were seething in the clutches of racking pain amid abject filth and squalor.
While watching this horrendous scene on CNN I kept asking: Could this really be America? It looked like something out of a Third World country on the mother continent, where people have been abandoned and exploited through colonialism and imperialism for hundreds of years. This couldn't be the richest, most powerful democratic nation in the world that was treating its citizens with this kind of neglect. But it was!
President Bush came to see about the people of New Orleans 18 days after the hurricane, only after the mayor of New Orleans cussed him out on national radio for the lack of governmental attention. But it is no secret the president and a good portion of his government don't grasp the American race issue. He lacks the racial instincts which would translate into policies that are sensitive and compassionate to the deeper suffering of all the American people. He has a racial ethos developed out of hard line conservatism that has always fought against racial parity. He lacks the kind of empathy that should have caused an immediate response to the suffering of the victims of Katrina.
Two years after the storm these people are still suffering this lack of empathy. These poor people are still begging Washington for help. They still have no social standing or racial standing. They still do not count as much as they might have had they been white. In the minds of the powers that be, these people are still being treated like they are refugees in a foreign land. One black kid recently said on CNN, "I feel like we are the lost city, an island in a sea of nothingness."
The Constitution defines what duties of care public officials owe to the people of a Democratic society. It is the contractual responsibility of the government to protect citizens and their families and their possessions from forces beyond their control. This administration continues to forfeit their responsibility to the American citizens who live in New Orleans. The victims of the tragic Asian tsunami were treated with more compassion than American citizens after Katrina.
Two years after the storm, these people continue to live in a hell fueled by an administration that has failed to come to grips with the ubiquitous demons of race and class in this society.