Gnashing of Teeth
I have other stuff I wanted to mutter about, but it’s hard to think about anything else right now.
I watched a lot of cable news last night. Shattering stuff. ‘We need help, sir, we really do.’ ‘Look at these old people over here – look at this little baby.’ People in floods of tears, people mopping each other’s faces, people angry on behalf of those older, younger, weaker, frailer than themselves. People desperately needing water. (We all know what it’s like to be thirsty – imagine being that thirsty for four days! While watching people around you dying of dehydration – knowing if you don’t get water you’ll all die soon.) People who’ve lost everything they had, who went to the convention center as they were told, to be evacuated.
You should see the New York Times today. Huge headline the width of the page: Despair and Lawlessness Grip New Orleans as Thousands Remain Stranded in Squalor. Under that a huge photo nearly the width of the page, of a body floating in the floodwater. Not the usual NY Times, not the usual Nawlins, not the usual anything.
Much of the frustration has been directed at the national authority, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema). The head of the New Orleans emergency operations, Terry Ebbert, has questioned when reinforcements will actually reach the increasingly lawless city. “This is a national disgrace. Fema has been here three days, yet there is no command and control,” Mr Ebbert said. “We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can’t bail out the city of New Orleans.” One man, George Turner, who was still waiting to be evacuated, summed up much of the anger felt by the refugees. “Why is it that the most powerful country on the face of the Earth takes so long to help so many sick and so many elderly people?” he asked.
The Times points out what should be obvious – that the unbelievable mess in New Orleans shows up the usually papered-over or shoved-aside inequality in the US.
The scenes of floating corpses, scavengers fighting for food and desperate throngs seeking any way out of New Orleans have been tragic enough. But for many African-American leaders, there is a growing outrage that many of those still stuck at the center of this tragedy were people who for generations had been pushed to the margins of society. The victims, they note, were largely black and poor, those who toiled in the background of the tourist havens, living in tumbledown neighborhoods that were long known to be vulnerable to disaster if the levees failed. Without so much as a car or bus fare to escape ahead of time, they found themselves left behind by a failure to plan for their rescue should the dreaded day ever arrive…In the days since neighborhoods and towns along the Gulf Coast were wiped out by the winds and water, there has been a growing sense that race and class are the unspoken markers of who got out and who got stuck.
NPR cited and talked to the author of what sounds like a highly relevant book, this morning – Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans from Nature. He talked about the role of race and class in the city’s geography. Richer people live on the higher ground, the poor live on the low ground. If you have money, you’re safer, if you don’t, you’re not. If you have money, you can leave town, if you don’t, you can’t. And that’s that.