Monday, 29 August 2016 14:04

Race, New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, revisited

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katrina raceEleven years ago, today, Hurricane Katrina changed all of us.

I was holed up in Florida, in a state of shock, wondering if South Louisiana and particularly New Orleans would ever return from the dead and the drowned.

Today, many throughout the Baton Rouge region look to the skies, surely wondering the same.

On the first Sunday after the storm, September 3rd, I wrote the following column for

What was considered to be a hurricane, a horrible one, was fast turning out to be a debate over race.

The night before, while America and Hollywood quickly put together a major fundraiser on national TV, generating roughly 50 million dollars, only days after the Katrina hit, Kanye West, made his “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” comment that angered many of us, on both sides of the issue.

On that same day, our Mayor, C. Ray Nagin also became unglued, screaming on the radio that the feds should “get off of their asses”.

It was clear that New Orleans and the country was facing some type of racial meltdown with a horrific storm as the impetus.

Today, our country continues the discussion.  Our presidential candidates are calling each other “bigots”.   The debate over race is just as bitter, just as angry, and perhaps even worse, as it was in September 2005.

Below is a column I wrote after the Nagin radio cry and after the West outburst.

From hundreds of miles away, I was watching the city become engulfed with water and hate.

Interestingly, prior to Hurricane Katrina, our mayor was considered to be the city’s “Great White Hope”.  He was the darling of the Chamber of Commerce who had the temerity to speak out against his own people.

Funny how a one “Chocolate City remark could change all of that:


The issue of race raised its very ugly head during the Katrina ordeal and continues to do so. It was personified most by a color-blind mayor C. Ray Nagin who called for a plea for help to the world to save a city being flooded by misconceptions and ransacked by the media. The media mistook his cry as a black man who was angry at the whites “ruling” infrastructure. Wrong. He was trying to save a city where blacks and whites love one another.

True, blacks looting for food and for anything they could get was as ugly a site that you could possibly imagine.  Blacks feeling disenfranchised, homeless, disoriented was the rule of the day during this first week of Katrina when there were no rules.

But, what the outside world is seeing from the senseless looting and the lack of assistance to community that makes up a majority of New Orleans is not racism per se, but class differentials.

No doubt the overt stealing was shocking and the natural response would be to blame blacks.

But, just as pitiful are the statements from respected black leaders who blame race as the reason for the federal delay.

Blacks were unable to get out of New Orleans because they lacked the means.  That has nothing to do with the color of their skin because many African Americans made it safe quarters.

Unfortunately, the same rabble rousers who see everything through the color of color are trying to find scapegoats through racism.

Black leaders who place their mugs on national television and who are yelping race as the culprit are doing an injustice as they have always done.  They would be much better people and their communities much better served if they were to use their bully pulpits to preach dignity, respect, the need for an education, the rule of law and entrepreneurship.

Whites who look in horror at the incredible events of looting and see justification in their hatreds are also being abusive to the truth.  Those who did engage in such lawlessness were an extreme minority of African Americans who resided in New Orleans.

The truth in stark black and white terms is that New Orleans has been a city of valor.  The color line was broken years ago.  Blacks and whites lived, worked and even loved together—and still do.  Whites and blacks have integrated in social circles.  The Great Society, with all its warts, was beginning to take shape in this great city—in many ways more so than it has in so many other metropolitans.

Economic class differences were the reasons for the horrors we witnessed on the tube.   The lack of response from the federal government was also worsened by the lack of political power from the Louisiana delegation and others who are suppose to have stroke.  The more we stoke this race card, the more blind we are to the truth.  Those wanting to use this terrible situation to grow their own support base are way of base and doing more harm to their own followers than anything imaginable.

Last modified on Monday, 29 August 2016 14:22
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