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Post-Katrina: New Orleans’ illusion of an ‘inspiring’ recovery

JAMES CLINGMAN | 9/14/2015, 10:28 a.m.
Katrina does not need the word “Hurricane” as a descriptor; we are on a first name basis with her. Thousands ...
James Clingman

(NNPA) – Katrina does not need the word “Hurricane” as a descriptor; we are on a first name basis with her. Thousands died as a result of that storm, and others were abandoned, left to fend for themselves in unbearable heat, polluted waters and filthy municipal facilities. Hundreds of thousands, called “refugees,” were relocated (or “dislocated”) in what could certainly be called Third World refugee camps. And many more were sent to what Barbara Bush thought was a pretty nice place, the Houston Astrodome. “… This (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them.”

Ten years later, our president goes back to New Orleans again after his five-year anniversary visit in 2010, to declare that he was “inspired” by the resilience of the people of New Orleans, and he lauded the progress made in rebuilding houses. While Obama admitted there is more work to do and cited the inequities that existed long before Katrina came to town, some residents were more open about their dissatisfaction.

An Associated Press article by Darlene Superville and Nancy Benac observed, “Colette Pichon Battle, executive director of Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, cautioned against slapping too happy a face on New Orleans, saying ‘rebuilding since the storm favors privileged private enterprise and this illusion of recovery is not progress.’

“City residents, too, spoke of uneven recovery. ‘I think we have a long way to go,’ said Lisa Ross, 52, an appraiser. She said areas frequented by tourists have recovered tremendously but many neighborhoods have struggled.” Based on that quote, it looks like money from tourism is more important than people. But, we knew that, didn’t we?

Former President George W. Bush also returned to the scene of the crime to laud what he described as progress in the New Orleans’ education system since Katrina. Juxtaposed against his famous commendation to the head of FEMA in 2005, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” his words in 2015 rang hollow.

It seems to me that rather than, or at least in addition to speechifying politicians returning to New Orleans, those companies that received billion dollar no-bid contracts to rebuild should have returned to put some of their profits back into the Ninth Ward. They should have returned and set up entrepreneurship schools in that “model” school system that emerged from the disaster. It would be great if the Black festivals and conferences that come to New Orleans would leave an economic legacy with Black residents who still suffer from the vestiges of Katrina’s wrath. All it takes is the symbolism of a presidential visit for us to forget about New Orleans for another five years. Obama should have brought a check to “bailout” the residents?

Many Katrina survivors have either been permanently relocated to other states, moved to other parts of the city because of gentrification, gotten sick from the polluted water and formaldehyde in those “guvment” trailers they lived in, or have died during the past 10 years. Despite the number of laborers needed to rebuild the city, the opportunity for Black people to work was stymied by corrupt politicians, greedy corporate execs and contractors.