Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The View From a Black New Orleanian

This just in from a New Orleans native. I'm publishing it as is. Other publications may reprint with credit to Fatima. If you want to reach her, comment at this Blog and I'll see she gets it.:

The View From a Black New Orleanian

I am a Catholic, black, native of New Orleans 7th ward. I am an integrated American with a very diverse background ethnically, hence the name..
I am a former reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and local and national newspapers and magazines. I worked 10 years for McGraw-Hill. I have written four books about New Orleans, three for children. I teach at a Jesuit college. Following is an editorial I would like to place in your newspaper: The View from a Black New Orleanian

I advised my 85-year-old Dad on Saturday night not to leave when Katrina was coming. The trip out of town might kill him. His house is in the center of New Orleans and is two stories high. It was built at sea level with 12 inch square posts in the 1860s. It has withstood storm and flood many times.

In fact, during Hurricane Betsy the water leveled off about three blocks from his house. Later we heard that the 9th ward was flooded. People were taken off their roofs by others in boats. A high school girl I knew had to swim to higher ground while pulling her grandmother. Snakes were found in peoples’ living rooms.

But since then, the city built levees, and the whole town would be under if he had to go. Sit tight, and we’ll see, I said. But at 5 a.m., while I slept, his tenant, a cousin and friend packed him into the car. My cousin and tenant drove out of New Orleans as fast as they could. My friend stayed behind with his parents in their 80s, too many people to carry too far.

All of us are black and natives of the city, so there was not question about whether he’d go to the Superdome. The shelter of last resort translates to the shelter of no resort. We know how poor, black people are treated in New Orleans and the rest of America.

In the neighborhood where my dad still lives and I grew up, there are 31% of the people who earn less than $10,000. More than 57% earn less than $25,000. Our church parish, our schools, our leaders ask for money to help sickness and depression, joblessness, drug addiction – for families of the people who clean up the hotels, cook in the restaurants and entertain the gold plated tourists. You know the answer we get. I don’t have to say.

That too went into the decision of whether my father should go or stay. No don’t go to the Superdome, or anywhere else there was an army of poverty. Everybody in New Orleans knows that poverty translates to black translates to helpless, in its most literal sense. Now, finally, so do the white people in our nation.

I will tell you one more truth. I’ve been studying the history of my community for the past 200 years through archival research and primary documents. There is little changed in New Orleans since slavery. Many families live in their same neighborhoods. The social conditions are similar – whites on top, blacks on the bottom, mixed people somewhere in between. People had to escape. Escape, is the accurate term for leaving these conditions to go somewhere better. My dad got a Ph.D., intellectual escape. My church calls its members to go the spiritual high road. I got out of town before my anger at unfairness and an unchanged life would kill me. Or like some people at home, Id kill somebody else.

So why did I tell him to stay? Because he knew his own mind, and I have always deferred to him on matters of his own survival. No to the Superdome. Yes. to his house, his neighborhood, his community. If they would go down, so would he.

But Category 5 was too much for a moral stance, even for him. Still, it was not enough for the parents of my friend.

When I was 12, after Hurricane Betsy, the water began to rise. But the next day, the water stopped about three blocks from my house and I went on that hot day for a swim. I waded out into the muddy water on St. Bernard Ave., feeling a bit heady that I was experiencing something that no one ever had, or ever would. Then it got so deep that the ground slipped from under my feet and I drifted, not far, but I was being taken away by something I could not control.

I learned that day that one mistake could be deadly. My dad knew that a risky stand could be his last one. We all knew where we stood with regard to this situation. Too bad so many people trusted that their government thought about them.

Fatima, writing from a Jesuit College

New American Reality Show

Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans have given us a prime time glimpse into the heart of what's rotten in America. And I don't mean the bloated corpses or fetid water. This could be a new kind of reality TV: "What's Rotten in America?"

Contestants will vote for the government official (or their immediate family members) who make the most callous, self-serving, conscienceless, greedy, racist, or just plain ignorant comments on real life tragedies. Our so-called leaders could start things off with their comments on Hurricane Katrina and their lack of meaningful response.

Examples of the types of comments highlighted in the new show include:

President Bush struts his ignorance and arrogance against a backdrop of elderly, black, poor people; babies without milk and sick people without homes as he excuses his inaction by saying: "No one could have anticipated the break in the levees."

And his esteemed mother, the former first lady Barbara Bush, notes with pride that the Astrodome is now home to thousands of displaced poor people: "And so many people in the Arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them."

For those of a religious persuasion, you may take comfort from these words of Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice: "The Lord Jesus Christ is going to come on time."

The above are all real quotes. You can choose from these and so many more as you compete for valuable prizes. Contestants should all be felons or unindicted co-conspirators from past administrations. Your prizes will be high paying government jobs and the opportunity to appear in your very own Reality Show. As a bonus question this week, a prize will go to the contestant who correctly identifies the first high government official to utter these words:

"Let them eat Beneigts!"