Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina

Ten years ago, I spotted this sign in the window of the neighborhood video store. The rapper Kanye West, at a concert for storm relief, had blurted out some truths:

I hate the way they portray us in the media. You see a black family, it says, 'They're looting.' You see a white family, it says, 'They're looking for food.' And, you know, it's been five days [waiting for federal help] because most of the people are black. ... George Bush doesn't care about black people.

West's outrage felt a relief. What we'd all seen on the TV was so horrifying -- New Orleans drowned and so many of its people still trapped by water and the failure of our systems to provide help.

West gave us somewhere to direct our rage -- this travesty must be George Bush's fault. In 2005, we were still close in time to the 9/11 attacks, after which for awhile the national need to pull together had made it hard to voice criticisms. Of course many of us had protested the Bush administration's follies and crimes: the Iraq invasion, Abu Ghraib tortures, the absurd security theater at airports, the color-coded alerts. But West's blunt declaration seemed to open the floodgates for all of us who desperately needed to scream at the administration: "you are taking the country in a wrong direction!" Thanks Kanye.
Looking back ten years, I now have to wonder whether Kanye might have spoken more accurately if he'd raged, "America hates black people." Yes, New Orleans got rebuilt ... without many of its poor and black citizens and perhaps much of its uniqueness. Over the last decade despite an administration headed by a black man, shockingly, blacks have ceased to be an absolute majority in Washington DC, now a boom-town for the young, affluent, hip and white. There goes another enclave of black culture and some autonomy. The nation continues to push aside, lock up and sometimes simply shoot poor black people. No wonder there's a broad movement to shout "Black Lives Matter."
I sent this photo to Steve Gilliard at The News Blog and he used it more than once. Steve was a towering presence in progressive blogging in those days. He died in 2007, one more loss along the way.
I was exceptionally lucky during the days after the hurricane to find myself working in what was one of the few usefully responsive institutions in the country. At the California Nurses Association (now National Nurses United) people did know what to do. Within twenty-four hours after the levees broke, CNA staff were on the phones, organizing medical personnel to fly in, hustling resources, and shaming anyone in authority who dragged their feet. For two weeks I listened to these urgent conversations and could feel assured that someone was doing something.
Just one more point, ten years later. Amazingly, despite technological change and finding itself located in the very epicenter of the San Francisco tech-fueled boom, the video store is still alive. That little business seems to have nine lives. It's owners have been nimble, merging with a music distributor and together providing quirky non-commercial offerings. Long may they last.


Hattie said...

It all comes back.

unkmonk1 said...

Did you know that your own city's Black population has gone down since 1985, both in numbers and as a % of the population?

janinsanfran said...

Yes -- San Francisco is down to 3 percent Black these days. We've been driving out African Americans ever since "Urban Removal" trashed the Western Addition (1959-70) and the current round of gentrification is chasing out African Americans who remain. And a lot of other people who thought this was home too.

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