Hurricane Katrina

We must be mindful in assessing a "crisis" solely as "emotional turmoil." As good ol' Webster states, "crisis," is the point in a story or drama when a conflict reaches its highest tension and must be resolved--either through improvement or deterioration. That is, its irreversible change. In ancient Greek lexicon, it was invoked to signify a "turning point" with regards to disease. As such, 'crisis' can be seen as a crucible or a black box of sorts. Whatever its realization, it permanently alters and emits new understandings, new realities from the sum of its input.

It is within this context that we turn towards the media-dubbed crisis, Hurricane Katrina, and in our usage of "crisis" as a reference point, will demonstrate that far from being a crisis, Katrina is on a fast-track to become another unfortunate (and preventable) incident for the Africana world. Much of the bungling of Hurricane Katrina can be found in its reporting.

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, media pundits tumbled over one another to report horrific stories intended to shock the nation. These ranged from brutal child rapes to countless acts of barbaric violence. The veracity of these accounts have since been challenged, and for the most part, proven false. To be sure, the hysteria generated by the media was likely calculated to direct attention to the situation. Nonetheless, their inability to garner support otherwise is telling of the misguided 'philanthropy' which ensued.

While the country has rushed to alleviate the immediate conditions of those in need, the larger factors that made the situation possible are never addressed. As Cornel West astutely observed shortly after Katrina struck, "New Orleans was a third world long before the hurricane." Adolph Reed concurs, stating that "what happened in New Orleans is the culmination of twenty-five years of disparagement of any idea of public responsibility--led by the right but as part of a bipartisan consensus--to reduce government’s function to enhancing plunder by corporations and the wealthy and punishing everyone else." This method of reporting finds precedent in former situations such as slavery, colonialism, and the recent genocides that wracked (and are wracking) the African continent.

Appealing more to emotional bases presumes that the larger state apparatus is perfectly healthy and the “situation” is an anomaly. Consequently, there has been scant mention of the observations of West, Reed, and a host of others. Yet, it is precisely this type of investigation that would aid in preventing this type of occurrence in the future. In other words, one needs to go beyond the search for culprits or mere explanations of how it happened. In its stead, energies should be focused on establishing the proper institutions and mechanisms that can prevent it from occurring elsewhere.

As one historian remarked with regard to the Rwandan genocide, "Was it necessary for the Rwandan genocide to occur in order to begin asking which lessons could be drawn?" Meaning simply, were the horrors of slavery and colonialism, the indiscriminate violence and heinous crimes of inhumane proportions that characterized each, really, not lesson enough? Similarly, New Orleans' murder rate prior to the storm was spectacularly chilling, social services such as health care and education were faintly existent, and yet it barely registered as a blip on the country’s moral radar.

Thus, the very irony of Hurricane Katrina could be found in its projection as a cause celebre. In this light it shouldn’t be surprising that the very mechanisms put into place to ensure American dominance of Iraq are being reproduced in the Gulf Region. The framing of Iraq, even amongst many anti-war circles, never reached its proper framing as one of "humanitarian crisis." Political scientist Michael Dawson illustrated this in an article entitled, "Blacks, Whites Live in Different Moral Universes." In the article, he examines the moral codes of blacks and whites that steered movements appearing similar in appearance but were radically different in its understanding of the situation.

Blacks, he contends, were anti-war (in Iraq) because of the human atrocities being inflicted upon human beings. White anti-war groups’ criticisms were oriented towards the realization that America could not win the war (the oft-repeated statement that Bush didn’t send enough troops) and not that the invasion of sovereign territory itself, or the killing of innocent human beings, was ethically wrong. Similar postures of the latter were taken with regards to the Vietnam War, invasion of Grenada, Haitian occupation, and so forth.

We can thus see that when core issues which emphasize standards of universal human conduct are swept under the rug, history is invited to repeat itself. Consequently we can see parallels in New Orleans. Soon after Katrina’s gushing winds had settled, charities, corporations, and the rarely mentioned private security firms, began to heavily dot the region.

The private security firms represented contingents’ fresh from battle in Iraq (Blackwater) and military duty in Israel (Instinctive Shooting International). Lest we mention the local paramilitary groups that sprouted up to defend the "sovereign integrity" of their neighborhoods from 'looters' (read: niggers). This has made for remarkable cohabitations. Key land developers and wealthy elites who have always abhorred the presence of deigned feral blacks have hired these mercenaries to conduct the unpleasant work of rooting out and forcibly removing those who don’t (and, because of their very existence, can’t) share their vision of a new corporate state.

Nation columnist Naomi Klein provides some insight: "One of the images that really stuck in my mind is the conversion of a huge Wal-Mart into a military base in downtown New Orleans. They call it, "Camp Wal-Mart." For those surprised at this corroboration of government and corporations, one needs only to read Klein’s April 14 article in "The Nation" on "Disaster Capitalism."

Interestingly enough, this article came in the wake of last year’s tsunami, a topic that has been curiously stamped "closed" in the public’s imagination. Suffice to say, there exists clear red tape that can be traced between the two events. That we are now confronted with the reality of a Katrina Diaspora should come as no surprise.

For those who recall the atrocious handling of the Mississippi Floods of 1927, where Black prisoners were forced to act as human levees to quell flooding and black residents were herded into refugee camps, Katrina should reek of parallels. It should also surprise no one that media reporters are being accorded more deference for their orchestrated rescues, while those who braved uncertainty, find themselves in new, strange lands with little to no money in reserve, forge ahead, determined to make way for their families.

They’re now invisible and attempts to focus on their plight only annoy folk who want to move to the next story/situation. Even the outrage over their social designation as "refugees" misses the point; for what is a refugee but one who is shorn of state protection. So, as predictable, Hurricane Katrina has faded into obscurity. Its coverage on the news endured as long as ratings were up and folks were feeling cheerfully charitable.

Whether it’ll achieve the designation of a "crisis" is as much a result of this generation as it is historical circumstance. Certainly, if it is to be so, it must be sui generis. As of now, it merely merits a place in the unfortunate, stark reminders, of our precarious and vulnerable position in this country.

{ exclusive feature}
by Melvin Barrolle (The Liberator Magazine 4.5 #13)

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