Race And Class In Katrina's Aftermath

Race and class is an age old problem everywhere, as well as in New Orleans, and at the moment I think this is more about rebuilding the city and finding the proper ways to house people, get people back, get those people back to then throw them into the working environment. Some of the difficulty here in running a business is there are so many employees needed and they can't come back because they have no place to live whether they are rich or poor, white or black, it affects everybody. So it's really, to me, it's really about where people can live and where they can go to school and all the infrastructure types of things that need to be rebuilt, decided on and rebuilt and then people will return. It has stalled. There is a small amount of rebuilding going on, but it has stalled and it needs to start up.

DR. NORMAN C. FRANCIS President Xavier University of Louisiana

Katrina and the aftermath of the last year have, I believe, given some people pause – especially socially conscious majority Americans – that when somebody says race and color still matter, they will say 'you may be dead right about that.'

A lot of people who had become comfortable thinking we had made significant progress in race relations were taken aback, because they felt that America had solved the major problems of racial disparities. They were shocked to discover the depth of poverty and helplessness. They had seen the statistics, but had never seen them in human terms. They saw those Katrina pictures, they saw how many of those faces were African-American, looking for help and needing it and waiting for it to happen.

In this last year we've seen an opportunity to have a clear discussion without code words, without the accusations of racism, on both sides, that often stop these kinds of productive conversations in their tracks. Then you can look at the facts and see what we should do to make a difference in improving the quality of life for all Americans.

I can't say what percentage of people have been enlightened, though. I still see people who aren't willing to have those honest discussions, both white and black. I had a cab driver tell me he thinks the levees were bombed. I could only say, 'I hope you don't believe that.' We as African-Americans don't help ourselves by believing that sort of thing, because then we ignore what the real problems are.

What the last year has highlighted is, hopefully, a greater understanding of what some of us have been saying all along: disparities are still out there, and we cannot live under the belief that race doesn't matter. It does. Let's get on with the business of saying, 'where does it matter, and where can we address and close those disparities?"

SCOTT COWEN President Tulane University

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