Race And Class In Katrina's Aftermath

At the local level I do think there has been progress. For all the ugliness of some of the ways of racial thinking and racism manifested itself in the immediate aftermath of the storm. Here on the ground I think a lot of groups within the city have been thrown together and stirred together in the giant blender that was Katrina in ways that have actually contributed to understanding across barriers of race and class.

There is very little leadership here on the ground and that's the sad truth of it which has resulted in a stalling out of the recovery effort in a lot of different ways. The progress is made at the grass roots level as neighborhood organizations come together, as neighbors come together, as issues are addressed collectively by people here on the ground perhaps in the absence of municipal leadership we've been seeing an invigorated neighborhood leadership.

I think the flip side of the progress at the grass roots level is the sometimes foolish rhetoric that we hear from of the mayor, of from federal leadership where there's race bating in attempts to pander racially to different groups. We had an election unfortunately in the middle of our recovery effort which resulted in the usual follies that one can expect from politicians. The Nagin "Chocolate City" speech was generally regretted and apologized for by the mayor but that was really only the most absurd manifestation of the kind of racial pandering and race bating that has occurred here from on high.

Race is a problem that has bedeviled life in the United States and in the South for hundreds of years. I don't pretend to have a quick and easy prescription for eliminating it from our discourse and from our decision making. I think it requires vigilance and intelligence of people t simply expose themselves to the reality, the human reality, of city life and to be vigilant about the copout that is represented by stereotypical thinking and racism. The failure of imagination, we've seen a failure of initiative at the federal level in terms of responding to the crisis that was Katrina. We need to work on those problems by a failure of imagination in which we see all of ourselves as human beings confronting an enormous municipal challenge.

ROMUALDO GONZALEZ

Immigration Attorney in New Orleans

I saw this morning on one of the television stations, the focus was on the black and white race division. The first thing that came to mind was I'm sorry they're leaving out the Brown. There seems to be such a touchy factor that nobody wants to touch it, like it's nonexistent at the moment. I think it's going to become very acute, because there is the injection of a complete new migration into this area, which I'm specifically referring to the workers that have come here to participate in the rebuilding of New Orleans. It has brought a complete new complexion to this already serious problem by injecting a whole new class into the gumbo. It's frightening that nobody wants to face it. On the one side you have people who say we need these workers to come in, but they don't want to say that publicly.

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