Race And Class In Katrina's Aftermath

"There's an impression that the only people who suffered in New Orleans were poor people or black people, and honestly that's just a media misconception. Everywhere in New Orleans suffered. You saw pictures of the lower 9th ward flooded and destroyed and that's just an easier story to tell. I mean in any kind of disaster poor people are going to suffer more because they can't replace what they lost, it's more difficult for them. One of the first levees to break, the first or the second, were up by Lakeview, you know one of the richest areas of New Orleans and they got six feet of water. I just want to move away from the idea that this is only a poor person's disaster. You can say that while most of the black people were forced to go to the Superdome or the Convention Center, that's true, but remember that it didn't get really bad in those places until that point after the storm when no one came to get them. You know it was obvious that the city needed to be completely emptied and nothing happened afterwards. If Katrina wasn't as bad as it was and the government hadn't failed in the aftermath it would have been less of a story.

You say that the storm kind of revealed problems of race and class in the country, and to people in New Orleans that's kind of strange to say because New Orleans has always been so obvious. In places like San Diego, I think is a good example, you could drive through the city all day and never see anything but good middle class houses. Pristine, completely in order estates, not even houses, you know it's perfect it's middle class, it's very well crafted. You don't see the housing projects, in New Orleans that's not it. New Orleans is a very honest city. Now whether that's because of it's past because it was established by pirates and thieves and thugs and prostitutes or just because the city has always been led by incompetent leaders whichever. But you drive to New Orleans and it's very obvious that you're in a predominately poor city not a very well off city. Even when you're in a rich area, that's pretty apparent. Everything's so meshed together. So it's just a misconception that's always bothered me."

PAUL BRATHWAITE

Executive Director, Congressional Black Caucus

It did highlight the disparities, the gaps between rich and poor, or middle class and rich in America. It also demonstrated the high level of poverty in several areas, or several Southern areas that were affected by the hurricane.

Since last year, since the President gave his speech in New Orleans in September of last year and made a commitment to focus on these "pockets of poverty", I believe that's what he called it, it did not get the sustainability that it needed from the top leaders in our country, the President and the Congress. And that could even extend to our governors around the country, but it really starts with our President because he has the bully pulpit.

A lot of things were illuminated, not much has been done. We need to reinvigorate those efforts.

Members of Congress, I'm going to be self-serving, members of our Caucus, Congressman Mel Watt from North Carolina, Barbara Lee from California and others have called for, both nationally and internationally, a commitment by our government to address poverty in our country in a set amount of time.

There are also organizations like PolicyLink, it's an organization out in California that has taken it upon itself to try to identify best practices.

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