Today Mayor Ray Nagin called for an evacuation of New Orleans, as category 5 hurricane Katrina threatens cover the Crescent City in water. Literally.
The city is about 7 feet below sea level. It is also bordered on both sides by water. Lake Ponchartrain sits to the north of the city, and the Mississippi River snakes around it, creating the crescent shape. In essence, New Orleans is a bowl. The city has never (in recorded history) been hit by a hurricane this powerful, and if the water breaks through the city’s levee system, it will be a bowl full of water. It may take 10-14 days to drain.
Why am I concerned? I lived in New Orleans for a year working as the Southern Regional Coordinator for
Critical Resistance, and I have a few people that live there that I have grown to love personally. I also know that the city’s Black population will be the hardest hit. Watching the evening news tonight, I saw that they have made the Superdome the emergency shelter for people unable to leave. They interviewed a few non-Black tourists, and then thousands of Black people, who couldn’t afford to leave the city, seeking shelter in the Superdome.
It’s easy for visitors to New Orleans to get caught up in the decadence, the French architecture, Creole cuisine, the the jazz and blues and zydeco, and the lessez-faire attitude towards all vices. But don’t let the smooth taste fool you. The legacy of slavery is ever present in New Orleans – the former slave-owning class still runs the affairs of the city and state. The former Creole/free Black population generally are emplyed in government gigs (the last three mayors have all been very light-skinned Black folks), and then there are poor Black people, who have few options. Black unemployment is around 50%. The economy solely reliant on tourism – which means lots of low-wage service industry gigs with no benefits, the drug trade (which means selling drugs or sex work are two of the few means of gainful employment for young poor Black folks), and high policing/imprisonment of Black communitites (a national issue, but I find is particularly intense in cities/states heavily reliant on tourism, one reason why LA, FL & CA have the highest rates of incarceration in the nation). Most Black folks got some kinda hustle goin’ on to survive. So if you can sing, dance, tap, read tarot cards or are a Voodoo priest or Priestess, you have a means to make a living in New Orleans. If not, God be with you. So I am concerned about New Orleans becuase in the short time I was there, I saw how hard it is to live there there if you’re Black and poor on a given day. With a natural disaster impending, more misery will be heaped on misery.
But given all that, I love Black New Orleanians!!! Despite all of the institutional racism and sexism that is the state of Louisiana, Black folks in New Orleans are very genuine, and not the sacchrine-sweet you typically get in the rest of the Deep South. I love New Orleanians, and pray for the safety of folks I know (Sharon, Shana, Brice, Tamika, KJ, Paul, Mel, Joey, Curtis, Jane, Courtney, Darrell, Ms. G, Althea, Pat and all the rest of y’all.), you made me feel at home while I was there. To the New Orleanians I don’t know – my prayers are with you all. May you make it through this hurricane safely!!!
Lookin forward to seein’ y’all soon!