Sunday, April 12, 2009

Broken Record?

On Friday, I posted what I thought to be a pretty innocuous link to really interesting looking online magazine that did a fairly expansive profile on Mayoral candidate James Perry. I posted it mostly because I thought the presentation was really interesting, the platform itself.

But a couple of people took a look at the content, which I thought to be mostly harmless and mostly accurate, and wrote some comments that really depressed me.

First and foremost, was an objection to a couple of sentences that a commenter flagged and discussed:


"They saw white ... leaders oppose the rebuilding of the most damaged parts of the city, which had been predominantly poor and African American."

Not true; monetary losses among the races were approximately equal, as has been established for some time. The poor were less able to return (because they were poor; it's a truism), not disproportionately damaged. What we have here is a repetition of the discredited TV Guide version of the history of Katrina: un-nuanced, misleading, and factually wrong.


This really ticked me off. It actually is true that African Americans perceived the BNOB green dot plan as an attempt to codify the closure of many predominantly poor and African American parts of the city. If you take a look at a map of the green dot plan, it's pretty hard not to deny that the plan was in fact attempting to shutter African American communities. In fact, the whole notion that neighborhoods would have to "prove" their "viability" before being granted the supposed privilege to rebuild is pretty indicative of the general attitude of the folks empowered to make decisions on everybody else's behalf.

That monetary losses amongst the races were equal may or may not be true, I don't know where that number comes from. But it's irrelevant either way because African Americans, as a result of decades and decades of personal and institutionalized racism, were systematically barred from accumulating the same kind of wealth as their white neighbors.

What percentage of those that died during the storm were African American? Was it 50/50?

No. Storm casualties were overwhelmingly African American.

Of the 150,000 residents that remain displaced from New Orleans, what percentage are African American? Is it 50/50?

No. Displaced New Orleanians are overwhelmingly African American.

The two sections of the city that sustained the most devastation, the Lower 9th Ward and New Orleans East, are those generally 50/50 communities?

No. They are overwhelmingly African American communities.

Were these communities also poor? Well they certainly weren't rich but I think a good argument could be made that they're mostly middle class communities. When you think of the types of jobs that middle class African Americans had access to over the last couple of decades, you think about nursing, education, and civil service bureaucracy. Well, after the storm, the major hospitals were kept closed, the entire public school teaching core was fired, and the civil service was cut in half.

Which community bore the brunt of those moves? Was it 50/50?

No. It was overwhelmingly the African American community of New Orleans that had to eat these damages.

And when you look at where the city is today, which neighborhoods are struggling the most and why?

Now that same commenter made a few more additional points that were more salient but I couldn't really read them to be honest. When someone denies the racial injustice of the storm and of rebuilding policy, listening further becomes difficult and meaningful conversation becomes almost impossible.

White New Orleanians simply cannot remain in denial about the racism in their midst if they hope to form positive coalitions for change with their African American neighbors.

That said, the same commenter went on to add significant nuance to his personal views after a regular anonymous commenter flagged them.

That same anonymous commenter chimes in often here at WCBF and I think generally makes too many flippant toxic points that conflate all white criticism of municipal corruption with every single racist policy ever created in the city of New Orleans.

This is also a totally counterproductive stance to take, one that erodes efforts to create coalitions around the plentiful common ground that exists between black and white in New Orleans.

I talk a lot about this coalition and this common ground. I don't think these are things that I'm just daydreaming about or romanticizing. Rather, it's real.

When white people recognize, amplify, and work to reverse the racism that exists in our midst, their critiques of certain corrupt African American municipal politicians become more credible and less susceptible to insidious arguments that the accusers are just being racist.

But on the flip side, when others say that all white people are racist, that all white people are responsible for the green dot plan, and that white people shouldn't call out the Mayor and others for corrupt practices, well that's also a non-starter when it comes to meaningful discussion of what we need to do to move forward.

Certainly this city's dynamics are much too complicated for any general discussion of race to be 100% accurate but I was quite shocked by the negative reaction to that article. I don't think it's wrong or inaccurate at all when writing an overview piece about the dynamics of recovery to generally couch the dynamics in terms a concerted effort to re-engineer the racial dynamics of the city through rebuilding policy or lack thereof. The problem comes when every white New Orleanian is put on that bus when in reality certain aspects of the African American power structure were way more complicit in this indecent recovery policy than some powerless white waitress or bartender.

Meanwhile, you have an article... and I know it was quite fluffy... but you have an article about a guy, James Perry, who has fought real institutionalized racism in recovery policy across the entire region, AND who has called out African American politicians for insidious defensive use of the race card to deflect from serious allegations of corruption, and all people did was complain.

That's flippin' pathetic. It ruined my weekend.

So I hope I was able to synthesize these thoughts in a manner that was reasonably civil. I really didn't feel like being polite.

21 comments:

DAMIAN said...

Look E, I'm sorry I depressed you, I wasn't trying to do that. Given the rest of your post, I think you were more "angry" than "depressed", which was also not my intent. I feel like I get misinterpreted a LOT around here, but for heaven's sake, it's not because I'm being vague or ambiguous. I have non-standard views. People have an annoying habit of reading the first sentence of my paragraphs and assuming they know the rest. You admit you did the same thing. I only ask that people take the time to read what I'm writing before lashing back. I'm quite amenable to admitting when I'm wrong, and I don't think my comments are ever abusive or worthy of anger. I'm pleased that you took the time to describe your disagreement at length; I'll try to show you the respect of answering in turn. I'll be truncating your comments below, but I'll be very careful to keep things in context.

"It actually is true that African Americans perceived the BNOB green dot plan as an attempt to codify the closure of many predominantly poor and African American parts of the city. If you take a look at a map of the green dot plan, it's pretty hard not to deny that the plan was in fact attempting to shutter African American communities."

I don't like being put in the position of defending a plan I haven't advocated for; that's a significant misreading of my original comment. Was the BNOBC plan an overt attempt to shutter black communities? I don't think it's as simple as that. The map you're talking about (see a version of it here: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/116/299543424_763d14204f.jpg) put green dots over Gentilly Woods and Broadmore, both very integrated communities. Should it have put a green dot over Lakeview? Obviously it should have, if it were to be scientifically consistent. Lakeview is much lower than the entire 9th Ward, as you can clearly see here: http://media.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/graphic/2005/08/29/GR2005082900046.jpg. Was Lakeview spared a green dot because it's white, or because it's tax-rich? Probably both. Again, I wasn't advocating for this plan; I'm not going to go out of my way to defend it.

"In fact, the whole notion that neighborhoods would have to "prove" their "viability" before being granted the supposed privilege to rebuild is pretty indicative of the general attitude of the folks empowered to make decisions on everybody else's behalf."

I thoroughly agree. As I said several times now, I don't support using eminent domain to prevent people from rebuilding on their land. I think I've been very clear about that. It isn't a "supposed privilege" to live on your land; it's a fundamental right. This is actually the third time I'm saying this (perhaps if people read my posts all the way through...).
"That monetary losses amongst the races were equal may or may not be true, I don't know where that number comes from. But it's irrelevant either way because African Americans, as a result of decades and decades of personal and institutionalized racism, were systematically barred from accumulating the same kind of wealth as their white neighbors."

That's a rather weak response. Let me distill the exchange here:
Flyp: The storm disproportionately affected the poor and black.
Damian: That's incorrect, the storm affected the races about equally; the poor were less able to deal with those effects because they lacked resources.
E: It doesn't matter who's right; they lacked resources because of institutional racism.

Well, ok, E, if you want to go in that direction with it, but Flyp was still wrong. They could have still made their point without inserting misleading or erroneous information.

Here are the facts, from the post-storm FEMA numbers:
"Certainly the storm struck the neighborhoods of many people of all backgrounds. If we examine the absolute numbers behind these percentages, we note that there were almost as many non- Hispanic whites as blacks in damaged areas (294,000 compared to 295,000), and the number of persons in these neighborhoods above the poverty line was much larger than the number of poor persons. This means that the suffering from the storm partly cut across racial and class lines. But the odds of living in a damaged area were clearly much greater for blacks, renters, and poor people. In these respects the most vulnerable residents turned out also to be at greatest risk. As will be discussed in the conclusion, poor and black people also have fewer resources for returning and rebuilding."

Thus: In absolute numbers, the number of white and black victims of Katrina in New Orleans was almost identical. In absolute terms, the number of people above the poverty line who were affected was "much larger" than the number of poor persons. Assuming that richer people had more property to damage (i.e. larger, more valuable houses), it seems reasonable to conclude that the monetary damages suffered by the rich were larger than those suffered by the poor. Of course, the poor, BEING poor, were less able to deal with their monetary losses. That was my explicit point. I wasn't arguing that the poor weren't hurt worse than the rich, in fact I said that was clearly true.

I was criticizing Flyp's repetition of the MYTH that Katrina somehow targeted New Orleans' black and poor people. In the sense that New Orleans is majority black, yes it did. In the sense that living in white neighborhoods offered you some protection, no it didn't. It obliterated St. Bernard and drowned Lakeview, the two whitest districts in the area. You can accept this truth while also observing that poor people are at greater risk because they lack resources to rebuild. It's not meant to be an jab at the poor.

"What percentage of those that died during the storm were African American? Was it 50/50? No. Storm casualties were overwhelmingly African American."

Only because blacks were in a statistical majority. From CBS News: "According to the 2000 census, whites make up 28 percent of the city's population, but the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals indicates that whites constitute 36.6 percent of the storm's fatalities in the city. African-Americans make up 67.25 percent of the population and 59.1 percent of the deceased." Whites were killed at a higher rate than blacks by the storm. The storm didn't target blacks.

"Of the 150,000 residents that remain displaced from New Orleans, what percentage are African American? Is it 50/50? No. Displaced New Orleanians are overwhelmingly African American."

Not as far as I can tell. According to Clancy Dubos this week, "On Jan. 1, 2006 — right after Katrina — the city’s electorate was 63.6 percent black. The latest monthly figures from the Secretary of State’s office now peg that figure at 62.3 percent". I linked to this post previously. It could be that some of these people are remaining on the electoral logs while living elsewhere. It's also no doubt true that thousands of white activists and other professionals have relocated to the city since the storm, inflating the white demographic here. It's tricky to tease out the comings and goings of thousands of people, but the truth is not as cut-and-dried as you assert.

Since the black racial percentage of the city has apparently only changed 1 percent since Katrina, it would appear that the displaced ARE in fact about 50/50 black and white. One difference is probably that more black people who WANT to return are UNABLE to do so. In larger numbers, the whites who left have probably done so as a conscious choice, because their greater wealth allowed them that luxury. Again, this is in no way a salute to whites or a jab at blacks, it's just the numbers. I'm glad there are people who want to return, black or white. I want to help them do so, sustainably. If you're getting your numbers somewhere else, please let me in on your sources. I'll admit if I'm wrong.

"The two sections of the city that sustained the most devastation, the Lower 9th Ward and New Orleans East, are those generally 50/50 communities? No. They are overwhelmingly African American communities."

The Lower 9th Ward took a hit above and beyond anything the rest of the city saw because 1) it was hit by a wall of moving water over a large area, and 2) it was flooded twice, because of Rita. I'll be the first to grant that the 9th Ward was royally screwed by hurricanes. But New Orleans East was not hit worse than Lakeview or St. Bernard, or Broadmoor or Hollygrove, for that matter. Singling those two communities out as if they were the ones worst-wrecked by Katrina is misleading.

"Were these communities also poor? Well they certainly weren't rich but I think a good argument could be made that they're mostly middle class communities. When you think of the types of jobs that middle class African Americans had access to over the last couple of decades, you think about nursing, education, and civil service bureaucracy. Well, after the storm, the major hospitals were kept closed, the entire public school teaching core was fired, and the civil service was cut in half. Which community bore the brunt of those moves? Was it 50/50? No. It was overwhelmingly the African American community of New Orleans that had to eat these damages."

I have no idea how to put together numbers to prove or disprove what you've written here. I DON'T think the majority of blacks in New Orleans worked in nursing, education, and civil service. Were more blacks employed in those fields than whites? Yes, but they also make up a bigger chunk of the city. Were they disproportionately impacted by the cuts you describe? That's a good guess, but I just don't know how to get numbers for that.

"And when you look at where the city is today, which neighborhoods are struggling the most and why?"

The poor ones. Why? Because the poor are always disproportionately affected by hardship.

"Now that same commenter made a few more additional points that were more salient but I couldn't really read them to be honest. When someone denies the racial injustice of the storm and of rebuilding policy, listening further becomes difficult and meaningful conversation becomes almost impossible."

I'm trying HARD to provide meaningful conversation. If you can't finish reading my posts, I don't know what you'd do when someone REALLY unreasonable challenges you. But I do hope you'll hear me out in the future before chastising me. As you can see, I read you line by line, even when I disagree with you.

I think the term "racial injustice" is widely misused. The drug war demonstrates true racial injustice, for example, because whites and non-whites use drugs at similar rates while non-whites are FAR more likely to arrested, charged, convicted, and imprisoned than whites. That's a great example of real racial injustice. It's sickening.

I freely grant (and never denied) there are/were strong elements of racial injustice in the rebuilding policy following the storm (Lakeview's lack of a green dot, for example). But Katrina herself did not discriminate. The numbers support me on this. You're accusing me of denying racial injustice in the storm AND rebuilding; you're wrong to conflate the two. I'm only doing the former.

"White New Orleanians simply cannot remain in denial about the racism in their midst if they hope to form positive coalitions for change with their African American neighbors."

We certainly agree here!

"That said, the same commenter went on to add significant nuance to his personal views after a regular anonymous commenter flagged them."

I think my views were nuanced before Anonymous chimed in, but that's just my opinion.

"That same anonymous commenter chimes in often here at WCBF and I think generally makes too many flippant toxic points that conflate all white criticism of municipal corruption with every single racist policy ever created in the city of New Orleans. This is also a totally counterproductive stance to take, one that erodes efforts to create coalitions around the plentiful common ground that exists between black and white in New Orleans.I talk a lot about this coalition and this common ground. I don't think these are things that I'm just daydreaming about or romanticizing. Rather, it's real."

I fully agree with you here as well.

"When white people recognize, amplify, and work to reverse the racism that exists in our midst, their critiques of certain corrupt African American municipal politicians become more credible and less susceptible to insidious arguments that the accusers are just being racist."

Absolutely true. This should be someone's mission statement. Seriously, amen.

"[skipping some more stuff I fully agree with]...I don't think it's wrong or inaccurate at all when writing an overview piece about the dynamics of recovery to generally couch the dynamics in terms a concerted effort to re-engineer the racial dynamics of the city through rebuilding policy or lack thereof. The problem comes when every white New Orleanian is put on that bus when in reality certain aspects of the African American power structure were way more complicit in this indecent recovery policy than some powerless white waitress or bartender."

Couching the recovery in terms of a concerted effort to re-engineer the racial dynamics is perfectly legitimate, in the subset of cases where that is occurring (see again the Nation article I liked to in a previous post). It is unhelpful to paint the recovery as "concerted race tinkering" in a broad sense. That is what I was criticizing in the Flyp piece. I was very specific.

"Meanwhile, you have an article... and I know it was quite fluffy... but you have an article about a guy, James Perry, who has fought real institutionalized racism in recovery policy across the entire region, AND who has called out African American politicians for insidious defensive use of the race card to deflect from serious allegations of corruption, and all people did was complain. That's flippin' pathetic. It ruined my weekend."

I never saw a reference in that article to Perry challenging people who toss the word "racist" about. Maybe I missed it in all the Flash animations. I admitted that I don't know too much about Perry, and I was very, very explicit that I was NOT criticizing him, I was criticizing the article. I'm sorry it ruined your weekend, but frankly, you're a blogger. You should be glad people are reading and discussing your posts. If one non-anonymous, non-hateful, non-abusive, and (at least at some point) nuanced comment is enough to ruin your weekend, you haven't been on the Internet for long enough.

"So I hope I was able to synthesize these thoughts in a manner that was reasonably civil. I really didn't feel like being polite."

I appreciate your taking the time to respond to me in full. I think you were perfectly civil, and I hope that I was as well. The ability to communicate politely even when one is not in the mood to do so is one of the chief advantages of writing, and I do appreciate your effort to remain level-headed. I certainly never felt any hostility toward you, and never meant to communicate any.

Cheers,
Damian

PS: Let me say for the record that I'm often going to espouse a view that has a vaguely republican taste. Given the strong combative political polarity of America, that whiff of the right-wing is going to tend to provoke a stiff response from people with a generally progressive background. It's just force of habit.

But I'm not a republican, and I don't at all consider myself right-wing on any but the narrowest economic questions. I urge you, E, and your readers, to look at what I'm actually saying, and not project on me something that Rush Limbaugh or some other idiot has said that had a similar tone or a related premise. You'll probably find that my views are consistent and rational, and, although perhaps bearing some conservative themes, are MUCH different than anything you'd hear from Rob Couhig or Bobby Jindal.

I'm tired of having to reply to arguments I didn't actually make, and didn't even suggest, and actually find abhorrent.

DAMIAN said...

PS: I hope it's not to late to salvage some of your ruined weekend.

Anonymous said...

To play devil's advocate: The Lower 9th Ward and Broadmoor (diverse racially and economically) had a history flooding that Lakeview did not. These two areas and parts of Old Metairie had posted higher National Flood Insurance Program claims than any others in the NOLA metro area before Katrina. Eastern NOLA had also flooded during Betsy, while Lakeview had not.

All the flooded areas would have been affected by the rebuilding moratoriums and such, suggested by both the Urban Land Inst. and BNOB plans (which were separately made, and by different people, with the viability thing coming up in the latter).

Francine said...

1. Just because some believe a plan had racist intentions does not make it so. The green dots were big dots. It was clearly an incomplete draft of a plan. We do not know the planners true intentions as we never saw a more refined version as the plan was swiftly rejected. Besides, you know those dots cover houses with both black and white inhabitants. It was an incredibly inflammatory plan and especially heated up the Broadmoor community.

You have a responsibility as a writer to not fuzz up the facts. The green dot plan was created by the ULI not the BNOB. And the BNOB was a mixed raced. So, pardon me, but it's really ridiculous to mark this group as having racist intentions.

"The Bring New Orleans Back Commission was established by Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans, Louisiana, after the flooding caused by a major civil engineering failure in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.[1] Aside from one Hispanic, the membership of the commission is half black and half white. For reference, and because race has been a contentious issue, the race of the members is indicated." (complete list of BNOB members on wikipedia)

2. Race has been made an issue by certain politicians, but is not a primary issue for most New Orleanians as we search for a new Mayor. A few weeks back I saw Mardi Gras Indians calling for the head of Ray Nagin. "Let's go get him!" They're angry too. Yes we CAN unify in our search for a new mayor. But continuing to bring up race is a smokescreen - a diversion from the very real and difficult work of planning the next phase of our recovery.

We need a Mayor capable of working for all of us and taking the hot seat when necessary. I saw that James Perry ad as an indication that he wants to play dog and pony race games. We can do better than that. And I believe we will.

Anonymous said...

To be fair: Yes, the original green dot map was a product of the ULI. However, the BNOB plan (put together by a Philadelphia PA firm that had frequently worked with the city) was not terribly different, despite the fact that the planning rep criticized the ULI map.

5 feet of water. said...

Sometimes a banana is just a banana, and sometimes engineering incompetence is just that too.

Conflating complex issues to make a point only serves to diminsh the experience of all who suffered through it.

E said...

I'm not going to devote a whole lot more time to this.

Intentions aside (and if you look a little more closely at the makeup of white folks on the BNOBC, one tends to be a little bit more suspicious), the resulting plan for the recovery released in January or 2006 disproportionately punished African American communities. That is racist policy. Period. Intentions don't matter.

Francine is correct that the green dot map was unspecific and the dots only referred only generally to the location of different areas that we would not rebuild. But I was really talking about the perception of that plan in the African American community. And again, if you'd look at the makeup of the BNOBC a little bit more closely, I don't think you'd be so quick to stick up for the intentions of the white panelists. And again, intentions don't really matter when you're evaluating policy. Though evaluating intentions does stir up the emotions...

The bottom line, though, is this: if white people continue to run from the racism inherent in recovery policy or otherwise continue to try to justify the racist consequences by offering supposedly benevolent intentions, we will never ever ever come together in ways that bring us the policy changes I think we all want to see...

That we're still even having this conversation 3 years later is pretty disturbing. We will not bridge gaps to the African American community if we continue to defend that shrink the footprint plan. We just won't.

Anonymous said...

Intentions don't matter but perception does? Huh? Actual results matter more than either over the long haul. But initially intentions and goals matter quite a bit. This is not philosophical nit-picking.

In any case, Broadmoor's reaction was easily the first big story, the first major reaction against the BNOB. And it didn't come from an area dominated by one race or class. So the perception you're talking about is a perception with nearly four years' hindsight. The neighborhoods now suffering the most are not places like Broadmoor, or even the section of NOLA East with the green dots over it, but poorer and blacker areas--some of them completely untouched by the ULI and BNOB maps. Move the hell on.

Clay said...

Here's the actual official numbers on Katrina:

http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov/offices/page.asp?ID=192&Detail=5248

It's closer to 50/50 than you think. When you factor in New Orleans was 70% black before the storm, it would be statistically valid to say whites had a higher per capita casualty rate due to the storm.

I don't buy into it from a race angle whatsoever, though. You look at the actual numbers and one thing jumps out at you: the elderly. Look at the insane percentage that's over the age of 61, with most being over the age of 75! A lot of little old ladies/gentlemen died in Lakeview/Lower 9th Ward/etc. That's the biggest story about the casualties that isn't discussed because it doesn't fit into a political lens as well as, say, race.

Anonymous said...

Another thing: Yes, not only intentions matter at the beginning of a policy's creation, so do the backgrounds of the people making the policy. But if only perceptions matter, then you're more or less arguing that the majority of Americans who thought (at least for the longest time) there were direct ties between Al Queda and Saddam Hussein and that he may have even been involved in 9/11. The backgrounds of the men and women involved in the Iraq war planning, however, clearly pointed to a strong pre-9/11 interest if not obsession with "regime change."

To be fair, meanwhile, the green dot map didn't originate with anyone on the BNOB executive board. It was presented to the board by the Urban Land Institute, who had been granted funds with the express purpose of assisting New Orleans in post-Katrina planning efforts. The ULI plan was in effect unsolicited.

Angelique said...

E, I hope your weekend wasn't so terrible in the end. I, for one reader's opinion, really appreciate Damian's well-reasoned, thoughtful responses (even if they are insanely long at times). He elevates the discussion to a level few others bother to reach.

In the end, both of your perspectives are pretty similar. When they differ, it provides for interesting reading and a rare chance for me to critically examine my own thoughts and opinions. Much of my philosophy about present day New Orleans has been shaped by reading the carefully constructed discourse between you, Damian, and others on this blog.

So, try not to get too bummed by Damian's arguments. It brightens my day to see a worthwhile exchange between insightful, concerned citizens of New Orleans.

DAMIAN said...

Yeah, I guess I should try to be more concise. Briefer from here on out!

me said...

OK, I took a name because all these anonymous folks are making Me confuse. I can remember me.

Another great post E. This debate is long overdue in the white activist community.

You are not alone in your opinions and more will come to your viewpoint as time progresses and the old arguments collapse under the weight of the truth. Those of us who oppose the old exclusive vision need to support each other because this is a dissenting viewpoint that morally challenges people--you are saying that something racist happened on our watch, and no one likes to hear that. We all make mistakes, especially when we have are selectively given information by the mainstream media. What is indefensible, is when we learn the truth and refuse to change.

It sounds like suggesting that the BNOBC land use plan was a device to make New Orleans whiter and more affluent is a new idea to everyone except Joe Canizaro and Jimmy Reiss who invented the idea and both have publicly expressed this as a goal.

James Reiss made it clear that the Dallas meeting was to plan a whiter and more affluent New Orleans (right, he used the code language "change the demographics" but in Newsweek he admitted that meant, in outcomes, fewer poor blacks). That meant he and his friends had to put in place policies that would prevent poor blacks from returning (like not a penny in the initial plan for repairing rentals when 70% of blacks rented--or when Reiss, as head of the RTA, proposed in 2006 to cut off all busses to the 9th ward and the East--at least he is consistent). Why would he lie to the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek? I suggest you downloaded the land use plan (original version) and turn to the budge page: you will see that it allocates billions for buyouts and demolitions--not a penny for rebuilding in the flooded areas. The "120 planning process" was a cruel joke.

The phrase "reducing the footprint" was never used the first month after Katrina because the real goal was reducing poor black people. Only after the white planners realized how racist this sounded did they hit on the new "geographic" language: now their new goal was to protect all those poor black folks by eliminating flooded neighborhoods--(and spare a greenspace for Lakeview which is further below sea level than the lower 9th!), which, surprise, surprise, would coincidentally result in demolishing the black community.

The "footprint" debate was just a new code for the "demographic" debate which was just code for exporting the poor.

So Nagin, who was Reiss's hireling at the time, appointed the BNOBC to realize this plan. No one who worked on the commission committees would pretend they were a democracy--Bollinger proposed what he wanted despite the majority--including keeping his precious MRGO. And that black people appointed the BNOBC or were on it does not mean that the outcomes could not be racist. Civli Rights icon James Meredith supported David Duke in 1990. Some blacks fought for the confederacy--so slavery was not racist? The United Nations defines racism as outcomes, not intent: if the outcomes of the BNOBC plan were racially discriminatory, then the plan was racist.

So Nagin changed his mind after weathering a storm of protest from the black community. Had the Times-Picayune got their election ticket (Forman and a majority white council) there would be no black community today.

There is no "nuance" to the historical truth of the aftermath of Katrina. It was a monstrous violation of black rights and any attempt to portray it otherwise is an apology for racism. Until white people acknowledge this truth, there will be no trust or reconciliation--and I, for one, don't want to live in a city where people hate me because they think I never wanted them back.

E said...

What's most disturbing to me is not the debate over the intentions of the BNOBC it's that there's an argument about the overall disproportionate impact of the storm on the African American community. It's not that there's not nuance, it's that on balance, the big picture is damn near indisputable. Nothing will ever get better unless we all agree to this stipulation.

I think that we can agree that there's significant nuance but I'd really like to know how many people really truly dispute the big picture conclusion.

Damian said...

E, I don't dispute that the overall ongoing effect on "the black community" has been larger, in New Orleans, than on the "white community". After all, 1) New Orleans was and is predominantly black, 2) there was a higher rate of poverty amongst the city's black population, 3) there were and are racist policies at the national, state, and local level that make life more difficult for black people (#1 on the list is the drug war, which has obliterated black families all across America; nothing else even comes close).

I don't think your statement is controversial at all.

Note that I'm talking about the recovery, not the storm itself. As I've said before, and I showed statistics, the storm did not discriminate by race. If a few things had gone a bit differently, Katrina could have flooded Metairie and left New Orleans practically untouched... would we then be calling Katrina a racist storm for targeting white people? Anyway, the breaks were about even.

I think we're having a fundamentally different conversation now than the one about the Flyp article that precipitated this discussion. It was the blanket, zero-sum, "New Orleans is defined by a racial struggle" assertions that I objected to.

If you want to break down effect on the various New Orleans communities, 4 years on, that's a useful thing to talk about. But I warn you, trying to break New Orleans into a "white" community and a "black" community (for the purposes of seeing who's "winning") is going to be a miserable failure. I'm not accusing you of doing that, but you seem to want to look at things "in balance", and that's where sloppiness and mistakes happen.

In my opinion, you'd be better served (and create more useful discussion) by talking about how specific policies do/have/will affect specific neighborhoods or populations, not by trying to prove that blacks are "suffering more overall". This isn't because I'm afraid of talking about racism, and isn't because I'm trying to deny that racism exists or is a problem. It's because those kind of shoehorning generalizations lead to factual errors and sloppy thinking. I think I've already shown that some of your beliefs about post-Katrina demographics and storm damage were in error. Greater specificity is the best remedy against error, and it's also more productive.

E said...

I'm just trying to find a starting point...

lil'oya said...

Eli, for a starting point in response to shifting the conversation to how specific policies affect specific groups, how about teach for america? what are the current racial implications of forcibly removing all of our middle class black educators and administrators, undermining what stability and wealth they had accumulated over time (a dynamic which did not comparably systematically affect white people)? Now, TFA has recruited young white people from across the country to replace our black teachers who are constantly maligned as the worst people in the world, which they are not. There were some bad but most did the best they could in a broken system every day. The white leadership didn't know them well enough to know who was who and they fired everybody. Now these TFA recruits, they come here having great intentions but it doesn't take them long to realize they are being used. Great if they stay, more white people, (but they probably won't continue teaching)but if they leave, no problem, more money to TFA for training, etc.

I hear of these weird interactions with the kids and the teachers. Many say the teachers are rejected/resented by the students and/or the administrations. The teachers are burnt out, financially and emotionally exhausted. I am hearing of strains all over the place.

Now recently I was told that TFA had shifted its recruitment to local colleges, specifically the white schools. I heard that Dillard, Xavier, & SUNO were excluded. Can you find out if they are systematically changing the racial demographic of educators & administrators in New Orleans?

Why aren't we growing our own home crop of educators through all of our schools?

If they wanted to improve the lives of people in situ instead of just getting rid of the people (they think of poor black people as disposable) they could have done extensive trainings with the old staff in education, discipline, and professionalism, then found the problems and weeded them out. then we would have much more of our black middle class recovered in their Gentilly homes.

Instead we have out of town white twenty somethings with minimal-to-no education and classrooom management training or experience thrown in (without adequate supplies) to an overcrowded room of at-risk black kids. but hey, the new teachers keep frenchmen street busy.

Why are all these monies going through non-profits tied to BNOB interests? Is what's happening in education in fact policy implementation of the BNOB "change the demographic" agenda?

jeffrey said...

As I read these threads, I have a lot of trouble figuring out just what E and Damian think they actually disagree about. If anything, maybe just the phrasing of things?

They both seem to be in agreement that the politics and policy of rebuilding (not limited to but certainly including the BNOB plan) has been loaded with racist and (more importantly in my mind) classist obstacles to recovery for those most in need of help.

In arguing this case, E appears to cede too much territory to the simplistic national media falsehood that "black" neighborhoods were physically more vulnerable to and received more damage from the flood than did "white" neighborhoods. It's a falsehood that demands debunking and I don't need to add anything to the facts already presented in this thread but I, for one, am glad to see that Damian has been so thorough.

The point remains, though, that the process of recovery has been laced with social and economic and yes, very much so, racial injustice. I'm usually happy to agree with E's well-articulated criticisms along those lines.

But Damian's points are spot-on and necessary to consider because they remind us that the flood affected everybody which, I would hope, implies to people that we can't consider ourselves "recovered" unless everybody is allowed to recover. Maybe that's a "starting point". I don't know.

Oh and FWIW I thought the Flyp thing was kind of weak.

Anonymous said...

The person who gave the initial funding for the ULI plan was, for the record, one Albert Ratner of Cleveland OH. He decline an honorarium for some ULI award, then raised additional funds for NOLa planning. I checked donation records, and he's given to GOP as well as Dem. candidates and PACs, but on balance gave more to Dems.

In any case, here's a totally different NOLA blogger's take on what ultimately came about from the green dot map. It's as if came from a different country, so far removed is it from the discussion taking place here.

The green dot thing was clearly disastrous from a political standpoint. The nefarious would-be urban machine clearly didn't have machine-like power, didn't have credibility or influence with people on the ground or with a good cross-section of NOLA residents and lower-level civic leaders. From any vantage point, it was a policy failure.

To a large degree, the blog post linked here comes off to me as foreign too, but ... Well, the idea that blacks had been forced to lower-lying areas is pretty much true, right? The problem is that no serious options to living in heavily flooded areas were ever discussed, nor were property rights taken seriously (as in, we'll pay you for the land, provide affordable housing elsewhere).

Anonymous said...

When did UNO become a "white school?" Have you been on campus much? Just askin'.

me said...

The "totally different blogger" was based on an inaccurate report by the New York Times. Perhaps Canizaro told someone that he was abandoning his demolition plan out of frustration, but the plan released 1-11-2006 was the plan to demolish the black community.

I question the argument that Katrina was "color" blind in the sense that it affected blacks and whites the same. First, as a previous blogger points out, blacks were disprortionatley living in low areas because elevation costs more. When blacks first had an opportunity to buy where they pleased (1968 Fair housing Act) virtually all the above-sea level land was taken (the sliver along the river). They migrated first to the 9th ward and then their children to the East. All the studies showed that if you were black you were much more likely to have suffered severe flooding. So Katrina potentiated pre-existing racism--and the data indicate that color made a difference in who was most likely to be impacted by Katrina.

Second, whites had distinct advantages because of family networks and previous discrimination in housing and employment. The average extended black family found itself dispersed around the country: grandma had lived in the ninth ward; their middle class chilren in the East. In contrast, whites in flooded areas had relatives on how ground where they had purchased homes when blacks could not. Within a week after the flood, my block uptown had at least three families who had been flooded and were loaned homes or sharing homes. Because they did not have to leave, they held onto their jobs and began rebuilding their homes immediately. In contrast, blacks returning to New Orleans had no relatives to stay with as they attmepted to put their lives together; indeed, they were not allowed to stay overnight in the East even in gutted homes (the Vietnamese community for some reason had a special dispensation). In addition, resources and wealth affected how the storm impacted people. One poll showed that the majority of blacks who were in the shelters had no savings, though 2/3 were employed.

Bottom line is that because of racism past and present, any natural disaster will have a differential impact on African Americans in general and the poor specifically. This is important to acknowledge because it is not just a question of who suffered more (and some suffered tremedously) but that the recovery policies that were based on "common suffering" or "we were all in the same boat" failed to recognize that some groups had special needs if they were to return. One example is that renters suffered much more than home owners: they were not ensured a place to return; they were not compensated for contents of their homes, and most important, neither the BNOBC or the LRA allocated a penny in their initial plans to rebuild rental housing--while 70% of blacks rented. The rental policy was either just plain old racism to make sure the city was majority white and more affluent, or it was a byproduct of the notion of "common suffering"--that we all experienced Katrina the same way.

Of course Katrina was color blind--but the implication that its effects were race and class neutral is mistaken. Disasters potentiate old inequalities. We were not "all in the same boat" as Clancy Dubos once wrote: some of us were in the boat, some were clinging to the side, and some were adrift in the sea. By not addressing the inequalities during the recovery, we created racial distrust and anger. The first step to reconciliation of blacks and whites is acknowledging how Katrina affected us in different ways--and second that no one tried to prevent whites from returning, but there was a broad movement to prevent blacks from returning. One glance at the BNOBC map will tell you that virtually all black neighborhoods--rich and poor, were slated for demolition. While all the plan's targets were not black, all blacks were targets. That's an important difference