Hurricane Katrina: The Day that Uncle Sam Died

Hurricane Katrina: The Day that Uncle Sam Died August 31, 2015

For all my bluster of critical scholar this and critical scholar that, I am a pretty normal American. The Star-Spangled Banner always moves me to tears; I watch the Olympics with a red,white, and blue bias; and not so long ago,  I believed in the fundamental strength of my government to take care of its people in a time of trouble.

Even 9/11 didn’t dent my childlike belief in Uncle Sam. Yeah, I knew we had our problems, I wasn’t that blind. I knew that racism was real and income inequality was growing but I still believed. I believed in the fundamental goodness of our public servants to care for all of us. I believed in the America that sang songs about teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony and whose neighbors drove Chevy trucks to help out a stranger in need. I believed that when the chips were down and all else failed, I believed in the safety net bought and paid for by my ancestors’ blood, my parents’ service as enlisted and civilian servants of our Navy, and my tax dollars.

I believed that the military complex that we had invested in so heavily would be utilized to save me and my fellow citizens should the need arise. I believed that urban planners, city managers, and civil defense planners understood the scope of every kind of disaster and had contingency plans for any event. I believed that the corporate tax loops and capital gains relief under the Bush Administration was only offered because our infrastructure was strong. I believed that our coordination between Federal, State, and Local governments was so solid that it didn’t matter that our telecommunication or transporation grids hadn’t had a major overhaul in years. Like a kindergartner believing in the tooth fairy, I believed that the same Army Corp of Engineers that built the Panama Canal and the Manhattan Project had taken great care with the levees that surrounded the Crescent City and would never engage in what some in engineering call the greatest design failure in history.

I never thought I would see the poor and indigent, who had no transportation or means of escape left to rot because the city was better at planning for a BCS championship than for the needs of those who sought shelter from the storm. Like an absolute idiot I believed that regardless of the systemic racism that haunts all American cities, I would never see my people dying in the streets for the lack of water and food or waving from the top of roofs for rescue. I believed I would never see my elders left in wheelchairs with blankets over them on the side of the road, their bodies in the sweltering heat without benefit of prayer or liturgy. I never believed that the largest factor between living or dying from Katrina was the color of your skin. Yet US News and World Report in their report this week took my last shred of innocence by point out that  “The victims of the storm were often black and skewed older. In Orleans Parish, where 70 percent of the victims counted in the study died, the mortality rate for black adults was 1.7 times to 4 times higher than the mortality rate for white adults.” (http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2015/08/28/no-one-knows-how-many-people-died-in-katrina).

August 29, 2005 was the first time, I wept openly and bitterly for my childhood dreams and hopes. I wept for those drowning as they clawed at their attics. I wept for those who were left in a gumbo of sweat and dehydration in the Superdome. I wept for the elders and the children who couldn’t navigate the waters as they rushed in. I wept for my friend David who lost his home, his dissertation, and his job as the waters roared through Xavier University. I wept for my Uncle Billy who lost his home of more than 25 years. And I wept for my Uncle Sam, who had made so many promises but showed me in the end, I was on my own.

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