Thursday, 19 December 2013

When the Levees Broke


Despite the inordinate length of this documentary, there is not a second of padding here. Moreover, and unusually, the director’s commentary is actually worth listening to.

A documentary about the disaster of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans in 2005 exacerbated by the disastrously slow and unprioritized response of the various federal agencies - with the notable exception of the US Coast Guard. Looting took place not only for the usual materialist reasons but because food, water and medical aid was not forthcoming from the federal government. Looting that even the police took part in as often as they were trying to stop it.

This entire documentary is a searing indictment of the attitude of White America toward Blacks & poor Whites - whose lives count for less than affluent or wealthy Whites. Blacks trying to escape the carnage into White areas were forced at gunpoint to return. It becomes obvious that many White witnesses are desperately trying to conceal their White supremacy behind the shooting of looters; while the Black witnesses are not so surprised at the White response of not taking the storm as seriously as the situation demanded. Here, the White fear of Blacks manifests itself in trying to police the survivors rather than actually help them; using the National Guard as an occupying force rather than a relieving one.

How such a thing could happen in a rich country like the United States beggars the imagination but, when one considers that that wealth was built on the suffering of Blacks, perhaps that is not so surprising. When help finally came, its resemblance to a slave auction is palpable along with the claim that Blacks were “Refugees” (rather than “Evacuees”) as if they had suddenly become stateless in their own land. Along with the odd belief that Black lives were improved by a kind of act-of-god slum-clearance program called Katrina.

The sense here is that Blacks were deliberately allowed to drown by Whites because of an inadequate levee protection system and that dispersing Evacuees to other states was really a way of getting rid of Blacks from New Orleans. The lack of post-Katrina compensation only made things worse - the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is more of a disaster than the storm ever was. The bald-faced lies of the US president regarding Whites’ conventionalized fear of Blacks are summed-up best by Sean Penn: ‘This was America; this was today; and, this was a Third-World scene’. A national embarrassment and a national disgrace where Blacks are viewed as literally picayune by Whites who claim Blacks are natural-born looters, trespassers and that their predicament is their own fault, anyway. The difference between the BBC & CNN reporting was that the former focused on victims; the latter, on the physical destruction - as if there were no victims of consequence.

What impresses most is the desire of so many New Orleanais to rebuild what has been taken away from them both by the storm and the federal government. As well as the largely unshakeable humor of the residents.

Copyright © 2013 Frank TALKER. Permission granted to reproduce and distribute it in any format; provided that mention of the author’s Weblog ( is included: E-mail notification requested. All other rights reserved.
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