Quite a number of readers have emailed in on the “refugee” question. Some have noted that the proper term in the international relief community is “internally displaced person,” which is correct, but such a bureaucratic butchering of the langauge that I can’t bring myself to use it.
From TPM reader LB:
As a New Orleans resident I’d like to comment on two recent posts.
First of all, I second the ‘refugee’ label defense. Huge sections of the city still look like they have been bombed. If we get called refugees do we get a Marshall plan?
Secondly, I think your friend SC’s emphasis on effect of this on the underclass of the city is in danger of leading people away from a very important point. 80% of the city was destroyed. This includes huge sections of New Orleans East and Lakeview, home to middle/upper middle class families of all shapes, sizes and colors. Our tax base, if you want to be mercenary about it.
I drove through a few sections of Lakeview yesterday, for the first time in a long time, and they look much the same as the Lower Ninth. Recovery is spotty at best. Huge, huge areas are still utterly destroyed. The infrastructure is shattered. The ‘planning’ process would be a joke if it existed.
I point out these places for a couple of reasons:
1) if places like The East and Lakeview cannot recover, neither can the city;
2) These are the places that huge portions of the US would have recognized as looking/feeling/being exactly like the places they live. And I would like them all to understand that they, too are in danger. Hurricane/Earthquake/Terrorist Attack/Structural Failure of some dam – our government appears to have neither the ability nor the national will to help them if disaster strikes.
LB’s larger point here is a good one: the race and class issues manifested in the Katrina disaster (but omnipresent across the country) should not obscure the fact that the storm and the frightfully inept response to it has adversely affected people of all races, creeds, colors, and economic backgrounds. Maybe on a practical level (or cynical, take your pick), this point must be driven home to keep the public’s attention on the issue of disaster preparedness.
At the same time, it is critical, in my view, that we acknowledge and address the fact that the poor and black were disproportionately affected by the storm. The reasons for that are both simple (the storm hit a region heavily populated by African Americans) and complex (racial and socioeconomic prejudice).
The reality is that we are faced with two distinct yet interrelated problems. Fixing our disaster relief and preparedness systems will not address, let alone fix, our racial and economic problems.