I used the word

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I used the word “refugees” in an earlier post to describe those who were dispaced by Katrina. TPM Reader DW objects:

That word is insulting to the American citizens who fled their homes to seek safety. I understand that it is technically the correct word, but it carries negative connotation. I also know that your intention is not to be pejorative. But still…

I am aware of that concern, which was raised frequently in the weeks following Katrina. The “negative connotation” that DW and others refer to is that “refugee” suggests second-class citizenship. In so far as many of those displaced by the storm were poor and African American, the specter of enjoying something less than full citizenship is very real.

But, as DW concedes, “refugees” is technically correct. No other word as succinctly and dramatically conveys the plight of those forced out of their homes by Katrina. The word should not be insulting to those to whom it is applied. Rather, the continued refugee status of many storm victims a year later should be an affront to all Americans.

Commenting on Katrina recovery Saturday in his weekly radio address, the President sounded as if he were reading from one of his Iraq speeches by mistake: “We will stay until the job is done.” Well, it’s not as if the federal government can hightail it out of Louisiana or Mississippi. Where would it go exactly?

The further implication of the President’s remarks is that the federal government was not present before Katrina struck, an absurd and offensive suggestion. New Orleans would not have existed as a modern city if not for the Army Corps of Engineers. The President would have us believe that the federal government came to the rescue after this natural disaster, albeit a bit late. In fact, the Corps and decades of federal flood control policy played a pivotal role in what was a manmade disaster in New Orleans–the failure of the levee system. (No one has done a better job of banging this drum than Harry Shearer, the actor, comedian, author, media critic, and sometime journalist.)

The New York Times published a fascinating graphic this past week showing, based on change of address forms submitted to the U.S. Postal Service, where Katrina evacuees have re-settled. Places like Baton Rouge, Houston, and Atlanta have borne the brunt of the exodus, but, as the NYT graphic shows, the impact has been felt in communities large and small from coast to coast.

Some of these former Gulf Coast residents will settle permanently elsewhere, but many are merely waiting for the right time to return, like TPM Reader PP, who checked in with TPM today:

Just moved back into my house in the Broadmoor section of NOLA last week after a year of exile. I’ve spent this morning scrubbing off the bathtub ring around my house – hot but immensely satisfying work.

No shame in that.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

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