Thursday, September 01, 2005

Parody and reality in New Orleans?

There is an old parity headline describing the seemingly disproportionate attention given to women and minorities by the mainstream media when a disaster happens: End of the World Happens, Women and Minorities Suffer Most.

And that does encapsulate both a certain outlook that the media has (take the angle that shows the poor and downtrodden's problems), and mocks the worst instincts of the media to take a tragedy that affects many people (of all types) equally but concentrate only on its pet causes. Both James Taranto and much of The Corner have mocked some

In New Orleans, however, there is something different happening: the parody approaches reality.

Look at the news coverage from the man-on-the-scene reports and what do you see? Black faces everywhere, white faces rarely. Why? Jack Shafer, Slate's perspicacious media critic, notes that 67% of New Orleans' population is black, and no place has been hit worse than New Orleans.

Much of that population is itself Creole blacks who have been in New Orleans for hundreds of years. The New Orleans black community is still largely poor and uneducated. This is a result of rampant racism (that often continues to this day -- as one Monkish interracial family member, MonkCuzN, knows from personal experience), political corruption and entrenchment of an underclass in the city over the course of centuries. And of course there's the usual white flight in the 60s and 70s when the white folks moved to the suburbs.

New Orleans is also an OLD city, unlike most of the major southern/southwestern metropoli (Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte, Jacksonville, Phoenix; Miami is not "southern" in the same sense I describe below). That means a number of things: first it is more tightly constructed and not spread out thereby choking in the flooded water; second, it is easier to get around than the sprawling mini-states like Houston or Atlanta or Jacksonville so there will be higher incidence of people who do not have cars; third, it is not a job destination like Dallas, Houston or Atlanta, instead New Orleans has a history of malignant municipal corruption that has deterred higher-end commercial development in comparison to some of its neighbors.

Thus, the people hurt worst in the Katrina-levee fiasco is the group that has deep roots, little money, few possessions and probably fewer means of rebuilding after the hurricane and the levee break. That's why they stayed, and why they were the hardest hit. As Shafer notes, it's not racist to say this, it's reality.

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