Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Five years later...what have we learned?

Unless you are living off the grid, by now everyone is aware that various news and media outlets have been reflecting on the state of the Gulf region, in general, and New Orleans, in particular, five years after Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the levees.

And if there was ever a topic for a blog called "Mixed Race America," it's thinking about how race impacted the rescue and reconstruction and rebuilding efforts in this region. While there was much discussion five years ago at the images of white hurricane "victims salvaging" items versus images of "black looters" with similar items (and we're talking about groceries and diapers and other necessities being taken), we should not forget to keep scrutinizing the way that racial difference and institutional racism continue to play out in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, five years later. For an example of the not-so-subtle, read this New York Times article about African Americans who were terrorized and subject to violence by whites in the aftermath of Katrina.

For an example of subtle racism, this photo journalism piece in the New York Times (see below) made me think about the role of race in this white family when I saw the Confederate flag on the truck and in the living room of the first family.

Spike Lee's latest documentary on life in post-Katrina New Orleans, If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise (a follow-up from his first series, When The Levees Broke, has received a lot of positive reviews (see this one from George Alexander on The Huffington Post). For more, see this interview of Lee below:

Finally, a group that has not received wide media coverage during and in the aftermath of Katrina are the SouthEast Asian Americans living in the gulf region. Specifically, prior to Katrina, the voices of the Vietnamese Americans living in East New Orleans, a neighborhood that was literally off the map of New Orleans, found a political voice and learned to exercise their civil rights to contest a toxic waste dump that would have been built five miles from their neighborhood. The struggle of this community to fight for the rights of their community has been documented in the wonderful film A Village Called Versailles by director Leo Chiang, and you can see a brief clip below:

A Village Called Versailles is available through Amazon, either to rent or to purchase, and you can also read more about the making of the film here.

Clearly, the aftermath of Katrina and the breaking of the levees is one that will continue to impact not only those who live in the gulf region, but hopefully all of us, especially as we work to prevent the debacle of the BP Oil disaster from happening again. I suppose I should say that we should be learning the lessons from these disasters, natural and man-made--the jury is still out on whether we really WILL learn these lessons...

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