Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Magic of a Hurricane

Two years ago, Hurricane Katrina changed the way that hundreds of thousands of people changed their lives. As the levees broke and the city flooded, it is shocking to learn that more than cars, trash, and personal knick-knacks have risen to the surface.

Today, The Los Angeles Times, a paper that has been brutalized by the savagely corporate practices of the Tribune Company, published an article about housing discrimination in New Orleans. Along with listing a lot of the more nefarious actions taken by parishes such as lowering the amount of low income housing available, the LA Times conducted an investigation and its results are quite shocking. These are a couple of stories that came from their investigation:

African American testers were offered fewer appointments to view units, according to housing advocates. In some instances, black testers were told applications were not being accepted, but hours later white testers were offered appointments to visit the same unit. In other cases, African American renters were told units would not be available anytime soon, but white testers were advised of immediate availability...

In one example, black and white testers responded to an advertisement for an apartment in Orleans Parish on Jan. 22. An agent told the black tester that only one unit was available, and not until the end of February. The black would-be renter was allowed to view the apartment only through a window.

Later that day, the same agent showed a white tester two units that would be available Feb. 1. That renter also was advised of another unit coming available March 1.
The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina has exposed us to a larger, less fleeting horror that pervades our country: the issue of racism. When I was in high school, my high school history teacher, or at least one of them, Mr. Glenn Whitman often used a quote from Studs Terkel: Race is America's Obsession. This is something that we have long known, but it always rattles around in my mind like the repetitive chanting of a parrot. Unfortunately, in New Orleans, this obsession became practice.

Black people, who were adversely affected by the hurricane, are struggling to get back on their feet. Not only are they not getting the assistance that they deserve from the federal government in terms of money to rebuild their homes or at least provide for themselves, Black people are also losing the right to get decent housing from landlords. If you are Black, this is not new as you have been discriminated against and are lying both to me and yourself if you think otherwise. But this is in a city that was "united" by a natural disaster. It is naive of me to think that a hurricane can wash away the racial issues of New Orleans. I hope that all of the people who travel to New Orleans to do humanitarian work really take stock in what's going on and help to do something about it because a situation like this should not stand.