Katrina: My Mystery

Recently, the country recognized the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. It was a storm widely recognized as one of the most devastating storms in the history of the United States. Over the years, I’ve listened to friends from New Orleans (and surrounding areas) speak about their experiences and those of their family members. I remember my friend Ashley saying that her family members heard the levees being intentionally blown up so that certain parts of the city (where mostly black people lived) would be flooded instead of other parts of the city (where white people lived). I’d heard tales of people having to be rescued from their rooftops as they fled the rising waters. I remember seeing images of the Super Dome, looking battered and ragged, and I remember seeing on TV the thousands of people cramped inside seeking shelter. I remember people being hurt and killed. I remember people being outraged at the slow response of the federal government. I remember how this whole debacle began to hinge on race and class. But it wasn’t until this anniversary, as I was listening to Michael Smith and Jemele Hill talk on the His & Hers podcast on ESPN radio, that I realized that I don’t remember my outrage. I don’t remember my concern for the people of New Orleans. I don’t remember any of this meaning anything to me.

At the time of Katrina, I was entrenched in my fourth year of college. I had just pledged the semester before, and we were planning the annual Miss Black & Gold Pageant. I was busy with schoolwork and retaking some classes that I may or may not have fallen asleep in during the previous semester due to aforementioned alleged activities that may or may not have taken place that Spring. I was preoccupied. But that’s no excuse.

Maybe it’s due to an innocence about this country that I lost during the Trayvon Martin ordeal (or Mike Brown or Tamir Rice or John Crawford or Sean Bell or…). But as I hear stories now, I realize that Trayvon should not have been when I lost my innocence; it should have been Katrina. I feel an emptiness now where I know that outrage should have been. I missed it.

So I’ve taken it upon myself to learn as much as I can. I’ll start doing that by reading The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley. I’m not sure what my goal is. All I know is that I feel empty knowing that I wasn’t outraged at the time. And I feel like I wasn’t outraged at the time because I could not fathom the magnitude of this disaster, nor could I really grasp its real cost. I mean, I got that it would cost a lot economically to rebuild the city and clean it up, but I had never thought about the family histories lost in pictures and heirlooms. I had never thought about the true desperation that people must have felt as they did all they could just to survive. On top of that, I couldn’t ever imagine that any group of people in the United States could stand in the face of the federal government and have their needs ignored…

I don’t know, I need to know more. Beyond what I could hear on CNN. I need to hear more real stories from real people. And I’ll start with Douglas Brinkley. Maybe I’ll write about everything I learn when I’m done, but I won’t promise you that. Time will tell.

-Erik (@WalkSays)

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Erik Walker

Erik is black.

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