I wrote this last year, the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Revisiting this again, on the anniversary of the Storm, now eleven years later, and as the gap between rich and poor, white and black in the city continues to widen:
“Remembering Hurricane Katrina is a black intellectual history project. The disparate impact of the storm on the city’s black population makes remembering, documenting, and narrating the history of that moment an incredible responsibility. According to City Lab, “compared to 2000, about 100,000 fewer African Americans and 9,000 fewer whites live in New Orleans.” While the black population was decreasing before 2005, these numbers (including the racial disparity between) result almost entirely from the continuing impact of the storm. Many black New Orleanians were displaced, many of those displaced never returned, and many who remained or returned continue to choose to leave because of the changes happening around the city (high rents and affordable housing being the latest battle being waged by community groups and activists around a city which demolished the majority of its public housing units after 2005).
“But New Orleans is also a deeply American city, one whose history often sings a canary’s song over what will unfold for people of African descent in this country, the Caribbean basin, and around the world. The Danzinger Bridge shootings didn’t foretell present-day police violence against black people in this country. That kind of violence has always been, but the unprovoked and willful shooting and wounding of four, murder of two New Orleans residents attempting to cross out of floodwaters and to safety using the bridge previewed the use of deadly force against black people as a matter of course by local and national law enforcement. Turning the clock back, Homer Plessy, the Slaughterhouse Cases, Les Cenelles (the first anthology of creole poetry by people of African descent to be published in the United States), the labor and leadership of spiritual workers like Marie Laveau and Henriette Delille, the 1811 slave revolt (the largest slave revolt to occur on U.S. soil), the frequency and agility of slaves who managed to escape into freedom, all of these mark the shape and tenor of black intellectual thought nurtured to bursting in an iconic city.
“New Orleans black community has given birth to and influenced black intellectual traditions since its founding. What questions, then, do historians, scholars, and interested individuals need to ask about a moment like Hurricane Katrina in light of this past and our present?”