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August 29th, 2011: Six Years

Today’s New Orleans Times Picayune

A new Army Corps of Engineers rating system for the nation’s levees is about to deliver a near-failing grade to New Orleans area dikes, despite the internationally acclaimed $10 billion effort to rebuild the system in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, corps officials have confirmed.

As Ray drove us through Fontainebleau and Gert Town on our way to Xavier University this Saturday, he marveled out loud at how great that part of town looks now. I replied, “Compared with what it looked like even two to three years after the storm!”

Many who live in New Orleans and those just visiting remark on how much the city is getting fixed. From Pistolette, a native of St. Bernard Parish who now lives Uptown, “We know what our problems are, and we’re on the path to fixing them with an enthusiasm that didn’t exist here before. The trick now is to keep up the momentum, and never return to the apathy of before.” Athenae, who last visited from Chicago in 2007, remarks, “I kept asking people if it sounded terrible to talk about how wonderful things looked to me.”

Dare I say it. Dare any of us even think it.

If the city that so many insistent, audacious and spirited people returned to and worked so hard to salvage over the last six years and all of the precious new hope on top of it were to be submerged in the floodwaters of the next Category 5 surge that these crap levees may not be able to hold back. If. What if?

That’s what you get for being a poor, black, gay, southern city built one million miles below sea level, right? Dead wrong.

… I like to think the challenges New Orleans faces are emblematic of the nation as whole — indeed, of the human race at this moment in history. Crumbling infrastructure, dysfunctional government, environmental degradation, social inequities, you name it … We’re only reflecting and encapsulating the future we all share.

Let me say something about being an American, about this finely-honed, missile-precise national identity that I am still very proud to have earned: Neither can you pick and choose when you are and when you’re not American, nor are you allowed to exclude folks from Americanship when it’s suddenly convenient to you. If you’re in, you’re in. If you’re not, that’s your problem, but don’t make it mine or those of my friends who live in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast. As a woman who happens to have brown skin, a former resident of Kuwait and New Orleans and a current resident of drought-stricken Texas, I have seen and experienced way too much Othering and it’s getting old. I am especially sick of it because when I read news from around the country, I don’t categorize it by geography, race and economics, but under Oh Shit More Stuff For Us To Fix, Our Latest Headache and/or National Challenge.

Our. Us. We. We don’t all have to be in this together, but if you’ve chosen America like I have, we are and we have work to do.

4 comments… add one
  • Blair August 29, 2011, 8:41 PM

    I’m on your team. Tell me where – tell me when and I’ll do whatever I can.

  • Dave Clary August 29, 2011, 10:32 PM

    Excellent post. I’m a New Orleans native also enduring the drought down the road in Corpus Christi. My wife, however, is from Thailand, and she reflects the same attitude as you. It must be a common theme among those that choose to live here, and appreciate what we have, and what we have to lose.

  • just jon August 29, 2011, 11:33 PM

    Harry Shearer (who has more than a few things to say about the Corps..) noted on his program this week the odd lack of criticism of all of those people living in such dangerous places on the East coast who had to be evacuated and/or endured destruction from Irene..

    Something to think about.

  • 3Suns August 30, 2011, 8:12 PM

    Outstanding post and great quote from b.rox. Thanks for the heads-up!

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