4.08.2009

Us Versus Them

I don't know why this stuff still gets to me. Almost four years later, you'd think I'd be over it. That I would have long since grown accustomed to the callousness, insensitivity, and downright meanness of some of my fellow Americans. But after seeing the ridiculous mid-west flooding versus Katrina comparisons begin anew, it still brings out the same reaction in me that it would have in 2005. It makes my head start buzzing and my heart start pounding. It makes me want to cry and punch something at the same time.

If you haven't already, please go read Scout Prime's excellent post on the false comparisons that are being drawn between the recent flooding in North Dakota and the flooding in New Orleans after Katrina. She says it much better than I can.

I talked with an old boyfriend on Facebook recently, for the first time in oh, about 20 years. After telling him that I'd lived in New Orleans for the past 10+ years, had gone through Katrina, etc., his response was interesting. He said he'd been one of those people that sat around in their living rooms, watching the coverage of Katrina, and commenting on what idiots we all were for living there in the first place, etc. He said that I was the first person he knew of that actually lived in the area and was affected by Katrina and that, to be quite honest, he felt like a bit of an asshole for his earlier analysis. His comments didn't offend me--at least he was honest about it.


But I still don't get it. Why are so many people so quick to judge, so quick to repeat stories that have long since been proven false (like the myth that people were firing at rescue workers after Katrina), so quick to feel smug in their own superiority and in their ability to choose to live in a place that hasn't been decimated--yet--by a natural disaster (or in New Orleans' case, a federal flood)? Does it really make you feel better to rationalize that people get what they deserve based on their geography? Did you wake up on Monday morning and, after hearing about the earthquake in Italy, immediately think, "well, that's what they get for not living in France"?

I just don't get it. And no offense to the people of the mid-west, but I'm just so tired of hearing about how gosh-darned earnest and hard-working you all are, how you set out each year to save your cities from devastating flooding. I'm glad y'all are invested in saving your homes. And I'm very glad that your efforts to prevent the flooding with a massive sandbagging effort have, on the whole, been pretty successful. But at the same time, I feel the slight--the (in most cases) unspoken comparison. See? They didn't need federal help. They didn't sit around waiting for someone to take care of things for them. They did it for themselves.

We weren't given the option. If someone had told the citizens of New Orleans that in five days, the Mississippi River was going to flood our homes, I'm guessing that a large majority of us would have done the same thing that the citizens of Fargo did. We would have set up massive sandbagging operations. But we were given about 36 hours' notice that our homes were in danger. We were also told that the levees would protect us. And by the way, that isn't what happened--the Mississippi River didn't cause flooding here. Storm surge didn't cause flooding here. The levees didn't overtop and cause flooding. The levees failed. The Category 3 protection we'd been promised by the Corps of Engineers was a lie, and the flooding of New Orleans was caused by a massive engineering failure. It was not a natural disaster in New Orleans.

Jesus, I just don't know. It just makes me so tired. Every time there's a chance of flooding in another region of the U.S., I can literally feel myself tense up, in anticipation of the comments and comparisons that will soon be thrown around by the armchair commentators.

It makes me tired and sad that so many people choose to lift themselves up by tearing others down.

1 comment:

Ruth said...

Thank you for posting. This is an excellent piece.