In Mississippi, during and after the storm, there was no electricity and therefore no media reporting what may or may not be going on in New Orleans. At the time it was frustrating, because what reports were filtering down by word of mouth seemed confusing and contradictory. Now, after three weeks of watching the news off and on, I miss those days of innocence. Back then, when people talked about the response of the government and the media being influenced by race, I felt pretty strongly that it wasn't just race--it was more than anything about class. People with money have no sense of what it is like to not have any: how limiting it is and, frankly, how it is possible to be working full time and still living in poverty.
My perception has been altered in recent days. First, by entering the crime forum at nola.com, where I encountered a mostly hostile collection of white men concerned about their Corvettes being stolen by...those people. When I posted a few thoughts that didn't fall in line with theirs--suggesting, for example, that not all criminals are black--they immediately assumed I was African American and began hurling insults at me. When I mentioned that I had to borrow money to evacuate, they continued, telling me that I was exactly the kind of person they needed to get rid of. When I identified myself as a school teacher, they told me I was what was wrong with the public school system and that I must have snorted my paycheck. The level of ignorance displayed by these self-identified proper New Orleanians sickened me. It made me not want to go back. Of course, they existed before the storm--I just never encountered them directly, in part because if we had met face to face they would have realized I was white--and therefore, absurdly, withheld the comments and ire they targeted me with onliine. But online, they were able to judge me based on just a few facts: my neighbhorhood and my income. The conclusions they drew show just how unfamiliar they are with their city, and the fact that it is possible to work hard and still have an empty bank account at the end of the week.
But in many ways they are no different than the mainstream media--or perhaps they are the product of it. If you read The New York Times, you will discover neighborhood distinctions that don't actually exist in the real New Orleans: North Bywater, Riverside, etc. only exist on the maps they have drawn to illustrate the points they want to make about flooding and demographics. The truth is that while race, racism and poverty are widespread in the city, none of it is so easily portrayed on a map. In fact, the map of New York City is far more distinct in the lines drawn between rich and poor, black and white.
But most appalling of all was the news today in the Times Picayune, which reports that the widespread rape and murder reported during and after the flood was completely fabricated--by frantic citizens, rapid reporters and, I think, particularly bloggers, some of whom wrote as if they were eyewitnesses to these crimes even as they blogged away from some safe haven. Remember the seven year old girl who was discovered with her throat slashed? Fiction, apparently, as are most of the other deaths reported at the Superdome and the convention center. The gangs of thugs raping and terrorizing children after the lights went out--again, no confirmations at all from anyone who was actually there. In fact, the homicide rate during and after the hurricane was exactly the same as it was before, which is admittedly too high, but still, the theory that packing poor, mostly African American people together inspired rampant crime is a myth that too many people--including me, apparently--were willing to buy.