Sunday, March 2, 2008

New Orleans: First Impressions

Entering a city that you've never been in before is always something a little surreal and a little frightening. There's so much history that you've not been privy to. You feel like the intruder, the obnoxious tourist, and I feel somehow even more presumptuous in my presence here. I am here to help. I don't really know what I will be doing quite yet--painting, shoveling, hammering, whatever. But I feel so strange being in this place that I've never been to before and presuming that I can help in some way. Which, I suppose I can. I didn't come here for anything else. I mean, this is New Orleans, but I didn't come here for the night-life or for the partying or for the coffee. I came here because I'm tired of our royally fucked government, FEMA, photo-ops for Bush cronies, poor people being given the shaft repeatedly, black people being given the underfunded schools and neighborhoods, and then when something like Katrina happens, essentially blaming them for living where they do and neglecting them in their hour of need.

That's the sticky thing about all this that upsets me racially charged the situation was and is and the way that no one will actually say that it had anything to do with race. It's one thing to say that the Bush administration is incompetent--that, I feel, is obvious at this point. It's another thing to say that the government doesn't give a damn about certain groups within the American demographic. I mean, I think the general consensus is that if you're poor, a minority, a woman, or just a free-thinker, the government has nothing for you. If you happen to be a businessman, a parvenu, a team-player, you might just make it.

But then we were talking about New Orleans and my first impressions weren't we? Coming into the city at night was appropriate since I know nothing about this place. We've gone over the culture and literature of the Creoles in my French classes, but studying about it and knowing what it really is are two different things. And I try never to assume anything. The more I learn the less I know. But coming here, in the dark, seeing debris STILL piled up on the side of the road waiting to be picked up, seeing the FEMA trailers in people's backyards, knowing at least part of the history of the event and what it means in a social context, was like walking into a cave without a flashlight. It's a little eerie, and I feel like I should have come here sooner, helped earlier, spoken out a little louder when I heard people talking about it lightly. But then, here I am, now.

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