The Naked Truth/Jamala Rogers
Demand Equal Opportunity
As Hurricane Florence hammers the Carolinas, I can’t help but think about how this country uses a race and class lens even on issues like disaster relief.
Every year, the names of 9/11 victims are read aloud, one by one, so that their precious lives are remembered. While the nation rightfully honored those who
perished on September 11, little attention was paid to the watery graves of the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Katrina. The 13th anniversary of Katrina barely got a blip in
the news. A year out from Hurricane Maria, the lives of Puerto Ricans are still turned upside down with full recovery nowhere in sight. Katrina and Maria victims
deserve the same reverence. And now, we have Florence.
World renown chef José Andres called out the U.S. government’s insensitive response to Hurricane Maria. Andres took initiative and his culinary skills and organized
getting food to people in the aftermath of one of the worst natural disaster in the island’s history. He righteously questioned the concept of “emergency” in the Federal
Emergency Management Agency. Thirteen years out from Hurricane Katrina, it appears that there’s little change in FEMA’s effectiveness when it comes to Black and
President George W. Bush patted then-FEMA head, Michael D. Brown, on the back for a great job during the Katrina un-recovery efforts. Williams Brock Long was
appointed to head FEMA by trump who declared he was doing a “fabulous” job in the Puerto Rican un-recovery. I’m thinking if you look at both these president’s racist
policies towards Black and Brown people in general, then you can conclude that Brown and Long were doing a great job of following policy.
The levees broke in New Orleans based upon governmental negligence. Unconfirmed reports state that approximately 1,800 people died directly or indirectly
because of Katrina. The storm’s damage was estimated at $125 billion. One million people were displaced. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated
that about $1 billion of the FEMA payouts were fraudulent. Translation to me is that the hustlers who knew the system were the beneficiaries and the others who didn’
t have the hook-up were taken through miles of red tape. Most never received the funds needed to rebuild. The population of New Orleans was cut in half with many
residents never able to return.
Puerto Rico is a colonized island of the U.S. and has no political representation in Congress. A step-state fighting for self-determination. Like Katrina in Puerto Rico,
the death toll was under-estimated. We now know the death count is way more than the original count of 64; it’s closer to 5,000. After a year, the island still doesn’t
have complete power. There are food shortages and other services are not at capacity. The estimated cost of full recovery is set at $140 billion, but Congress has
only approved $5 billion in aid.
The World Trade buildings are a distant memory. The only way to remember them now is
through photographs. In the place of tons of rubble and human carnage has emerged the
tallest building in the country at 104 stories —1 World Trade Center. There’s also a memorial
and a museum over 16 acres. The whole project — delayed for years due to infighting — cost
about $4 billion, double the original estimate. But who cares? It’s for a worthy cause.
In rural Pennsylvania, a new structure now sits on the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93. It’
s called Tower of Voices, a memorial for the 40 passengers who lost their lives on
September 11. There will be 40 chimes on the monument to memorialize their silenced
Florence is not finished with her devastation. The toll death is mounting as is the cost of the
damage. Hurricane season is not over. Neither is climate change.
These are our tax dollars being squandered and unaccounted for. Billions are going into the
coffers of cronies who are getting (no bid) contracts to do work that is barely getting done or
not getting done at all. The people who are supposed to benefit aren’t in much of a position
to advocate for themselves because they are in survival mode, so we need to step up and
hold our government accountable.
We must fight for meaningful relief of those still living. We must advocate for humble
remembrances of the Black and Brown lives tragically lost in disasters, whether man-made
or natural. We must be intentional about whose lives get imprinted on the conscience of the
nation. Unfortunately, that’s how we measure worth.
The grand piano of Fats Domino was almost a casualty of Hurricane Katrina. The piano was
literally dismantled piece by piece to be cleaned of mold and debris. It was restored to its
original and historic status because somebodies thought it was worth it.
The same passion and serious attention to detail must be applied to the restoration of
human lives and their communities. A life is worth more than a piano — even one owned by