Friday, December 01, 2006

Booknote: Come Hell or High Water

Title: Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster
Author: Michael Eric Dyson
Publication Information: Cambridge, MA: Basic Civitas, 2006
ISBN: 0-465-04761-4
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Current affairs
258 pages, including notes and the index

This was a short book that I found hard to read because the more I read, the more angry I got at the government's incompetence and flat-out negligence during Katrina's passing. To be honest, I have avoided reading books related to Katrina, but I finally decided to pick this one up after one of our students was interested in it for a class assignment. Dyson looks at the hurricane through the lens of racial relations and poverty in the United States. The main theme of the book is that there was a storm brewing in New Orleans, and it was happening long before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Dyson looks at the politics, the levees, leadership (or rather the lack of any), FEMA, the profiteers, and even the role of faith and religion. In the end, a huge group of American citizens were neglected and abandoned by the leadership of their nation, and this book provides a very strong indictment. To support the indictment, Dyson cites a variety of sources, which are documented in the notes to the book.

There are various passages in this book worth thinking about. Here is a small selection:

  • "Race and class are two of the most salient social issues that the administration had failed to come to grips with. Katrina blew their cover-- and if we're honest, it blew our cover, too. We will remain imperiled if we postpone grappling with the lethal effects of race and class in our society. As horrifying as the actual events were, almost more disturbing was what Katrina revealed about the way the nation still thinks and feels about black people--whether in the media or in the culture more broadly. Ironically, this may also be the most opportune time in a while for the black elite to confront its own bigotry toward the poor and do something to help their plight" (138).
Dyson does not excuse anyone. From the administration to society to the black elites. He takes the time not only to indict but to explain how some of the attitudes and feelings come about. He also reminds us that it was not just blacks who suffered, a fact that was pretty much left out of most media coverage.

  • "But one of the untold stories of Katrina is how the hurricane impacted racial and ethnic minorities other than blacks. For instance, nearly 40,000 Mexican citizens who lived (mostly in trailers) and worked in New Orleans were displaced. Altogether, nearly 145,000 Mexicans in the entire Gulf Coast region were scattered by Katrina. Latinos make up 3 percent of Louisiana's population, 124,222 people of the state's 4,515,770 residents. Many Latinos who live in the South are foreign born and are undocumented laborers on farms or in hotels, restaurants, and other service industry jobs" (142).
This is definitely a book to read and a book that should encourage discussion.

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