Sunday, May 28, 2006

They just don't get it!

There are three types of people outside of Louisiana: those who want to hear all of our stories about Katrina; those who don't want to hear any of them; and those who think they already know them without hearing a word.

I encountered a guy from the third category the other day at my new gym here in San Diego.

My conversation with the retired engineer started cordially, with discussion of well-publicized engineering failures of the last decade. But things soured as we turned to Katrina, the levee failures and the future of New Orleans and the rest of south Louisiana.

He blamed the poorly constructed levees on Mayor Nagin and Gov. Blanco. I had to explain that the levees are designed and constructed by the federal government.

He blamed all of the deaths from the storm and flood on locals. I had to explain that the federal government failed to deliver any meaningful help to the city for three days after the storm hit.

He said people shouldn't be allowed to repopulate New Orleans because of predictions of increasingly active hurricane seasons. I asked if the same standard would be applied to California's coastal cities because of seismic activity.

He completely dismissed the value of Louisiana: "It's not as though we get anything from Louisiana. The state hasn't been relevant to the nation's economy for years." I explained that Louisiana still is a major source of energy (fourth-largest oil-producing state and fifth-largest gas-producing state); home to two of the nation's biggest ports; the second-largest commercial seafood producing state; and a continuing major contributor to the nation's musical, culinary and literary heritage.

But his worst was yet to come.

He asked me where I stayed during my evacuation (in a spare room at the home of my sister and her husband in Baton Rouge), and whether my company compensate me for living expenses (it did.)

"So you made out pretty well then," he said, cocking his head slightly and squinting his eyes as though he had just uncovered my dirty little secret to use the ruse of the hurricane to line my pockets. He didn't say it, but I knew what was going through his mind: I was just another one of those Katrina deadbeats ripping off U.S. taxpayers.

The conversation might have been more shocking if it weren't for the fact that I've encountered idential viewpoints practically everywhere I've traveled outside of the South since Katrina.

This is part of the challenge still facing Louisiana.

Those of us who are part of the hurricane diaspora can help beat down lies and misconceptions about our native state by continuing to tell our stories even to those who are blinded by bigotry.


Ken said...

Keith, as you well know my heart will always reside in New Orleans no matter where my job takes me. You can rest assured there are many of us who have to listen to seemingly intelligent people talk about something they know nothing about, nor have any idea what people had to go through to survive this disaster. My only hope and prayer is that they never have to live through a similar event.

Anonymous said...

Any chance the word "asshole" tripped off your tongue? Probably not and I appreciate the self restraint it took.

BarefootCajun said...

What a jackass! Did you tell him that rather than lining your pockets with that money, you were funneling some of it to me to help with housing expenses since my husband was unemployed at the time you were living there?

You know, I encountered a woman online the other day who was adimant in her belief that New Orleans should not be rebuild because it was below sea level. It took all I had to answer her with factual reasons rather than just calling her out as being ignorant.

No one anywhere is immune from natural disasters. There is no where to run and no where to hide. We prepare as best we can and deal with it as it comes. If we experience destruction, we rebuild. It is the cycle of life.