Sunday, June 3, 2007


There is a societal ‘brokenness’ which I perceive, had already existed in New Orleans and was exacerbated by Katrina. A ‘brokenness’ that seems to seek to disable or destroy; that seeks to overcome or wear down the spirit, strength, or resistance of; to cause to yield, esp. under pressure, torture, or the like.* The first type I have observed is the ‘brokenness’ of addiction, violence, chronic abuse, incest, prostitution, chronic poverty, blight, and the lack of quality educational and financial opportunities.

I have also witnessed in New Orleans a pervasive form of societal ‘brokenness’ that I believe is fostered by racism, and/or elitism through classicism, which I perceive seeks to dismiss or reduce in rank; to impair or weaken the power, effect, or intensity of* the once predominately Black New Orleanian population. Unfortunately for the most part, it does not seem like there is any real desire to ‘break’ the old paradigms on either side of this equation. Whether it is the people who ‘have’, who seek to keep the status quo or change the demographics through the buying up of properties and the owning of large chunks of available and now, not very affordable, rental housing; or those who cling to their anger at the injustices they perceive and self implode.

I see, in my daily travels and expereinces, the societal impediments created consciously or unconsciously, as a way of keeping the lower income earners (and poor) who seemed to be a majority of Black Americans, from returning to their city. I find evidence for this opinion in witnessing the keeping closed and not repairing the majority of affordable public housing units; well documented cases of bias and racism when it comes to affordable housing opportunities, jobs, stores, available health clinics, mental health services and other necessary basic needs such as buses to get to distant shopping areas for groceries and to get to work. Many of the schools are not opened in the lower income areas and hence the many Black American New Orleanians who once populated this city seem to be getting the message loud and clear - “YOU are not welcome back“. Ironically, I see banners hanging out of the beautiful, landscaped, gentille houses in the Garden District and the suburbs, calling for a “Rebirth of New Orleans” - a new - New Orleans. Consider if you will, reading - Welcome to New Orleans: future home of rich, white condo dwellers written in 2006 by Mark Oliver of The Guardian UK.

For the people who went through the ‘brokenness’ caused by Katrina to smash, split, or divide into parts violently; reduce to pieces or fragments*, many have been psychologically impacted from the stress of going through horrifying experiences of which I cannot begin to imagine. These same people are then asked by a nation, by communities with greater resources and the privileges then themselves - which come with the financial means to enhance their own ‘rebuilding’ process whether it be personal or of their homes "to act as if they are whole". They are asked to conceal or contain their ‘brokenness‘ without the help of community and societal structures that could help them heal, especially psychologically from the devastating effects Katrina and its aftermath has had on their lives. Many of the people who have become fractured*, as their lives have been destroyed or the regularity, uniformity, continuity, or arrangement of has been interrupted* - who are in essence, ‘broken’ are asked, often demanded, by the "fittest" of the society and community around them; to act as if they are whole, denigrated for not doing so as being weak, and accused of trying to take advantage (admittedly, some do so) of the “system". And the odd thing is, that the generation of 40 - 80+ year olds seem to do so (in public), sometimes I wonder if for some, it is out of societal conditioning - or even shame at having endured through so much, only to lose it all, and then be betrayed by your government and people who come in the name of "helping". I find that it is the younger generation, the angry, the disenfranchised, with many of their kin and friends behind bars or dead, who are unwilling to go along with societies demands that they follow the "act as if they are whole" script.

For those who have had their savings and rebuilding funds stolen from them, who continue to live in FEMA ‘travel trailers’ in devastated neighborhoods where almost 2 years later houses have not been gutted out, and others are mere shells lining their streets; the levels of betrayal and abuse before, during and after Katrina, have not caused a loss in their spirit and hope *, yet many have been severely impacted. For the people I have met in these circumstances, their ‘brokenness’ has put an end to; overcome; stop* their ability to trust in the goodness of their fellow human beings. For others, the suffering they have endured has caused a level of ‘brokenness’ that has brought about a collapse of health, strength, or spirit; breakdown* and death.



To enter by force*

More often than not, there is too much ‘breaking in’ going on with the abandoned houses, mostly people are stealing the copper and wiring. Making the suffering of the people that they steal from even more unendurable when they eventually return back to their homes and find the copper, wiring, door hinges, and handles, fireplace mantles, and anything that can be sold to recycling centers for money. Often sadly, homes are destroyed, to buy drugs and alcohol - the substances that make living in such devastation for some people, possible for one more weekend, one more day.


To separate; scatter.* (Families, marriages, friends, communities).
To put an end to; discontinue, to dissolve.* (Generations of communities, historical sites and homes - shared heritages).
To escape; flee* (From a beloved community, city, life - reality).


To sever relations with; separate from*

Life in the Black American communities of and around New Orleans was, for what I have learned through the stories of the people I have met who have lived all if not most of their lives here, was rich with culture, community, aliveness, family, love and laughter, pain and shared hardship. New Orleans is a city like no other, it offered for many, a life that was meaningful, deeply communal, and very hard. Religion and faith have played an important role in this society and faith is the core of strength that helps the people who endure daily living in atrocious conditions. Simultaneously, New Orleans offers opportunities for many forms of self indulgence to outright decadence. I have witnessed the flaunting of wealth and societal strata in self aggrandizement and self absorptive public behaviors in a city with so much suffering that I wonder at times if the “current occupants” I am encountering are really in their bodies or hearts. In my opinion, this blatant elitism seems to based on income and more often than not, race. And, I have found that this phenomena can occur more subtly ‘within’ the races.

What I have learned from the Black American (mostly senior citizens) about New Orleans, is that it was and is a community where people cared about each other. And I feel that this is at the root of many who are ‘dying’ to come back home. I have never encountered a community of such caring as I have had in New Orleans, which is why I write on this topic so often.

I read a front page article in the Times-Picayune recently about a homeless man who had recently died and how Katrina had had an impact upon his homelessness and death. And there was something about the fact that this newspaper put his story on the front page, and it continued inside with depth and insight, that spoke to me of a level of ‘caring’ for the community that it serves that I have not experienced in other places in the United States - especially for Black Americans. New Orleans seems to be trying, even in the face of elitism and racism, to continue to bring charity and care to its poorest of residents. Yet funding is diminishing or being misappropriated whilst the caseloads of those seeking help, are growing expediently.

It seems that before and after Katrina/Rita and the flooding, that in New Orleans, especially amongst the low income and the chronically poor, suffering was for many, a shared experience. Where God and faith was strong. And where violence, culture, music, and hardship were interwoven into the fabric of daily life. Most especially, for the people who lived in some of the public housing which had become unmanageable and neglected. For many, this ‘breaking with’ to depart from* their beloved homes and lives, in the end, has led to their deaths, it has killed them (many being in other states at the time, many others being here).

The ‘breaking with’ the rich spiritual and societal tradition of taking care of each other communally, witnessed by the mostly (but not all) Black American residents of New Orleans, the shocking lack of response to their suffering in the first days after the disaster of the nation and the government, I believe for all intents and purposes, continues to haunt the people whose lives were devastated by Katrina/Rita.


* Definitions of ’brokenness’ sourced from -

*For more on the Purification Process -

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