A few weeks ago, before the systematic failure of rescue and recovery efforts became evident, I was puzzling over human foolishness in the face of the incredible forces of nature. Shortly thereafter, the Katrina story became one of racism, cronyism, corruption, classism, and incredible bungling at every level of government. The media became part of the problems, even as they were exposing other problems. Innuendo, unsubstantiated rumors, and outright lies were reported and repeated, without witnesses, without facts, without confirmation. Invariably these lies and rumors depicted the poor and desperate of Louisiana and Mississippi as violent degenerates. For days, the media accepted the party line of the administration, until even the most jaded reporters were choking with outrage over the constant bungling, denial and spin, needless deaths and misery, and blatant racism and classism.

Another horrifying aspect of this was the classism evident in so much of America’s surly response to the misery of Katrina’s victims. It’s become wildly obvious that most americans only have sympathy for the impoverished of other countries. The poor lived in New Orleans because there was at least some work there, even if it was mostly feeding and entertaining the tourists who came for that genuine gumbo. Louisiana and Mississippi have a level of systemic poverty which has nothing to do with welfare mothers or lazy bums. There’s little work, lousy wages, lousy schools, corrupt government and law enforcement, bad health care, toxic waste, and rampant racism to blame. How easy it has been for our bigots to forget that the poor lived in the lowest parts of New Orleans because the wealthy lived in the highest parts. The least among us, those without cars to drive to safety, or cash to buy food and fuel, or credit cards to buy bus rides out of town, those turned back by armed men as they sought refuge on the high ground of white suburbs, are seen as scum by so many in this country. How shameful that every black carrying a burden was a ‘looter’, while whites were ‘scavengers’, in media representations.