Katrina: The Rich Folks’ Opportunity and Our Dismal Failure

August 29, 2005 is, to borrow President Franklin Roosevelt’s characterization of Pearl Harbor, “a day that will live in infamy.” But the aggression that brought a great Black city low was, unlike the Japanese attack of 1941, wholly home-grown, an obscene, riotous, racist assault on the Black presence in the United States, gleefully joined by virtually the entire business class, their think tanks, and the civil servants they put in office, Democrat and Republican.

Even before the waters inundating New Orleans ebbed, the jubilation among the ruling class erupted in barely veiled celebration of nature-initiated “urban renewal” – erasing the homes and neighborhoods of hundreds of thousands of “problem people.”  What any decent person would see as a disaster, the racist ruling cabal viewed as a godsend. Within days of the deluge, corporate media were promulgating plans for a “new” New Orleans, one without a Black majority. The Louisiana Democratic Party – white-led but incapable of electoral existence without the Black voters who make up the majority of their ranks – proved as hostile to restoring the exiles of New Orleans as their Republican comrades. The fundamental contradictions of American racism, in which white folks cut off their own noses to spite Black faces, was acted out in dramatic, shameless theater.


It soon became clear that national policy was to prevent the return of the New Orleans Diaspora, while directing the $100-plus billion dollars in federal “aid” to the region into the favored coffers of the Halliburton and Bechtel corporations – the same profiteers that got over like mad dogs in Iraq “reconstruction.” A gangster regime revealed itself, on both foreign and domestic shores.


The “liberal” line on Katrina is that it showed the abject “incompetence” of the Bush administration. That’s the same analysis they bring to Iraq, which is described as a saga of fumbles and misjudgments by stupid people – rather than a premeditated crime that did not succeed. Barack Obama’s opposition to the war is that it is a “dumb” war – not that it is bestial, immoral, and a violation of international law. In the same mind frame, critics of the administration’s handling of the Katrina catastrophe pretend that stupidity reigned, rather than the patently evident plan to empty New Orleans of most of its Black population, permanently. Hit the road, Jack, and don’t you come back.


The entirety of the last two years of federal and state actions in New Orleans has proven that the business class – the people who run this country – have a plan for a revitalized, “new” America, in which there will be no Black majority cities. Katrina was, for them, heaven-sent, “Negro-removal” on a massive and near-instantaneous scale. The other mostly Black cities will be emptied of the “problem people” by the attrition of gentrification, as capital invades. But the result will be the same – unless we resist.


Our resistance has been stymied by a moribund and selfish Black misleadership class that is incapable of confronting capital. They like it too much. But they cling to power, promising that they can talk business out of its clear intention of yet again reshaping the nation to our detriment. Katrina showed that Black dispersal is the central goal of white capital, as they seek to “reconstruct” an America to their liking.


Yet Katrina is also the touchstone experience of a whole generation of Black and non-Black people. They will never be the same, again. The venality of the business class, and the impotence of the Black misleadership class, has been amply revealed, and the youth will bear witness to the catastrophe, and the culprits, for the rest of their lives. Late-stage capitalism, which is raw theft and brigandage, showed its face while thousands drowned. Nothing can wipe out the crime. We are compelled by the gravity of the event that we call Katrina to rethink the Black Struggle, an unfinished project that people like Barack Obama want us to believe has already met its goals. Katrina proves otherwise. African Americans are the unwanted element of American society, as we have always been. The enemy has not changed, so why should we? He is not “race-neutral” – so why do we concoct, as Obama does, race-neutral arguments for social change? The enemy knows damn well who he wants to get the hell out of Dodge, or New Orleans, or Baltimore, or Newark.


Racism showed its ass in the days after August 29, 2005. Nothing has changed. Never forget. Organize, with eyes wide open.


BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be reached at






Leave a comment