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The second Gulf disaster

Elinor Tatum | 4/12/2011, 5:29 p.m.

Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the United States nearly five years ago.

At least 1,836 people lost their lives, making Katrina the deadliest hurricane to hit the U.S. since the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane.

Hurricane Katrina is the largest natural disaster in the history of the United States, with damages totaling more than $81 billion.

At first, the white media made wild claims about Black folks raping and stealing, trying to create a narrative that portrayed our people as animals rather than a forgotten and desperate people struggling to survive under the most adverse conditions. As that tragedy unfolded, we saw Black men and women struggling to find water and living in unsanitary conditions in the New Orleans Superdome. We saw a president fly over a devastated city, only discovering what the real damage was by watching taped news coverage from CNN and other news outlets.

Now nearly five years later, thousands of displaced residents in Mississippi and Louisiana, mostly Black, are still living in trailers. The economies of Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf area are still far from recovery. Many of our people, who could least afford such a tragedy, are still struggling to find their footing. New Orleans and the Gulf region held a specific and rich African-American culture; it was cradle of jazz and home of some of the finest Afro-cuisine in our country.

Today, New Orleans' 9th Ward has still barely been touched. Now, we are facing one of the grandest man-made ecological disasters to hit the United States--the British Petroleum accident.

One thing that can be said is that there have not been any lives lost in the aftermath of the BP accident. Yet by the coverage, you would think that the end of the world is near and that life as we know it will cease to exist.

Brian Williams and other commentators lament the economic losses facing the mainly white Cajuns as they may face the end of their fishing way of life. And conservative media complains that President Obama has not shown sufficient emotion as he grapples to ensure that the region and its citizens are made whole. It seems that while the majority and majority media are quicker to be sympathetic when the victims are white and businesses are possibly at risk rather than when its Black peoples' homes and communities.

We are not without empathy, as we see our fellow Americans suffering in this latest tragedy. But truth be told, this accident was completely stoppable. It was an accident of greed, an accident bound to happen as we continue to raid our precious national landscape--in search of the riches of our great land--by any means necessary.

Where are Sarah Palin and John McCain now? We heard their voices and other conservatives and Republicans demanding that we "drill, baby drill." Now, we see that such unrestrained greed only leads to disaster, and we can only contemplate what the final cost will be.

The federal government and the Justice Department are up in arms over this spill. The attorney general is launching a criminal investigation into the spill. While this is all well and good--we applaud the Obama administration's actions to bring those responsible to justice--where were the criminal investigations in the aftermath of Katrina? Those levies should have never been allowed to breach.

Still today, there are too many Black people left in trailers who, because of where their houses were, cannot afford to rebuild because the insurance companies deemed their houses to be worth so much less than their white neighbors across town. They cannot even afford the materials to rebuild, let alone the actual man power to do it.

We clearly have a double standard. We have a mentality in this country that white is right, and that system benefits white folks, even in this disaster. We see great national concern for disaster when it primarily hits the Caucasian fishing industry and those who benefit from the waters off the coast, while the Black population is all but forgotten, even as they are still reeling from Katrina.

This disaster is monumental--especially the ecological damage--but the human lives lost in Katrina and what has been left in her wake are enormous as well. We cannot forget what happened and must make sure that while we do all in our power to save our seas and fishermen, we also do all in our power to save and protect our Black communities.