It seems like so much has changed since Hurricane Katrina touched down in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast Aug. 29, 2005. George W. Bush was president. Barack Obama was still a state senator and had yet to even become a U.S. senator. Ray Nagin used his position as mayor of New Orleans to bring the plight of his fellow citizens to the national and international media. And for many Americans, they watched in horror at what was happening to people in their own country. So many people said the “footage” of New Orleans was something they expected to see from a third world nation. But alas, it was not footage from a developing country, but from a nation that has long ignored sections of its citizenry solely based on race, class and geographic locale.
I want to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina by trying to put the events in a 2015 context. So many African-Americans fled New Orleans before the storm and thousands have yet to return. Consider this, according to 2000 U.S. Census data, NOLA’s population was roughly 485,000 people, of which 325,000 (67 percent) were African-American. In 2010, the census estimated a total population of 344,000 in NOLA, of which 206,000 (60 percent) were African-American.
Because of the mass exodus of lifelong African-American residents, the racial and ethnic composition of the city has changed drastically. Newcomers have chosen NOLA as a site for new opportunities. Artists, activists, construction workers, educators and entrepreneurs have chosen NOLA as their home and have contributed to the increase in population over the past decade. Undocumented immigrants see NOLA as a city full of opportunity while confronting the very real realities and fears most undocumented individuals face when dealing with employers who take advantage of them, as well as robberies and muggings because of the largely cash economy and the dangers of living in the shadows of a community. NOLA looks quite different just 10 years later.
So where does New Orleans go from here? The city has shifted to a primarily charter school system. What are the long-term effects of a city without a public school system? Gentrification is changing historic neighborhoods in unrecognizable ways. Many people know that a rise in gentrification historically has never boded well for poor people or people of color. Meanwhile, Nagin is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence for corruption, and the governorship and both Louisiana U.S. Senate seats are now controlled by Republicans.
And as if those issues weren’t enough to cause concern, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, more commonly known as the BP Oil Spill of 2010, has devastated portions of the environment and several industries for locals, which has had rippling effects for New Orleans.
So as I keep New Orleans in my heart during this time, what usually comes to my mind is the old Louis Armstrong song, “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans.”
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is a tenured professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.” You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.