Thoughts & Essays

Hurricane Katrina

Today’s the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Jesus, what a horror show that was.

On the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (8/29), I’m reminded of not only the destruction of my home and community, but also that the experience radicalized me. I was 17 at the time. These events below, personally and systemic, shook my worldview.

– Chris Dier. Read the thread on Twitter.

There’s a lot of just really awful stuff to remember about Katrina. Christ, just the shit that went down in the Superdome, and the horror stories that came out of that…

But one thing that sticks out to me about the weeks afterwards is the incredible callousness of the conservative people I dealt with day in and day out back then. Back then I managed evening shift at a diner-type restaurant that was a local favorite for the religious conservatives that filled the town where I lived. And the things I heard these people say, oh my god.

I remember one in particular, a 40-50 year old white guy, part of an absolutely rotten Baptist group we used to get in every week, who explained to me in sneering, sanctimonious tones about how he would have just left and not been in that situation. I said something about how a lot of people were trapped there and couldn’t get out for various reasons, but he brushed me off, explaining that the problem was that all those people were just lazy.

By which he meant, of course, that they were poor and/or people of color, and a fine, upstanding, well-to-do white man like himself would never have been so morally suspect as to be trapped in a hurricane.

It’s the complete inability to empathize with anyone who isn’t exactly like them that always catches me off guard. And even with people who are like them, if those people haven’t done things in the exactly correct way they get no empathy. It’s like some kind of weird conditional sociopathy.

It’s been almost 20 years, and the memory of those conservatives and their inability to see other people as human beings has stuck with me. It’s a kind of brokenness, like this particular combination of privilege and good fortune just rots the empathy out of them.

Photo: Hurricane Katrina on August 28, 2005. Photo by NASA.