Eleven years ago this week, Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, killing at least 1,200 people – although no one will ever know the actual death toll because most of the victims were Black and poor and, therefore, were never considered important enough to count.
What was important to the rulers of this country, in the aftermath of Katrina, was making sure that as many as possible of the displaced Black residents would not be allowed to return to the city.
Before the waters had fully subsided, corporate planners were exulting in the opportunity to build a new New Orleans, a much whiter and richer metropolis. Katrina had ethnically cleansed the city – permanently exiling 100,000 Blacks – and the Lords of Capital could not contain their jubilation.
What Blacks experienced as catastrophe was celebrated as a renaissance.
Katrina was a godsend for Disaster Capitalism, and provided a model for capitalists to create future disasters for Black people. President Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, said Katrina was “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans” because it allowed school privatizers to fire all of the city’s teachers – 71 percent of them Black – and turn most of the schools into charters.
Instead of firing Duncan for his outrageously callous and deeply racist remarks, President Obama joined in praising the so-called “recovery” of a city that had shed about a third of its Black population and was on the way to becoming the nation’s first all-charter school system.
Over the next several years, Obama’s Race to the Top program would coerce states to create a “market” for charter schools or face the loss of federal education funds. Katrina paved the way to a catastrophe for public education, nationwide.
Black Caucus muzzled
During the last weeks of the summer of 2005, when the magnitude of the disaster became apparent, it seemed that almost every Black community organization responded with some kind of Katrina support program. But there was no political response from the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington.
The Democratic Party hoped to regain control of the House of Representatives in the 2006 elections, and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi didn’t want the party to appear too pro-Black. She ordered her members to boycott the Republicans’ hearings on Katrina, and Democrats held no hearings of their own. In the face of what was then the greatest Black catastrophe of the 21st century, the Congressional Black Caucus allowed itself to be muzzled.
The Black political class’s abject failure to respond to Katrina guaranteed that there would be more catastrophes for Black folks. The Lords of Capital realized that, if they could get away with massive ethnic cleansing in New Orleans, while the whole world was watching, they could ratchet up the speed of gentrification and Black removal all across the country.
Soon, half of the Black citizens of Michigan were disenfranchised by an emergency financial manager regime that took over all of the state’s heavily Black cities.
The New Orleans model has gone national, because the rulers of this country know that they don’t need a storm to drive Black folks from the cities – and that there will be no resistance from a selfish, useless Black Misleadership Class.
Glen Ford is executive editor of BlackAgendaReport.com. E-mail him at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.