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Book Review: Floodlines: Community and Resistance From Katrina to the Jena Six by Jordan Flaherty

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If you think you’ve read all there is to read about Hurricane Katrina and social conditions in New Orleans, why don’t you pick up Floodlines:  Community and Resistance From Katrina to the Jena Six and read the truth? Instead of reports by journalists and  political spin doctors, find out — through first-hand accounts — what the people of New Orleans experienced following that notorious weather event.

Everywhere there is prejudice, social injustice,  and “racial tension.” In Louisiana, it’s an acknowledged way of life. There’s us and there’s them, and whoever falls into either category is based on who is doing the talking. As a “damn Yankee” (Yankees live in the North, Damn Yankees move to the south), I underwent major culture shock in 2000 when I relocated to Baton Rouge. The schools were under a forty-year-old federal desegregation order, people used the infamous “n-word” as an adjective in regular conversation, and segregation reigned — not officially or legally, but there were distinct cultural boundaries.

We were lucky. Katrina damaged our home, but it was minor. We suffered no personal injury or loss of life — electricity was a problem, and our Gulfport retreat was more severely damaged, but far from destroyed. Our lifestyle was turned upside down, but one should expect that when the population of a town actually doubles overnight.

The horror of Katrina was the reality of living in Louisiana. All the corruption and racism that people considered little more than jokes became daily news. Hurricane Katrina amplified Louisiana’s uglier side. You could not turn on the radio or read a newspaper without finding several stories about New Orleans police officers — stealing, beat-downs, and other malfeasance. The stories that came out of the New Orleans area were sickening. Relief efforts were tainted by political influences, and human beings were not part of the equation. The blame-game was infinitely more important than saving the city.

Floodlines:  Community and Resistance From Katrina to the Jena Six tells many of the stories, and exposes race, community, and cultural struggles in New Orleans (and other Louisiana neighborhoods). It’s an ugly picture, far from the prevalent  Mardi Gras stereotype that paints New Orleanians as carefree, party-hearty hedonists.

Louisiana has been described as “the only third world country in the United States,” and Floodlines explores many of the conditions that have earned it that moniker. It is a stark portrait of a decaying society. One of my complaints, when I lived there in the Deep South, was that half the people didn’t know the Civil War was over, and the other half were mad at me because they lost. (I met many truly wonderful, kind people in Louisiana, too. However, everyone in my milieu looked a little too much like me.) There was a disconnect between image and reality.

There is hope in Floodlines, as we read the stories of people who are willing to fight the status quo, of the resistors and activists that envision a brighter future for New Orleans, a city rich in history and contrasts. The war against poverty and ignorance promises to be a long one, but people committed to fighting it is the one rainbow Katrina left behind.

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