Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Explaining Katrina to the British

On Friday, the British media finally really noticed the aftermath of Katrina. And people started asking me questions. Why didn't people leave? Why didn't the public authorities evacuate them? Why isn't somebody doing something?

My answers were, it's a combination of poverty, ignorance and mule-headedness. A lot of the first, a fair bit of the second and some the last. I had to try to explain that there wasn't a public evacuation plan. And why wasn't somebody doing anything? For that I had no answer, just a frustrated and furious "I don't know" but by Friday afternoon (our time) people were starting to do something. Too late for many.

Yesterday, there were more questions. Questions like these from Switzerland posted at Daily Kos. Some of it's a bit rich coming from the Swiss, e.g. the racial divide stuff, all true, but ask the homogeneous Swiss how well they treated Jewish refugees or how well they treat foreign prostitutes now trafficked from places like Albania or Nigeria.

Some people just asked me "How are you feeling?" Furious. I am so angry. I would also agree with the Swiss commentator (despite what I wrote in the last para) that this hurricane has revealed the ugly truth about race and class in America, so I feel disappointed, too that we haven't come farther than this. I have to explain as well that I'm a Southerner and while I'm sure many Americans are shocked, and hurt and angry, these really are my people - and most Southerners have some kind of story to tell about the Big Easy, some place in the heart or the scarred psyche for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region.

But I also tell them that I'm really proud of the response of Americans opening their homes, their churches, the hearts and their wallets. This isn't a story that's much being told here, but it is a little.

The American expat community in the UK isn't especially tight knit. But those I speak to (nearly all Southerners I have to admit), are frustrated and we all wish we could do more. On Sunday, a small group of Longhorn fans raised $900 at a showing of a UTexas football game, and it wasn't even a big game. There's been a flurry of emails about what more we could do, how much more money can be raised, what else we could do.

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