In greater New Orleans about 125,000 homes remain damaged and unoccupied, a vast ghost city that rots in darkness while les bon temps return to a guilty strip of unflooded and mostly affluent neighborhoods near the river.The clear implication in the context of the article is that the city's white elite has emerged from the storm largely unscathed while the burden of suffering falls on the city's black population. But as Billy aptly responds, "the areas along the river, that he calls affluent, have poverty rates of about 30% and incomes about 40% less than the national average." Meanwhile, "the ghost city that rots in the darkness" encompasses large expanses of white and mixed-race neighborhoods including Lakeview, one of the richest, whitest, and hardest hit parts of the city.
And this article is not alone. Immediately after the storm there was a shocked outcry along the lines of "race and poverty are still an issue in America!" How anyone could have forgotten this, I don't know, but in the subsequent months news organizations, often with the best of intentions, have zoomed in on the subject. Some of the reporting has been excellent (in particular, I've been consistently impressed with NPR's ongoing coverage), but others, when confronted with the bewildering tangle of racial issues here, have resorted to lazy, broadstroked, and misleading overstatements.
The flooding did disproportionately affect the city's black population (the Times-Picayune had an excellent story tallying percentages of the white and black populations whose homes flooded, although at the moment, unfortunately, I can't find the link), but it was a difference of degree, not extremes. If you are black you are somewhat more likely to have a flooded home, but both populations experienced huge losses.
And there is a tendency to portray New Orleans now, six months later, as a city populated by the fortunate and white. Again a kernel of truth has been stretched until the resulting picture is fundamentally false. The city now is whiter than before, but it is still a very mixed city. I find this error particularly infuriating because it is so easily corrected by a one hour drive through all the various neighborhoods around town. It is immediately, obviously false.
The citizens of our city black, white, flooded, dry, at home, or trying to make it home, we're all trying to make this thing work, make our city whole again. The issues of race and poverty in the story of Katrina are huge and they require no exaggeration. What they do need are attention to detail, nuance, and honest reporting.