David Brooks Examines New Orleans’ “Unacknowledged Inequalities”

For a few days now, since Katrina slammed her way across the Gulf Coast, we’ve been harping on the need for reporters to acknowledge the underlying class issues that determined who was saved and who was damned.

Lo and behold, a certain conservative New York Times columnist agrees with us.

In his column today, David Brooks states a fact that we Americans somehow have a hard time uttering in a society discomfited by the mention of class difference. Brooks looks back at the 1889 Johnstown flood, the 1900 Galveston flood, and the 1927 Mississippi flood (which also ravaged New Orleans) and points out how, in each case, when the waters receded they exposed deep societal rifts. In each of these cases, he says, the floods “wash away the surface of society, the settled way things have been done. They expose the underlying power structures, the injustices, the patterns of corruption and unacknowledged inequalities.”

Brooks continues, “What’s happening in New Orleans and Mississippi today is a human tragedy. But take a close look at the people you see wandering, devastated, around New Orleans: they are predominantly black and poor. The political disturbances are still to come.”

We’re still looking for some kind of analysis piece that examines this issue in depth, or perhaps an article that surveys the backgrounds of those affected. At the very least, those pieces that explore the now widespread looting or the sad and odorous fate of those who took shelter in the Superdome, need to clearly articulate the societal fissures (ones of race and class) that this flood has laid bare.

Gal Beckerman

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Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.