Tag Archives: economy

Thinking of Katrina

10 Jan
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Lucky and I at the Houston Astrodome (2005)

Up until this point, I’ve experienced two major paradigm shifts in my adult life. One being just recently with the passing of my father, and the other being the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.

Almost 3 1/2 years ago most of us watched as our neighbors to the south struggled for their lives in the midst of one of our nation’s most devastating storms.  We all know the story.  Raging winds, flooding waters, FEMA, the Superdome, Mayor Ray Nagin, and even Kanye West’s infamous pronouncement that “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people,” (and Mike Myers’ awkward reaction, thereafter).

americans who didn’t experience Katrina first-hand are experts when it comes to knowing who the major players are of this disastrous drama.  We can recite word-for-word those impassioned one-liners from Bush and Nagin.  We can probably even cite the talking points of political pundits and social experts who appeared on every major cable network at the time.

But none of that matters much anymore.  Most of us have moved on with our lives, distracted by our day-to-day trials and tribulations.  Now more than ever most of us are far too consumed with having to negotiate between what bill to overlook this month and what vice to indulge in (food, sex, alcohol, drugs, reality t.v.). Most of us are thinking about what we’re going to do in the coming months with mounting debt and a government that, at its best, is incompetent and disingenuous.

While we struggle, so too do the many who are still displaced from their roots in New Orleans.  Frontline recently told the story of The Old Man And The Storm, produced by well-renowned journalist and producer June Cross.  I cried, boy did I cry, while watching Mr. Gettridge’s story.  I’m sure many others who watched this episode were just as touched as I was, probably for similar reasons.  Hopelessness. Despair. Inequity.  All these adjectives describe Mr. Gettridge’s struggles post-Katrina.

In 2005 I was living in Houston, Texas.  Two weeks after the storm hit, NO residents were bussed to Reliant Park – my backyard.  I was teaching at a predominantly African-American charter school at the time.  There was no way I was going to just sit back and watch these folks come to H-town and not get involved.  I wanted to help, and so did my best friend Esha. Equipped with our cameras and notepads we went to Reliant Park, otherwise known as “Reliant City,” by volunteers, displaced citizens, and city officials.  We spent time with the folks, volunteering and helping out in any way we could.  We documented our experiences that would later turn into two mini documentaries Meet Wayne and A Region of Survivors.

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Pictured with Katrina survivor, Maria in Houston (2006)

I spoke with others who survived the storm over the two-year period of making Survivors. I did lots of growing up during those few years.  I learned about life and sacrifice through the stories and faces of strangers.  For these reasons I always find myself thinking of Katrina.

I don’t profess to be a filmmaker or a producer, but rather a storyteller.  I had no idea what I was doing in either documentary – I just wanted to tell a story, and I did.

I saw in Mr. Gettridge’s story the tales and horrors of so many others I spoke with.  Mr. Gettridge reminded me so much of a man I met while volunteering at the Astrodome in Houston.  Esha and my dad also volunteered with me.  This eighty-something year old man reminded me of my late Papa (my great-grandfather).

Sitting in his wheelchair, the man told us stories about how he survived the storm.  “If I didn’t wake up, I’d been as good as gone.  I’m Lucky,” he told us.  Neighbors, concerned about his safety, banged on his door until he finally woke up.  By that time, the water in his house had risen to the top of his staircase.  He was carried out on his wheelchair.

In addition to telling us about escaping the storm, he also spoke candidly with my father about times growing up during the Depression.   Watching them talk with one another was like looking at two old friends who knew about things folks from my generation could only imagine.  We never got the man’s name so my dad decided we call him Lucky.  We never saw Lucky again after that night – but I’ll never forget him.

Mr. Gettridge reminds me of Lucky.  These men whose hearts never leave home.

Unlike the many americans who have moved on from hurricane Katrina, whether intentionally or not, I don’t think I can ever stop thinking about all those I’ve met and will continue to meet along the way.  Since the storm, I’ve always had this inkling that one day I’ll be drawn back to New Orleans, a city whose residents will forever hold my heart.

Women of Color in an Obama Era

4 Dec

From Huffington Post.

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Today, like I do everyday around noon, I moved my car from one side of the street to the other as directed by the Culver City parking limit sign. While waiting at the stop sign, a block from theBrave New Films office (my employer), I watched as three Latina women crossed the street strolling along three white children. The women appeared to be related, la abuela, la madre, and the daughter following closely behind. Three generations of Latina domestic workers pushing three white-raced children in a stroller along the pristine streets of Culver City, California – what else is new? This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen Latinas walk white-raced children around the streets of this liberal-leaning city. Fifty years ago, those Latinas would probably have been African-American women – the faces have changed, but not necessarily the situation. 3035695957_00e14567b3

All this got me thinking about women of color and where we fit into this new Obama era. While I don’t believe any politician is ever more powerful than the will of the people, I can’t help but wonder how Obama’s power as President will address the myriad of low wage-(or no wage)-earning, care-taking, health-insurance-lacking, poverty-stricken women of color (WOC) in the United States.

African-American women still comprise over sixty percent of the labor force among women. Women of color in general are much less likely to hold managerial and professional jobs than white women. Women of color are more likely to be poor than white women, and with the exception of Asian-American women, WOC are considerably less likely to hold a BA degree or higher than white women. WOC earn less than white women with the same education level. Asian-American and Native American women in particular share in the highest proportion of female suicide deaths across race, ages 15-44. African-American, Native American, and Asian-American women are significantly less likely to than white women to report being a victim of sexual and domestic violence. Among women, Latinas/Chicanas are the least represented at the highest levels of education.

I thoroughly respect Obama’s National Security choices, including Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and Janet Napolitano. Placing these women at high leadership positions symbolizes a societal transition toward forward thinking shape-shifters. Yet, just as we aren’t in a post-race era, we certainly haven’t transcended gender discrimination and economic and health disparities among women and men – especially as it relates to women of color.

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My African-American mother is the sole caretaker of my white-raced father, a 78-year-old veteran, suffering from heart disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and severe emphysema. She, like many other WOC who take care of sick and dying family members, is also unemployed – and not necessarily by choice. Despite the fact that she has chosen to go back to school and finish her Bachelor’s degree, there aren’t many options for a middle-aged black women (with a plethora of work experience) in this day-in age.

But my little familial anecdote isn’t any different from, say, that of women in DC living with HIV, wherein 90% of them are black. Nor is my story any different from the Latina domestic workers in Culver City, or the large majority of Native and Asian-American young women struggling with depression, and taking their own lives as a result. We have progressed as a nation, and while we all can take great pride in our future First lady and First daughters (Michelle, Malia, and Sasha), the problems WOC collectively face in the U.S. are significant in comparison to that of white women and men. In other words, we still have work to do.

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Issues concerning women of color span economy, education, health, poverty, and popular culture. While the problems that arise within these multiple modes of society vary, the fact remains that the struggles we face as women of the growing minority are compounded by race. The implications of an Obama administration upon the lives of women of color is yet to be seen. Though we understand that policies and legislation which positively influence the conditions of WOC can, in essence, impact the entire well-being of U.S. society. If women of color suffer, we all do – because we are the workers, the (First) mothers, the (First) daughters, and yet still, the struggling and dying many.

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Right: Friend, Kami Fletcher, and I at Obama rally in Dallas during the Texas primaries.

Many thanks to Smita Satiani and Axel Woolfolk for contributing insights and editorial suggestions to this essay.

Sources:
Institute For Women’s Policy Research
Eliza Noh, Ph.D., California State University, Fullerton
National VAWA Survey