- In the Wake of Hurricane Katrina: New Paradigms and Social Visions ed. by Clyde Woods
Almost seven years after Hurricane Katrina, there are still many unanswered questions as to why the residents of New Orleans were abandoned by the local and national government. Horrific images flashed across the television screen of people stranded on bridges, rooftops, and at the Louisiana Superdome while the city was submerged underwater. As local residents waited for help, statements from local and state officials, FEMA, and other government agencies became a game of finger-pointing and misplaced blame that revealed a disturbing display of indifference and an astonishing lack of accountability. The portrayal of residents who desperately sought food, water, and supplies was equally disheartening as news correspondents referred to the white citizens as survivors and the African American residents as "looters." Dissatisfied with empty rhetoric that continues to mask the displacement and dispossession of New Orleans' African American and low-income communities, In the Wake of Hurricane Katrina: New Paradigms and Social Visions turns to Louisiana's history of colonialism, slavery, and marginalization to emphasize the need for new political discourse. Edited by Clyde Woods, the book is comprised of a collection of critical essays originally published in a special issue of American Quarterly that examine preexisting sociopolitical, economic, and historical conditions on which the response to the disaster was shaped.
In the introduction, Woods contextualizes disaster in terms of systematic racism, classism, and violence, arguing that in its unveiling of centuries-old practices of displacement and dispossession, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath forced the American public to [End Page 213] face longstanding social issues that have shaped the United States as a whole. He states: "Through the eye of Katrina, we see the old dry bones of both the Freedom Movement and the plantation oligarchy walking again in daylight . . . the post-Katrina world is one in which we are destined to confront the social visions, paradigms, movements, communities of conscience, and leaders that we prematurely buried" (Woods 3). While the book lacks a clear objective in terms of tackling social and environmental crises head on, it is the beginning of a dialogue for long overdue change in the Crescent City. As an important work in the field of American studies, Woods's collection uses the city of New Orleans as a lens through which new political and intellectual discourse can be envisioned.
The essays are categorized under five subheadings that map New Orleans history and culture from the eighteenth century to the post-Katrina era—the purported "postracial" era in the United States. As a critical study of Bourbonism and the blues tradition in New Orleans, In the Wake of Hurricane Katrina scrutinizes dominant political discourse and methods, and what Curtis Marez characterizes as "systemic disposability." In the introduction, Woods chronicles Louisiana's tumultuous colonial history through French and Spanish occupation dating back to the seventeenth century and the laws established to maintain control over free and enslaved black populations, protect capitalist interests, and guarantee white male dominance. The prophetic events of the past, including the Great Flood of 1927 in which approximately 10,000 people were displaced and 5,000 housed in a warehouse (12), according to Woods, have transformed into modern-day social and economic crises in New Orleans. As demonstrated through the response to New Orleans' hurricane victims and survivors, blackness is reified as something expendable.
In contrast, Woods examines the Blues tradition as a counter-discourse to neoliberal attitudes that strategically marginalize people of color and impoverished communities. He argues that "Blues traditions were reasserted in ways that sustained Black communities and communicated their ideas and practices to the United States and the World" (11). As a means of resistance, the Blues tradition embodies freedom and democracy and is a significant part of African American culture in New Orleans. However, Woods recognizes that outside of musical expression, the black community has been largely silenced. He proposes the seizing of political power through the elimination of outdated theories and policies and the active pursuit of...