A Tale of Two Disasters (in Black and White): New Orleans vs. Fargo

While watching the evening news the other night and seeing the heroic efforts of Fargo, ND citizens working together to halt the rising flood waters of the Red River and contain the damage to their community, the reaction on the part of this community seemed vastly divergent from the community reaction of New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — the broadcast images of the responses to the flooding disasters that hit opposite ends of the U.S. couldn’t be more different.

Recent news accounts of Fargo, ND showed countless volunteers (men, women and children) filling sand bags, working together like the intricate parts of a Swiss clock, valiantly trying to contain the flood waters of the Red River that is expected to crest at some 43 feet. Now the citizens are battling blizzard conditions that threaten the sandbag levees.

The willpower of these citizens to overcome extreme weather conditions and preserve their homes, schools and businesses showed remarkable courage not to mention a tireless work ethic.

One resident, 57-year-old Gary Lacher (quoted in today’s New York Times) said,

You lie down, you look at the clock, you listen for every sound, and you look at the clock again and five minutes has passed… and you start to think through it all again — did I do enough?

The volunteerism was not lost on President Obama, who noted in his weekly radio address:

In the Fargodome, thousands of people gathered not to watch a football game or a rodeo, but to fill sandbags. Volunteers filled 2.5 million of them in just five days, working against the clock, day and night, with tired arms and aching backs. Others braved freezing temperatures, gusting winds, and falling snow to build levees along the river’s banks to help protect against waters that have exceeded record levels.

In this North Dakota community of about 90,000, the cooperative determination of neighbors helping one another to contain the flood waters was in vivid contrast — literally in black and white — to the listless aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that hitNew Orleans in 2005. National Guardsmen were deployed to maintain order and keep the locals from preying on one another.

The atmosphere conveyed in the televised images of the Fargodome reminds one of a beehive: Community residents assisting each other, filling sandbag after sandbag, to salvage their flood-threatened community. Compare this to the images of displaced “victims” befouling the Superdome while waiting for federal assistance as volunteers from around the country descended on New Orleans to help the displaced.

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In New Orleans, the response in the wake of Katrina included widespread looting and violence aimed at rescuers. The National Guard imposed curfews to stem violence while the “victims” complained about the lack of federal emergency assistance. The citizens of one disaster-struck community rolled up their sleeves and got to work while residents of another devastated area had to be cared for and policed. (Maryland SWAT teams were assigned to Maryland firefighters who assisted in New Orleans recovery operations in the weeks following Katrina to protect the lives and equipment of these volunteers.)

The challenge of rising flood waters in Fargo was met with energetic assistance, care, cooperation, and fortitude to prevail and limit the damage from near-record flood levels, while the situation in New Orleans was largely one of stagnation, mounting trash, looting, lethargic helpless “victims” waiting to be rescued from rooftops, and abandonment.

Here’s an excellent video of Rush Limbaugh comparing the Katrina victims to the victims of flooding in Iowa and Illinois in 2008. It makes the same point we are once again seeing unfolding in Fargo: “I want to see the murders, I want to see the looting,  …I see devastation that dwarfs the devastation of what happened in New Orleans…. I don’t see a bunch of people running around waving guns at helicopters, I don’t see a bunch of people shooting cops … When I look at Iowa, when I look at Illinois, I see the backbone of America ….”

Although Limbaugh never once mentions race, the implicit racial comparison couldn’t be more obvious. Let’s make it explicit. This is a racial tale in black and white.

Once again, despite the deluge of negative images of whites and positive images of blacks emanating from Hollywood, media images from the real world feed into implicit stereotypes of whites as cooperative, efficient, and self-reliant. At the same time the images from Katrina and the recent police murders in Oakland continue to feed into the negative stereotypes that whites have of blacks. In particular, the public support given the the black man who murdered four white policemen will continue to reverberate with whites for a long time. Reality intrudes on the constant propaganda emanating from the liberal media.

What a difference communities and populations can make in dealing with the challenges of crisis and circumstance: constructive resolve vs. chaotic disorder.

Kevin Lamb, a freelance writer, is a former library assistant for Newsweek, managing editor of Human Events, and assistant editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report. He is the managing editor of The Social Contract.