When the Levees Broke Lives

When the Levees Broke

One of the most disturbing aspects of New Orlean’s Hurricane Katrina experience was the disposability of black lives. Spike Lee used various forms of comparison, interviews, and images to inflict how mistreated black lives were by the government and by society. The dozens flowing and distorted bodies in the water images along with heart-wrenching stories of sons and daughters discovering their parents’ bodies enables the audience to realize the injustices done to black, human lives during and after the disaster.

The comparative examples that Spike Lee provided emphasizes the disposable nature of black lives that our society has been conditioned to condone. When New Orleans refugees were sent to different cities across the United States, Spike Lee made sure to express the apprehension these cities have against taking on refugees of a city in crisis. Inhabitants of these cities were complaining about the rise in criminal activity, or about the quality of the people coming from New Orleans, who were predominantly Black American. On the contrary, an interviewee in the documentary mentioned, if people from Chicago were to be fleeing from disaster, they would not receive this kind of treatment. The difference in viewing lives based on location and race truly emphasizes a disparity in American’s value of lives. Additionally, the way that so many dead bodies can be neglected by the government after the disaster– that there can be 5 different dead bodies found in at attic deemed to have no dead bodies, that mothers, babies, siblings, neighbors bodies can be discovered after the government claimed that they checked houses thoroughly– really speaks to how uninvested the city and the government was in valuing black lives and black bodies. When we have the reactions based on nationality, such as taking refugees from Mexico, Syria, or even Jews back in World War II, the United States government refused to take these refugees. However, in the case of New Orleans, these are American lives that are being mistreated, exiled, and rejected, proving how blacks lives are seen as less important, and how black lives are more disposable, even if we are all Americans.


One thought on “When the Levees Broke Lives”

  1. I think that it’s interesting how the interviee said that the same response would not have occurred in Chicago in the same way that it occurred in New Orleans because I feel as though it would have. Chicago is very diverse in terms of race and socioeconomic class, but something that we see is that there are concentrations of similar backgrounds reflected in housing. This map visually shows the pockets of wealth, poverty, and ultimate gentrification:

    I think the interviewee brings up an interesting question: is the devaluation of black spaces and lives specific to New Orleans, or could it occur elsewhere? And to that I say that it happens all the time because Hurricane Katrina could have been prevented if the government provided immediate aid rather than assessing the financial investments, but even before that providing adequate levees to ensure that they do not break. The same governmental oversight occurs in other black spaces like the South Side of Chicago. If a natural disaster of that magnitude were to hit Chicago, the South Side of Chicago would be hit immensely in ways that would not compare to other areas of Chicago.

    What do you think?


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