When Fragile Citizenship Flies Away

Sunday was actually my first time watching When the Levees Broke. It was a powerful experience for a lot of reasons, and one I wished I had had ten years earlier when it was first released. The testimonies about Katrina and how it personally affected so many people drove me to tears several times. The most powerful moment for me, however, was when a citizen of New Orleans who was relocated after the storm commented about how offensive he thought it was to call the people of New Orleans ‘refugees.’ He asked the question: “Did when the storm hit our citizenship fly away with it?”  I floored by this. Noimages-1t because I thought it was an exaggeration of the situation, but by how demeaning and unhelpful the American people were to the residents of New Orleans. I don’t have a clear memory of the aftermath given my age at the time but I never imagined that the help the people of New Orleans received was so poor someone would think to question whether they were a citizen or not. The fact that these residents were receiving so little help from FEMA and their government in general that the media would have the audacity to call them a refugee is sickening.

Unsurprisingly, the people who were suffering the most in the aftermath of the hurricane were minorities, specifically Blacks, and many of these people were low-income. This being said, the argument can be made that the local and state governments’ views on the people of the Lower Ninth ward and surrounding areas already was questionable. When I say questionable, I mean that no one group of people get to that level of poverty without the state deeming it okay. Therefore, if the state deemed it okay for those residents to live so close to the levees (which we find out were never built properly) then they also thought it was okay for those people to suffer the most if a disaster ever did happen. The citizens of the Lower Ninth ward already had their citizenship questioned by the state, because the state had them in danger. The aftermath of Katrina only confirmed the government’s views on wealth and who deserved to be protected who did not. The interviewee’s line really stuck with me and maybe always will, because citizenship “flies away” all the time for the disadvantaged in this country. Whether it be with the police, a store owner, or a in a natural disaster.



Author: Dani

Film enthusiast. Firm believer that Spike Lee is the most cerebral filmmaker post Hitchcock.

One thought on “When Fragile Citizenship Flies Away”

  1. After the massive 2010 Haitain earthquake, I remember someone saying something like, “They haven’t even fixed New Orleans yet, and people think they’ll make a difference for other black people”. Katrina really did strip people of their citizenship. It’s weird to think how a shift of phrasing – “refugee” vs “displaced Americans”- can have a real result on people. The use of refugee enabled people to strike the victims of Katrina from their memory. The hurricane itself was remembered, but nobody gave that afterthought to the American citizens in need of actual help. Nobody can say “pull up your boot straps” after a hurricane wipes out your entire livelihood. But word refugee allowed for a disregard of these somehow foreign Americans


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