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.

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who is to blame?

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In Chiraq spike lee really focuses in on the conditions of the, urban center of Chicago particularly focusing on gun violence and murder. Throughout the film lee glazes over what actually causes these conditions in the communities where they occur. He sometimes alludes to systematic and institutional racism but never really delves deep into these ideas in the film. Lee then further complicates this idea of responsibility and who or what is to blame for these socio-economic conditions at the end of the film when the main character. Chiraq confesses to committing the accidental murder of Irene’s 11-year-old daughter and in an ending scene he begins to recite the lyrics of a song. As Chiraq walks down the aisle of the church there are praise dancers dancing in white behind him. The lyrics talk about gang and community members making change where they live and taking accountability for their own lives and actions. The significance of the praise dancers dressed in white dancing during his soliloquy is that they are affirming his message. The fact that praise dance is religious and they are dressed in white, a color associated with purity, good energy and cleansing affirms that Chiraq is doing the “right thing”. This sequence says to me that the conditions of Chicago are brought on by the people who live there, themselves as opposed to the conditions of violence and poverty being a result of a system. A system that fails to provide the urban centers of the world with adequate resources and opportunity, and so as a result poverty and violence are spawned. With this movie ending on that note I don’t really know how spike views this influx of violence limited to urban centers. I’m not sure if he deems it the fault of the people who inhabit these spaces or if he alludes is to system that is failing them. So the question that remains to me from the point of view as the audience for this film based on what spike has provided us with, is who is to blame.