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11 August 2006
The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 2006, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)

AFTER THE STORM
Edited by David Dante Troutt
(New Press, 164 pages, $22.95)

"THE FLOOD was no accident. As the psychologists so often repeat, there are no accidents. The unrepaired levee was the instrument by which whites dispossessed the blacks of the depths and cast them into yet deeper waters." So writes Anthony Paul Farley, an associate professor at the Boston College Law School, in "After the Storm," a collection of essays by a variety of black intellectuals. Most view Hurricane Katrina and the damage it did to New Orleans as a grisly verdict on American racial politics. A mood of grievance and accusation prevails.

In the storm's aftermath, singer Kanye West famously asserted during a televised fundraiser for Katrina's victims that "George Bush doesn't care about black people." The comment is approvingly quoted here by Sheryll Cashin, a Georgetown law professor. Mr. West, she writes, "inaptly articulated a powerful frustration and anger among black folks." She concedes that the government's slow response did not express overt racism, but the risks to the residents of New Orleans were "devalued" by federal officials, she claims, because the city is mostly black. In another essay, Michael Eric Dyson, a humanities professor at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that the dispersal of the city's residents after the storm brings to mind "the deadly waters of slavery's middle passage."

It is a theme throughout "After the Storm" that Hurricane Katrina revealed the true character of the GOP's political outlook, at least when it comes to race. But such complaints are themselves not entirely free of politics. Louisiana is a closely divided state, and if 50,000 or so New Orleans voters, now dispersed, fail to return from their temporary homes around the country, the state could tip into the "red" column. "For Republicans, the storm has created a tremendous opportunity," writes John Valery White, yet another law professor. It has also created an opportunity for Democrats to fault even lavish aid as insufficient and to assign the blame for Katrina-error to one source. There was plenty of error to go around.

-- Tom Bethell