Letters to the Editor

Backing Up the Evacuees

Step into their world: I can understand your frustration, especially regarding your desire to "get a story" ["Faded Love," by Josh Harkinson, October 27], but try to understand this.

What makes you think these people were so bad because they didn't contact you? Do you know how many people they probably had to contact, like lost family members, friends, co-workers and the people who offered assistance before you? Where did they store your number? In their Rolodexes or PDAs, perhaps? I am a professional, and on a good day I have a hard time keeping up with cards and loose papers with numbers scribbled on them. What makes you think your agenda was so important to these people -- or to anybody, for that matter? Did you reveal to these evacuees that you were a member of the press? The same press that twists every story they report to fit the culture of their paper (conservative or liberal)? The same press that did not give a shit about the conditions of one soul in New Orleans pre-Katrina? Step into their world. Some of these people can't even remember the days of the week.

And yes, someone was drinking Mad Dog 20/20, but before you make it seem like a carnal sin by the poor blacks in the Astrodome, tell me you don't know one white, white-collar professional who grabs a drink after a hard day's work. Granted, they may grab a higher-priced drink, but nonetheless it's a drink. Hell, after Hurricane Katrina, I'm surprised that was all he was drinking.

Kema Batiste

Other things on their minds: I found Harkinson's "Faded Love" so interesting I decided to compose an abbreviated version: "All New Orleans evacuees are ungrateful blacks who don't want to work and talk like Amos and Andy."

There's a big difference between wanting to help and making a "deal" for an interview. I can personally relate to Sequoia's confusion over her clothes. But I can't understand why a supposedly intelligent journalist really thought he could retrieve clothing that had been under 14 feet of toxic muck for a week. It doesn't make sense. And to quote Judge Judy, "If it doesn't make sense, it isn't true."

I also question the accuracy of the quotes from those resource-hogging ingrates Mr. Harkinson suffered. Why would Darren Clark say "We got enemies in here" but in the next sentence use correct grammar and say "but right now we are standing together"? It doesn't make sense.

Having experienced the mind-numbing horror of the biggest natural disaster in American history, I can tell you the last thing I'd want in my face would be a reporter daring me to go to an employment agency. Again, there's a big difference between wanting to help and wanting an interview subject.

Harkinson's article paints these evacuees as "mostly deadbeats" despite his claim he was reluctant to think so. The good deeds he chronicles are somewhat tainted by his indignation that despite getting thank-you calls from Cornell Ridgley, he never got that Creole meal Cornell's wife promised.

Trust me that the majority of evacuees are mentally overwhelmed with such minor details as jobs, bills, houses, toxic mold, clothes, that call from FEMA, paying mortgages on concrete slabs, insurance companies and driving or walking around Houston without getting killed. When and where they're supposed to meet or call that reporter guy isn't on the list.

I would call Harkinson's reporting self-serving, but I'm sure David Duke loved it, too.

Michael R. Smith
New Orleans (temporarily relocated to Houston)

Josh, Josh, Josh, grow up! Halfway through Josh Harkinson's "Faded Love" article, I was laughing. By the time I finished I was, as usual, pissed. The No. 1 rule when volunteering to help others: Do not volunteer to feel good about yourself, because you will be let down. If that's what you need, then tutor kids, help with the Special Olympics or teach Sunday school.

So you thought you were going to help a bunch of people who live every day in a complicated type of intergenerational poverty dating back to Reconstruction and get a thank-you from them? They lost all their shit in the hellhole they lived in, and you were going to help them and they would thank you? Who the fuck do you think you are? Do you think no one has come before you to help? Why do you think social-service employees burn out so quickly? For every 1,000 you try to save, you're lucky if you save one.

Promise after promise has been made decade after decade. White people, black people, whoever -- always promising. Promises that won't and can't be delivered. Worse than the broken promises are the people and businesses who exploit the poor to make a buck -- or to win a prize for journalism. And the poor know this. Either you want to feel good about yourself or you're trying to make money, and either way, you won't be around tomorrow, but they will.

These people have been forgotten, and they will be forgotten after this blows over. Poverty and racism are ugly facts of life in the United States, and we don't want to think about it because if we think about it, what does it say about us?

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