Many in New Orleans were hopeless before Katrina

Clarence Page:

Amid the flood of one-year-after analyses of Hurricane Katrina's impact on the Gulf Coast, it's important to remember what Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said on the Senate floor shortly after the storm:

"I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren't just abandoned during the hurricane. They were abandoned long ago to murder and mayhem in the streets, to substandard schools, to dilapidated housing, to inadequate health care, to a pervasive sense of hopelessness."

Indeed, for the city's poor, despite the hard-won victories of the civil rights movement, the mostly-black poor of New Orleans, like poor communities in many other cities, were failed, abandoned and left isolated, not only by Washington but also by all levels of government long before Katrina blew in.

And the failure was not limited to government, as my friend and colleague Juan Williams argues in his new book, Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movement, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America — and What We Can Do About It (Crown Publishing Group).

As you might guess from its mouthful of a title, Williams, author of Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965, targets a failure of black leadership, too.

"We are facing a series of crises in the black community today," writes Williams, a senior correspondent for National Public Radio and political analyst for Fox News Network. "A century's worth of progress seems suddenly in peril. The lessons and values that carried an oppressed people from slavery to freedom seem in danger of being forgotten. Hard-won victories seem in danger of being squandered."

As Pogo, the cartoon star of our youths, once said, Juan has "seen the enemy and he is us." He takes on the superstar black leaders like the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton — unfairly, both say — and major civil rights groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for letting our people down.


Juan gets it right, but he should not limit his criticism to just leadership and I don't think he does. It is not for lack of opportunities that many in New Orleans failed before the hurricane. People have to take responsibility for their circumstances and do what it takes to improve them and most importantly, not become dependent on others for thnose improvements. Dependency is the enemy of ambition and improvement. People should not allow themselves to become the victims of dependency, yet liberalism is based on expanding dependency.


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