Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Guest Editorial: God's Gon' Trouble the Water: An African American Academic's Retrospective on Hurricane Katrina

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Guest Editorial: God's Gon' Trouble the Water: An African American Academic's Retrospective on Hurricane Katrina

Article excerpt

As I sit here watching a pre-recorded interview on CSPAN's Washington Journal with Senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter of Louisiana, I am amazed that it was slightly more than one year ago that the city I had come to love-the city in which I was introduced to beignets and the phrase, "Laissez les bon temps roulez" (Let the good times roll)-would become the focus of our national attention for weeks to come. Like many of my colleagues, I would remain transfixed to the television screen watching a tragedy that was at best surreal and at worst nightmarish unfolding right before my eyes. Hordes of people, most who looked just like me, stood on rooftops waving their hands, shouting, crying, and seeking relief from any source that was willing to lend a helping hand from the exigency they faced. A decision was made "to stay and ride out the storm;" whether made voluntarily in an effort to protect hearth and home or involuntarily due to financial constraints that precluded their abilities to escape New Orleans (hereafter, the City), the harsh reality faced by the remaining inhabitants was survival.

Human survival, a concept that has been in many instances associated with the scientific work of Charles Darwin, has served as the conceptual framework and intellectual fodder to make us feel better about the rampant inequities we see in the material wealth possessed by a small fraction of the population in our nation. Much like the argument bell hooks makes in her book, Where We Stand: Class Matters,

Nowadays, it's fashionable to talk about race and gender: the uncool subject is class. . . .As a nation, we are afraid to have a dialogue about class even though the ever-widening gap between rich and poor has already set the stage for ongoing and sustained class warfare." (hooks, 2000, p. vii)

Katrina forced us to deal with the very issues associated with class that hooks mentioned; we were forced to take a firsthand look at the harsh realities of American life. Namely, we had to recognize that for African Americans, socioeconomic status follows race like a shadow; that ability and opportunity share an inverse relationship; and that the benefits of living in a capitalist society are, at best, disproportionate and, at worst, nonexistent.

As an academic, I readily saw how the larger national debates sparked by Katrina had profound implications for how I viewed myself as an African American. Measured by society's standards, I had attained some personal and professional successes (e.g., doctoral degree, tenure and promotion, comfortable salary, health benefits), what some would view as the very accoutrements that made me different from those who lined the thoroughfare to the New Orleans Superdome seeking refuge. Nevertheless, I saw us as sharing more similarities than differences and the themes taken from this catastrophe were the same lessons, perhaps expressed in different terms, which applied to me as a tenured college professor of color.

This invited editorial highlights and extends my publications in Diverse Issues in Higher Education, "Wade in the Water: A Contemporary Metaphor" and Teachers College Record (TCR), "Wade in the Water: Lessons Learned from Katrina by One African American Academic"-both published recently (Bonner, 2005, 2006a). Additional commentary and insight was gained from my presentation of a paper at the Third Annual National Black Counseling Psychologists Conference conducted at Howard University (Bonner, 2006b). It was thrilling to be afforded the opportunity during the conference to connect with key individuals who also shared my passion for this topic. Although the themes and dialogue in this article parallel the TCR publication, there is a significant departure and extension of the previous information that provides a more comprehensive focus on how these themes are realized for African American faculty, in general and for me, in particular, as a member of the academy.

THEME ONE: BIRDS OF A FEATHER DON'T ALWAYS FLOCK TOGETHER

The widespread disparities found to exist within the City as well as between the City and its next door neighbor, Baton Rouge were broadcasted in both media and print outlets. …

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