Governing Affect: Neoliberalism and Disaster Reconstruction

By Roberto E. Barrios | Go to book overview

6. How to Care?
THE CONTESTED AFFECTS OF DISASTER RECOVERY IN
THE LOWER NINTH WARD

Before Hurricane Katrina few people outside of New Orleans had heard of or cared about the Lower Ninth Ward, and few New Orleanians who did not live there visited the neighborhood. Residents of the Lower Nine, as the neighborhood is colloquially known by New Orleanians, were painfully aware of the ways their home was stigmatized by associations with crime and poverty—a stigma that also carried racist undertones. Over the course of my ethnographic work in this area since 2008, residents have repeatedly mentioned the impact of the neighborhood’s unfavorable reputation on their lives. I distinctly remember Jeanell Holmes, a Lower Ninth Ward resident I met during this project, once saying, “My friends in high school wouldn’t come to pick me up or drop me off when we went out” (unstructured interview 2009). The words of Victoria Jackson, another resident and community organizer, also stand out in my memory: “The city always looked at us as a downtrodden neighborhood” (fieldnotes 2008).

New Orleanians did not always see the Lower Ninth Ward negatively. Located less than four miles east of the French Quarter along the Mississippi River (fig. 16), the area was first settled in the 1860s by immigrants from various parts of Europe, including Ireland, Germany, Italy, and by emancipated African Americans who established small family farms (GNOCDC 2007). In the early twentieth century, during the era of state-sanctioned segregation, the neighborhood was purposely developed as a place where working- class African Americans of modest means could build and own their own houses.

Like other neighborhoods of New Orleans, the Lower Ninth Ward remained a socioeconomically diverse area until the 1960s, when the era of suburban flight and de facto segregation initiated a process of

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