35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scathing critique of Bush administration
I live in New Orleans and I love most aspects of the city. I evacuated before the storm and we lost our home and most of our possessions to flooding. But, this has merely been an inconvenience for me in many ways. As one who had to buy flood insurance to get a mortgage, we were lucky - with the insurance settlement and the sale of gutted house, we will soon be back on...
Published on February 3, 2006 by Professor
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting discussion of racial issues relating to Katrina relief--but with problems.
Michael Eric Dyson, for those who don't know, is a tireless advocate for the black community, a community that he proudly participates in and loves. For better or worse, Dyson has written many books on topics that emphasize and underscore racial issues in American society and how they affect the black community. This book is no different. His primary thesis is that the...
Published on December 9, 2009 by Lawrence Miley
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scathing critique of Bush administration,
This review is from: Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster (Hardcover)I live in New Orleans and I love most aspects of the city. I evacuated before the storm and we lost our home and most of our possessions to flooding. But, this has merely been an inconvenience for me in many ways. As one who had to buy flood insurance to get a mortgage, we were lucky - with the insurance settlement and the sale of gutted house, we will soon be back on our feet financially.
However, spiritually and emotionally, Katrina has changed my life. Much of that is because of the things Dyson writes about in this book. I watched with horror, outrage and sadness as our government (at all levels) failed the people of New Orleans. New Orleanians knew but generally did not speak about the huge racial and class divisions within the city. As I took myself (and my dog) out of the city, I knew thousands would be left behind, and generally felt there was nothing I could do. I had get myself to safety. Of course, Dyson doesn't let people like me off the hook, which is a good thing.
It is painful to read Dyson's book because in so many ways it speaks the truth about our country's attitudes toward the poor and toward African Americans, as well as our government's continued response to their issues. These issues didn't begin with a hurricane; it took that to remind the entire country that we are not a classless society. The book was insightful in many ways, and it provided new information about what really happened. Dyson's writing is searing and unforgiving.
However, I only rate this book 4 stars instead of 5 because it is almost too hard on Bush. I am not a big fan of Bush, and believe wholeheartedly that the federal government bears a great deal of responsibility over its lousy and cruel response to this disaster. I also agree that this is indicative of a larger philosophy about poverty and racism. Worse in some ways is the federal government's continued response by refusing to pay for Category 5 levees and to realistically help people get back on their feet.
Yet, the local and state officials bear a lot more responsibility than Dyson is willing to admit. Although exaggerated, Nagin's "chocolate city" comments illustrate that our local leadership is certainly not beyond reproach. I also found Dyson's defense of Kayne West to be incredibly convaluted - I doubt seriously that West gave as much thought to his words as Dyson seems to think he did. And, although he is correct that the stories of violent crime and looting were exaggerated by the media, they did occur. We saw it on television, and I have a good friend who was trapped for days in a local hospital, afraid for her life b/c of thugs trying to steal the hospital's limited food, water and drug supply. He should not let these people off the hook simply by saying their poverty caused them to enjoy things that had heretofore been denied to them. In that case, laws are meaningless, as is morality.
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loss of an American city,
This review is from: Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster (Hardcover)From the removal of the funds needed to shore up the levees, the willful ignoring of severe hurricane warnings, the destruction of the wetlands to the deploying of the National Guard to Iraq and the incredibly slow response time from FEMA, Hurricane Katrina was a disaster waiting to happen. Michael Eric Dyson, in COME HELL OR HIGH WATER, lists all the reasons that this natural disaster did not have to be as devastating as it was. Even as people were ordered to evacuate, the government had to know that many would be unable to leave because they had no private transportation, yet no means were offered to these urban poor for escape. For those who did manage to leave the Lower 9th Ward and get to the Superdome, even more horror awaited them as they lived without food or water, in their own bodily wastes while the hurricane blew two large holes in the roof. Still rescue was not imminent.
As the citizens sat atop their roofs begging for rescue, ugly rumors spread that they were shooting at their rescuers. When the real story came out, they were simply attempting to attract the attention of the circling helicopters. The elderly, the infirm, and the poor were trapped in attics and on roofs for days with nothing as bodies floated in the water or sat propped in chairs in public. For those black citizens who attempted to get food, water or clothing from abandoned stores, accusations of 'looting' abounded while white citizens who were doing the same were pictured as 'finding' these items. Even the local officials helped pass on stories of degradation, murder and mayhem, yet most of these stories were untrue.
Dyson connects the New Orleans disconnect to the sometimes blatant, but mostly hidden racism that consciously or unconsciously rules American society. This is a well-documented book that is needed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. So many have already forgotten or at least pushed it to the back burner. There are also those, both black and white, who want to blame the victims of this hurricane. Dyson is having none of it in this book as he chronicles how help from other states, other countries and even the Coast Guard hospital ship was turned away by FEMA. It is well written and a must read for those interested in the politics of racism in this country.
Reviewed by Alice Holman
of the RAWSISTAZ Reviewers
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A telling picture of the Gulf Coast,
This review is from: Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster (Hardcover)This book has the ability to make us think deeply about the situation not only in the Gulf Coast, but with the people of that territory, their condition, and the way we treat them. He had a lengthy critique of the federal government and their response to Katrina (or lack thereof). The book also forces us to look at ourselves and ask what we could have and what we can do to do a better job of being "our brother's keeper" so to speak. I say this because the general public has done a tremendous job of raising money, providing resources, and our time to the victims, but we must continue to do so. We cannot do it temporarily; the people need our help and it is our duty and responsibility to be there for those in need. Don't get me wrong; it certainly does not excuse the government of their poor and horrendous response to the hurricane, but we must bear some responsibility for our treatment of them. This book clearly states that and much more.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A ringing endorsement from New Orleans...,
-Susan Larson, The Times-Picayune
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars They got both,
The book doesn't address (at least in the first edition) why it is that New Orleans has not been rebuilt, but the same forces which neglected the city for so long, are probably critical to the lack of real rebuilding.
For anyone who wants a starting point to look at race, and poverty in the United States, this makes a good one. The writing is plain, but not dumbed down, and the bibliography is complete; so the basis for his work is there to be seen; and as a springboard the book is excellent.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bad Planning; Worse Response,
Dyson lost me somewhat near the end with a fairly complicated theological discussion of the event and its aftermath. I don't think he endorses floodwater theology, the idea that God punishes the wicked with natural disasters, but I couldn't quite make out his point in this section (the Editorial Review above seems to have done a decent job on this point).
Overall, I recommend this book to those with interest in natural disasters and in the role of race in public policy. Based on Mike Tidwell's study of Katrina and global warming, "The Ravaging Tide", these are issues that everyone should be engaged in. My wife says Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American City written by the New Orleans reporter who wrote Amazon's editorial review is an even better book.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Linda Jo Smith, Book Review Editor, Sisters~Nineties Literary Group,
Michael Eric Dyson's citations are impeccably documented. He reminds us of the initial reporting of the pitiful responses and ineptitude of local and federal official and their failure to take command of available resources before and after the storm hit. Dyson cites the fact that there was ample warning from the National Weather Bureau that Katrina's wrath would be devastating. The Army Corps of Engineers concluded years ago that the levee would be unable to stave off a level 4 hurricane (Katrina was a level 5). This conclusion was documented during the Clinton Administration. It was common knowledge that when (not if) the levee would break, it would wipe out the entire Ninth ward and a few parishes in the periphery.
Dyson cites how initial accounts media accounts were augmented by the National Security Agency to deflect the truth with whitewashed reports of feigned concern.
Dyson indicts African-Americans with means by suggesting that they believe the victims of Katrina were too ignorant to be prepared to evacuate, therefore making themselves susceptible to being swept away. In this statement I find no credible documentation. Dyson continues to insert his obsession to malign Bill Cosby calling him too white to care about less the fortunate, uneducated African Americans. It is also disappointing that Dyson finds merit in the entertainers of the hip-hop genre making a sincere difference in the African American communities. Personally, I see no evidence of any consistent impact.
As an ordained minister, Come Hell or High Water: the Color of Disaster would be considered counterfeit with out Dyson's usual pontificating. He raises the moral issue that some believe that New Orleans, being the sinful city that it is, suffered from the wrath of God's judgement. What do you think?
Come Hell or High Water is a worthy, well-documented read. Check it out for yourself!
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Katrina: A Surreal Human Tragedy,
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Dyson, a distinguished professor of humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, writes like a novelist, not as an academic, as he reaches deep into the flood waters to find answers to a question on every American's mind: How could Hurricane Katrina have been transformed into such an unnatural disaster?
Dyson starts with a tour of New Orleans' black neighborhoods most people outside the city never heard of, and white New Orleans cared little about, before the morning of August 29, 2005. Just beyond the iconic French Quarter is the once largely ignored but now-famous Lower Ninth Ward, many of whose deeply impoverished African American residents, lacking private transportation and the wherewithal to leave New Orleans for higher ground, were forced to take shelter in the stifling Superdome and Convention Center, where oft-repeated reports of rape and murder in that fetid environment turned out to be false. "I hate the way they portray us in the media," (the rapper Kanye) West intoned. "If you see a black family, it says, 'They're looting.' You see a white family, it says, 'They're looking for food.' "
In analyzing the politics of race and disaster in general, and President George W. Bush's belated response to Katrina in particular -- "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job!" -- Dyson maintains how "incompetence and antigovernment philosophy, among other factors, made a bad situation even worse." Among those other factors, Dyson pulls no punches in quoting the critic Jacob Weisberg: "If Bush and (his political mentor Karl) Rove didn't experience the spontaneous political reflex to help New Orleans, it may be because they don't think of New Orleans as a place that helps them." Even Bush's mother, Barbara, "in a moment of unsolicited candor, let on that she believed the poor black evacuees (in Houston) were in a better place than they were before, a prospect that both pleased and frightened her."
Michael Eric Dyson's book is an important contribution not just to understanding how Katrina happened, but how "incompetence, indifference and injustice," in the words of Tulane University history professor Lawrence N. Powell, characterize contemporary American attitudes toward the country's poor and dispossessed of all races.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting discussion of racial issues relating to Katrina relief--but with problems.,
This review is from: Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster (Paperback)Michael Eric Dyson, for those who don't know, is a tireless advocate for the black community, a community that he proudly participates in and loves. For better or worse, Dyson has written many books on topics that emphasize and underscore racial issues in American society and how they affect the black community. This book is no different. His primary thesis is that the damage and suffering brought from Katrina would have been ameliorated if, instead of poor blacks, those affected were more affluent or of a whiter complexion. The primary culprit of this, according to Dyson, was the Bush administration, though his ire isn't solely directed at them. There are other emphases as well, including the interplay between racial stereotyping in society as a whole and media coverage and portrayal of blacks.
Regarding the prevalence of racial prejudice, Dyson doesn't claim that overt and explicit racism was the cause of the poor response to Katrina; rather, there was an implicit prejudice or "passive indifference" directed towards poor blacks. Unfortunately, Dyson doesn't proffer many arguments to support this position. The primary argument he gives (and it shows up several times) is simply a thought experiment: if these people were affluent whites, wouldn't help have come sooner and more effectively? He also includes a pointed example in which the media exemplifies this low view of blacks. On the same day, the AP printed two stories with stranded people wading through water with food in hand, one a black man, the other a white man and woman. The picture with the black man had the title referring to his having "looted," while the photo of the white couple was described as having "found" food. (It's hard to evaluate this example in isolation even if it is powerful, for one example does not make a strong case.) Even with the dearth of arguments for this position, some of what he writes weighs against his thesis. For instance, he constantly decries the inefficiency of the Bush administration (particularly FEMA)while giving another detail concerning the administration that (at least) undercuts the argument based upon race: incompetency. Dyson clearly accentuates the incompetence of the administration by detailing how they really had no structure in place to handle a natural disaster, particularly their lack of proper coordinating for handling the situation. Yet this militates against his main thesis, for the incompetency has no relation to racial issues; it was in place prior to the disaster. Of course, this doesn't discount the claim that implicit racism had something to do with the response, but there is an inverse relationship between incompetence and (racial) apathy. The primary problem, I believe, that besets his thesis is that it's quite difficult to argue for specific cases of implicit racism, leaving him to mostly rely upon the thought experiment example.
Dyson lambastes the Bush administration throughout the book. Most of the blame for this catastrophe is placed at their feet. (On a side note, Dyson doesn't tell the reader when he thinks these missteps are the product of indifference towards blacks.) However, it seems that Dyson goes too far in his blame of the Bush administration or--at least--he doesn't adequately support his position. For instance, he complains that FEMA's head knew of the disaster that was coming to New Orleans 3 days before it hit but didn't request troops until 5 hours after it hit. This would be a powerful example if Dyson had shown that FEMA had the authority, without state and local authority, to enter into NO, but he doesn't. Also, it's unclear how much FEMA knew three days before, which is quite important for doling out blame. Further, if what Dyson claims is true, NO mayor Ray Nagin would be the real culprit here for not issuing a mandatory evacuation sooner than the day before the hurricane hit, not using the Amtrak's services before its last run out of town, and not using all of the public transportation devices that, according to Dyson, were later seen swarmed by the flood waters. Dyson is also very critical about the amount of voluntary resources that were turned away by FEMA (e.g., the US BATAAN; Florida Airboat Association). But, again, it's unclear how much blame, if any, should be put on FEMA and its employees for this. If they were obeying the law, then there may not be any blame. At least this is something that is debatable, and it brings up the question of whether blame should be put on the individuals who allowed such laws to come into existence; moreover, it raises the question as to whether less government is better than bigger government in dealing with these situations, something contrary to Dyson's political persuaion. But there is no room for a nuanced discussion on this issue with Dyson; Bush and his crew are guilty, and that's that. (It's also interesting to note that Dyson points out the bureaucratic red tape that prevented New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson from sending Coast Guard troops for quite some time, the problem coming from LO Governmor Blanco not issuing a request, yet there isn't a discussion about blame here.)
Dyson clearly holds a certain level of antipathy for Bush and his political philosophy, and this appears to cloud his judgment on issues in which Bush is related (not unlike many political pundits on both sides of the political aisle). There is a really good example of this clouding of judgment. Shortly after the Federal Government entered the environment in NO, Bush noted that the efforts from the Fed were "not acceptable." Several days later, while outlining his plan to assist NO, Bush claimed that the devastation there was simply too much for the state and local governments to handle, resulting in citizens not getting the help they need and that this was "unacceptable." Dyson claims that Bush was attempting to transfer blame from the federal government to the state and local governments through "word association" (105-06). This is an egregious interpretation of Bush's statements. He didn't even place any blame on the state and local governments in his statement but, rather, on the situation. This is a clear example of Dyson's cloudy judgment regarding Bush and justifies one taking his pronouncements on anything related to Bush with a grain of salt.
Another problem with Dyson's evaluation is his overemphasis of race. He states, "How can race possibly be quarantined from a consideration of Katrina when it so thoroughly pervades our culture--the choices we make, the laws we adopt and discard, and the social practices that are polluted by its pestering ubiquity?" (19). Yes, race plays a role in our society, but this is an overstatement. Most decisions people make have nothing to do with race. This overemphasis on race, I believe, leads him to find racial disparity in every conceivable place. For instance, he spends a few pages discussing how other minorities were affected by and treated after the Katrina disaster. He notes Latinos, Native Americans, and Vietnamese, cites a couple of facts around their departure of NO, and then refers to how the government had abandoned or mistreated them. The problem is that he doesn't really argue for this, or at least he does so poorly. He claims that Latinos didn't receive help because they were afraid to ask, fearing deportation related issues, and that of the 30,000 Vietnamese refugees many were turned away from the Astrodome, yet the precise number isn't given nor are the general numbers of those trying to get into/those rejected entry into the Astrodome.
For those who have seen Dyson give commentary on TV, it's obvious that Dyson has a way with words. He's extremely eloquent in those situations. However, this is not the case when Dyson goes to print. He seems to try too hard to sound profound by using big words and elongated sentences that obfuscate, rather than elucidate, the issue at hand. I can cite one example: "And by raising the problem of evil as an issue that is but one remove from the theological landscape when it probes human responsibility and agency, redistributive theodicy seeks to clarify the ultimate cause of human suffering and disaster" (193). It's unclear, in almost any context, what it means for something to be 'one remove' from something else, and 'theological landscape' is another obscure phrase in this context. The best I can surmise is that Dyson is referring to some sort of freewill defense toward the problem of evil here, but there are much better and clearer ways (e.g., Alvin Plantinga's works) to express this. Another example of Dyson's pedantic tendencies can be found where he explains the etymology of the work 'theodicy'. He correctly notes its origin from the Greek words 'theos' and 'dike', but, for no reason other than to display how learned he is, he provides the Greek for these words; however, there's a problem: the Greek letters he uses for 'theos' are not correct. Of course, how many people know Greek? Not many, so most will just look at this as Dyson even knowing Greek. The point is that even if he knew Greek, the reader gains nothing from this.
Some reviewers have referred to Dyson as a Marxist. I think such labels aren't helpful because they're only used in the pejorative sense. Dyson surely favors more of a "spread the wealth" political philosophy, and there's a nice quote that sums up his views on this matter that some may find informative: "Charity is no substitute for justice. If we never challenge a social order that allows some to accumulate wealth--even if they decide to help the less fortunate--while others are shortchanged, then even acts of kindness end up supporting unjust arrangements. We must never ignore the injustices that make charity necessary, or the inequalities that make it possible" (152).
I had some other problems with Dyson's claims, such as his defense of those who stole non-essential products for no other reason than that they wanted these things, but putting these aside, the book does have its positives. The most important--though exaggerated--was that racial issues are still present and shouldn't be ignored even in a society that has a (half-)black president. I agree with Dyson that class certainly had something to do with the response to Katrina and that race probably played a role too, even though I'm not convinced that Dyson's account of the extent to which this was present is correct. I'll end by noting that according to Dyson, 67% of New Orleans was black during the time of Katrina, yet (from another source) only 49% of the casualties were black. This number is at least food for thought, especially considering Dyson's emphasis on the fact that the communities that were hit the most (i.e., the poor) had a higher concentration of blacks than the general populace.
25 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars America continues drowning in racism and classism,
Barbara Bush and Kane West's comments were uncomfortable because they were honest. Louisiana remains a very racially divided state.
After integration people with the economic means to do so; sent their children to private schools (which did not have to comply with the order) and the Louisiana public school system remains pathetically under funded today. Although many private schools are today integrated, the stigma against provision of adequate public services (for the public good) remains firmly entrenched. Little wonder that the state government itself only cared about the evacuation of people with private automobiles.
I watched in amazement as Governor Kathleen Blanco ordered people to evacuate the area, blissfully unaware that mass transit (or what exists of it) itself was not running. Were only people who own private automobiles supposed to leave the city? What was happening to the people needing to use mass transit? Listening to Blanco gave the impression that anybody without a private auto elected their fate---a completely callous and irresponsible idea.
I met many of those survivors after they transferred to Houston. Their faces illustrated human misery and the betrayal of equal protection. I also recognized that since I am a southerner dependent upon mass transit and our entire region alternately derides it as 'burden' or 'extra' that very little separated me from enduring a similar plight.
Dyson is rightly critical of Bush because of the premium his own administration placed on 'security'--that is until they were caught bungling things after Katrina. Now, they drag feet, shuffle responsibility, but it does not change their incompetent response.
Homeland security ultimately means very little if the government cannot (or *will not*) effectively respond to a large scale disaster. It cannot morally choose what grand-scale disaster the homeland will be protected and/or recover from. After all of the warning and hand wringing the Bush administration had performed over 'preparedness' against 'attacks', Dyson's assessment is very reasonable.
Thousands of people were unable to receive timely and appropriate help only because they were not 'important' to this administration and its cronies-in charge of the homeland security and disaster relief itself; the then-director of FEMA lacked any directly related experience in disaster management. 'Brownie' since resigned, but Chertoff also lacks directly related experience--the hallmark of bureaucracy itself.
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Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster by Michael Eric Dyson (Paperback - July 3, 2007)