Next year I am thinking about attending and academic conference in New Orleans. I have always wanted to go there, particularly to see the cemeteries and the architecture and to listen to the music. I spent a long time looking at two of the photographs in my reading today (I finished Part 3, one more to go) – one of a cemetery partially under water after Katrina, and other of stranded people waving up at helicopters, some holding U.S. flags, hoping to be rescued. I couldn’t avert my eyes – it was so sad to remember these images more than five years after that horrific tragedy. .
Jay-Z brings up a point that I thought of when I watched the media coverage of Katrina – there were so many shots of people waving, and you know they were photographed by the people being waved at, the journalists in media helicopters surveying the scene. He has a song lyric about it:
Wouldn’t you loot if you didn’t have the loot?/ and your baby needed food and you were stuck on the roof/ and a helicopter swooped down just to get a scoop/ Through his telescopic lens but he didn’t scoop you/ and the next five days, no help ensued/ They called you a refugee because you seek refuge/ and the commander-in-chief just flew by /Didn’t stop, I know he had a couple of seats/ Just rude…
I wondered it too – could those media helicopters have helped a few? Surely they had some safety equipment on board at least, something to help a little. And I wondered if any of those journalists went on to win awards for those photos – I think it would haunt me wondering if my prize was earned at the expense of a life – I would fear that the people in the photos didn’t get rescued by anyone, they just got their picture taken instead.
He talks about his personal feeling of responsibility, watching black people suffering and knowing that he had to help. He made a huge donation to the Red Cross, and wonders how much of the money actually went to the people he intended to help. He admits that he threw money at the situation but didn’t really do much, and admires those who actually got their hands dirty. This reminded me of Sean Penn – remember how he flew to New Orleans and tried to help people by boat? He was criticized and accused of seeking publicity, especially when his little boat took on water and nearly sank. Say what you will of him, he put himself out there – he tried to help. The people criticizing him were safe in their commentators’ chairs with hairspray in their hair and smug grins on their made up faces (or safely hiding behind their computers and sterile bylines) – they struck me as pretty pathetic, the people who laughed at him.
Jay-Z talks about charity, and how, in the Jewish tradition there is a type of giving that occurs anonymously. Then he mentions making a large contribution to a water project in Angola – he did not remain anonymous, and he traveled to Angola to see the project: “I was happy to know that whatever money I’d given was actually being put to work and not just paying a seven-figure salary for the head of the Red Cross.” The most recent unit in my sociology class was on religion – several churches are actively involved in disaster relief, and so we have options if we want to donate to relief efforts. The LDS church is often a first responder, and there is no paid clergy – every dollar of your contribution goes directly to the relief effort you request it to go to. Say what you will about organized religion, it’s nice to hear (and teach) about a major benefit that transcends faith and doctrine.
One more thing: Jay-Z says that “poverty is relative” and explains that, as a kid, he had no idea that he was poor. He reminded me of the discussion about this in Obama’s book. He says he learned that he was poor when his sixth grade teacher took his class on a field trip to her home – seeing her refrigerator with water dispenser and ice maker, her view and all of her other things make him realized that he was poor. Just like Obama’s relative, he talks about how this realization makes people obsess over achieving the U.S. version of happiness – money and things – even if they had been perfectly happy and content before they knew what they were missing.