Katrina and Historical Memory: Death in the Water

Diane Harriford,
Becky Thompson
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As people across the world watched the class four Hurricane Katrina hit the Louisiana coast and the Mississippi Delta of the United States in late August 2005, they witnessed that a staggering number of people could not leave. We watched as they waded in the water, tried to swim to dry land and even succumbed to the water. We also recognized parallels between this disaster and the Middle Passage.

The Middle Passage described as the most brutal of human atrocities toward other humans imaginable was the months’ long journey over water, the Atlantic Ocean, that brought Africans to the Americas and to slavery. Many died enroute and were tossed overboard. Others, hoping to return home, jumped overboard and to certain death. The images of water from Hurricane Katrina—the muddy water, the out of control water, the water that drowned people, the water carrying bodies, the water covering disappeared bodies—looked like the same water. The Katrina disaster was another ocean of death. Water in this context is a metaphor that runs deep in black historical memory, a repository for countless untold stories.

In this paper, we will show how Katrina tapped into a historical memory, affecting Black people in New Orleans as well as Black people witnessing the event. This memory is not easily accessible today because the DuBoisian “double consciousness” which kept that memory alive is being replaced by consumerism and individualism. Neither provide the spiritual foundation that in the past bound Black people to their history and to each other. Hurricane Katrina re-awakened these ties.

As a way to understand the response to Hurricane Katrina, we examine Darlene Clark Hine’s concept of the culture of dissemblance. We also suggest that by developing what Gloria Anzaldúa’ calls “mestiza consciousness”; people subjected to this kind of trauma, in Louisiana and Mississippi and other places around the world, can find a place for healing.

Keywords: historical memory, double consciousness, culture of dissemblance, mestiza consciousness
Stream: Philosophy, Ethics, Consciousness, History, Historiography, Ethnicity, Difference, Identity, Immigration, Refugees, Race, Nation
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Katrina and Historical Memory

Diane Harriford

Associate Professor, Chair, Department of Sociology, Sociology Department, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York   USA
Poughkeepsie, New York, USA

Teach at a small liberal arts college in upstate New York in the United States. Try to fuse academic work and activism. Think of myself as a public sociologist. Currently finishing a book with the co-author of this paper Becky Thompson. When the Center is on Fire: Passionate Social Theory looks at major social upheavals in the US and explains them, using classical and contemporary social theory, in a way that will give thinking people tools to understand their world.

Also, currently working on a book about Black women's sexualty.

Becky Thompson

Associate Professor, Sociology Department, Simmons College,  Boston Massachusettes, USA
Boston, Massachusettes, USA

For the past twenty years academic work has been around social justice issues. Also, considers herself an activist whose most recent interest is in immigration issues as they affect Spanish speaking people and Arabs.

Teaches a wide range of courses that try to situate activism within a defined spirituality and ethical basis. Has spoken at several major universities around the country , including Harvard.

Also, uses poetry as a way to tap into issues of trauma and believes it can be used as a political tool to reach a great number of people.

Ref: H06P0191