“The Façade of Care: the Ability to Conceal Hidden Violence “

Scholar Saidiya Hartman states that “care is the antidote to violence”, meaning that care can be applied to remedy the complications of violence. To this, Davina Ward, a past student of this course retaliates that, “violence can exist as care”, and supports that these opposing concepts are one and the same. From this tension, I was challenged to reflect on experiences with care and violence in this course. I agree violence can exist as care, but more precisely, I find that care can be often used to disguise underlying violence. 

Care, while not always, can act as a deceitful fraud. While there are many things that I have learned through the semester, many works have enlightened me about the insincere duality that care can present. In the true sense of the term, to care means to express concern or interest for something or someone. It is the authentic supervision and guidance that one can express for another person or group of people. From this, care can be appraised as a beautifully selfless and well-intentioned concept. And yet, as I have continued learning this semester, I have had the epiphany that care can sometimes be used to conceal violence that had been administered. This misleading motive of care has troubled me, as I have always believed in the uplifting and wholesome definition of care. This realization was a reminder of the societal flaw that allows people to get away with dishonesty, selfishness, and corruption. Through art, literature, performances, and more, it has been revealed that people can sometimes claim to act in the best interest of others, and yet their actions lack the true empathy and understanding needed to tend to people in need. 

In opposing care, violence is when a person or group uses force against another. Typically, this word has a negative connotation alluding to physically, emotionally, or verbally harming another being or group of people. Through this semester, one reiterated concept was that violence is often administered by groups that feel superior to another group, and therefore threaten or act aggressively towards a group that they have deemed to be inferior. In Joseph Roach’s 1996 performance “Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance ”, he addressed the concept of violence by claiming that “violence is a performance of waste” (Roach, 1996, pg. 41). With this, Roach references the idea that violence is often performed by a group of individuals that condescends another group as subservient, unworthy “waste”. Through this course, I have been shown many examples of violence that has been administered by government officials and organizations onto specific populations that are patronized and abandoned following detrimental storms. In these examples of violence, government officials claim to be “doing everything they can” to help the people in need, while in actuality this was a lie. These government officials and organizations were using a falsified sense of care in order to conceal the true violence that they were guilty of. 

The film When the Levees Broke directed by Stan Lee exposes one instance of care being used to disguise violence. Lee follows the events before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina, a category 5 hurricane that devastated the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. Following the horrific tragedy that the storm presented, the helpless residents of this city looked towards the people that were supposed to provide them with care; The Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, and former President Bush. In the film, Lee included a short segment from President Bush’s first public response to Katirina in which he states, “Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives”. And yet, this speech was given seventeen days after Katrina struck and hundreds of lives were already lost. He insisted that he would provide any necessary care that was needed for the residents of New Orleans, and yet, his lengthy delay in response could insinuate that this care was untruthful. In the film, one victim called out that after “Two, three weeks into the game the president takes responsibility”, in response to his long overdue speech (Lee 2006). Lee further reveals the ingenuine care that FEMA exhibited to conceal its violence against Hurricane Katrina victims in the storm’s aftermath. It is the self-proclaimed mission of FEMA to support “citizens and emergency personnel to build, sustain, and improve the nation’s capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.”. Despite this, many victims of the storm argued that this organization left them abandoned, vulnerable, and with a false hope that help was soon to come. This was seen as FEMA repeatedly told the victims that buses, food, water, and medical personnel were coming to assist them, and yet it took days before this help arrived. They offered a false sense of care that they were not true to, and falsely published that they were actively helping the victims. This was an act of violence; they exploited the people in need, and did not truly care for their well-being. 

From the many works that displayed the events of Katrina and its unfortunate aftermath, it is clear that Katrina victims felt as though this care demonstrated by both FEMA and President Bush was insincere and dishonest. The care should have begun sooner to evacuate the residents of New Orleans and prepare for the storm; the care should have arrived immediately after the storm resolved when thousands of people were crying out for help. The falsity of care was demonstrated simply by its delay. It is this fraudulent care that exposes the true violence that government officials and organizations administered to the helpless victims of Katrina. It is the role of a governing body to protect, care for, and assist all of their people, and yet, none of this was accomplished following this storm. 

And why not? This question gave rise to speculations about the systemic discrimination of certain races and economic classes. New Orleans is a complex city with a multifaceted identity; rich in culture and diversity in some areas, but also challenged by poverty, crime, and stereotypes in others. Unfortunately, these social and economic challenges are often looked at by my government organizations as profitable prey. Author Timothy Brezina alluded to this downfall in government systems, and referenced the inexplicit violence that occurred in New Orleans during Katrina’s aftermath. In his examination, he explained the perversity theory, or “The idea that government assistance creates perverse incentives, and makes people helpless and dependent on the state, has a long history in Western society”(Brenzina 2008, pg.25). New Orleans was vulnerable to this theory as a result of their struggles both before and after Hurricane Katrina; they were led to be dependent on a government that proved to be covertly ill-intentioned. Especially with the storm, Brezina explained how this theory “has been used before to deny aid to disaster victims, and its application to evacuation-related failures appears to represent a novel extension of the argument”(Brenzina 2008, pg. 27). This pattern of government behavior is dangerous as they are able to withhold help from those that need it the most, those who are often entirely dependent on their assistance. As many New Orleans residents were reliant on these governmental systems, this tactic could have been utilized by government institutions in order for them to gain a sense of power and authority, all while concealing the violence they were inflicting upon a marginalized group. Unfortunately, this may be the answer to why the US government did not truthfully care for these victims. 

Outside of Hurricane Katrina, care was also used to disguise violence following Hurricane Maria’s destruction of Puerto Rico in 2017. The wake of this storm left the city of Guaynabo flooded with debris, and the people with very scarce resources. Artist Jhoni Jackson depicted the events and aftermath of this storm through 23 tarot cards, and explained what each card was referencing. His twelfth card was titled “La Ayuda”, or the help, and outlined former President Donald Trump’s mocking attempt to assist the city after the storm. Jackson quoted a resident’s opinions on this visit in explaining “When he came here, they took him to Guaynabo to a chapel; not much had happened there. He went to the prettiest corner of Guaynabo. He came here and instead of giving us food, he gave us paper towels. It was like a joke to him.” (Jackson 2018). Trump visited in order to provide care to the victims of the storm, and yet, his mockery of throwing paper towels at the victims was taken as a gesture of violence. This direct affront offended many, as his “act of care” did not demonstrate any true empathy or concern. Therefore, similar to Katrina, a false sense of care was used to conceal violence taken against the sufferers of the storm.

Despite the underlying violence following Hurricane Katrina and Maria, there have been contradictory examples of honest and well-intended governmental care for storm victims; one example was after Cyclone Fani, a storm that devastated the city of Odisha, India. Prior to this storm, India’s government authorities took extensive measures to warn residents of the impending danger. They prepared hundreds of cyclone shelters and evacuated over one million residents. They deployed thousands of volunteers, healthcare providers, and military personnel both before and after the storm, and thus minimized the fatalities and tragedies of the storm. This vulnerable state experienced an abundance of profound care. The genuine care that the government demonstrated was not delayed, deficient, or for the purpose of self-promotion; there was no institutional violence that suspended their aid. They set a precedent of care for others to follow. 

Spiritual leader Dhali lama quotes “If we are sincere in taking care of others, if we protect their lives and respect their rights, we’ll be able to conduct our lives transparently and that is the basis of trust, which in turn is the basis of friendship.” He emphasizes the beautiful relationship that can develop when genuine care is administered. Furthermore, he suggests that care should not be administered with an expectation of benefits in return. As the care provided for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and Maria opposed this interpretation, I have been challenged by the idea that a falsity of care exists. To counter this disheartening concept that many governmental systems have exemplified, I expect to be more critical in examining claims of care that could be doubtful. It is important to recognize and challenge this ingenuine care to create a society of equity and kindness. Overall, through the works of this course I have been exposed to the duality of care, and from this have developed an appreciation for the precedents of care that uphold the term’s beautiful and empathetic connotation. 

Cyclone Fani: Never Ending Storm

By Meredith Amodie, Audrey Bilello, Emily Fasulo, Natalie Houston, Victoria Loveless, Katherine Lyons, Mia Mascaro

Learning about the culture of India includes not only learning about their government or their cuisine, but their art. Indian art takes the form of numerous different themes and styles. One crucial inspiration for most Indian artists, however, is their religion of Hinduism. These beautiful art works demonstrated people and life around them in beautiful color and detail. Raghurajpur, a village out of the district of Puri, holds approximately 500 Chitrakar artists. These pattachitra painters are highly creative and meticulous, creating unique works which they bring to life with color and precision. Each of the households in this village holds one skilled Chitrakar. Pattachitra is a very traditional style of art, being painted on objects such as scrolls, palm leaves, paper, etc. It is well known for holding intricate details that bring mythological folktales to life. Indian Art started to boost the economy during the decade of the 90’s, artists from various fields started to represent a variety of art styles. New and unheard of genres of art were brought to surface by artist Devajyoti Ray, who introduced “Pseudorealism”. Pseudorealism was a completely original style of art which was entirely developed on Indian soil. This period following the storm led to a rebirth of art in Indian culture and how it impacted the community. When the slate is wiped clean, it is time to start fresh. 

Pattachitra map painting of a Puri Temple by Oshida artist in 1880 (Map Academy)

In terms of a rebirth, they are planned for much more than we typically expect.  Beyond the religious symbolism, the government has a responsibility to play a role in preparing and reacting to the storm. Governments can respond to natural disasters in two ways. They can emphasize disaster relief or try to prevent disasters in the first place (NY Times). Due to the cyclone that hit Odisha in 1999, the government was prepared to the best of their abilities for cyclone Fani. Since 1999, Odisha’s governments, with help from the World Bank and India’s federal government, built an impressive disaster response machinery, including a State Disaster Management Authority. Government agencies developed a system for disseminating timely information, critical for timely evacuations. They have created a large number of cyclone shelters, expanding the number from 21 in 1999 to about 900 shelters in 2019. This abundance of shelters ensured that everyone who could be threatened by a cyclone was within 1.5 miles of a shelter. About 15,000 school buildings have been constructed or retrofitted to serve as temporary shelters (Dolšak and Prakash). The Odisha’s government compared to the United States government was much more prepared when a disaster hit. Hurricane Kartina was a category 5 hurricane that hit the coastal areas of the Gulf Coast states of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, including the city of New Orleans on August 29th, 2005 (Weather). An hour before the hurricane hit New Orleans, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who administers the system of levees and floodwalls in and around New Orleans, received a report that the levees of the 17th Street Canal, the city’s largest drainage canal, had been breached. However, the levee failures weren’t a complete surprise. For many years before Hurricane Katrina, emergency officials, scientists, and journalists had been worrying about what could happen if a major hurricane were to hit New Orleans (History). This goes to show that the aftermath of Hurricane Kartina didn’t have to be so devastating if the United States government took accountability and listened to the emergency officials, scientists, and journalists and checked the levees prior to a major storm hitting. The Odisha’s government and the United States government played different roles during their individual disasters.

The formation of Cyclone Fani began on April 26th, 2019, in the Indian Ocean, where it was originally labeled as a tropical storm; this storm was due to extreme global warming, as well as depressions that developed in the Bay of Bengal. The storm made landfall early Friday, May 3rd, with winds equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane. Since the Odisha cyclone hit in 1999, India has implemented updated and secure protocols for disaster relief. These protocols helped aid them in evacuating and protecting people during Cyclone Fani. Due to India’s effective meteorological department, they were able to accurately depict when Cyclon Fani was going to hit and at what magnitude. This department allowed the government to be aware of the severity of the storm as soon as possible. “Roughly 2.6 million text messages were sent to locals in clear language before cyclone Fani hit, keeping those potentially affected alert. Regular press briefings were made by officials to update people of the approaching cyclone. People were repeatedly advised over all forms of media not to panic and given clear do and don’ts” (Quartz). Clear communication was key to India’s record-breaking evacuation, 1.2 million people were evacuated in just two days. In addition, these people were not just evacuated and left to fend for themselves, seven thousand kitchens and nine thousand shelters were made available overnight for survivors. Although Cyclone Fani was proving to be very powerful, the control the UNDRR (the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) had over the disaster relief was able to minimize the damages and casualties of the storm. 

Odisha was the most severely impacted region of India when the Fani Cyclone made landfall there. The storm caused significant damage and fatalities in Bangladesh before moving to other states of India. (Dhyani). The storm caused deaths, the devastation of houses, and the flooding of towns and villages as it unleashed rainfall and winds with gusts of up to 130 mph (Cyclone Fani damage, loss, and needs assessment).  Conditions became more favorable for Fani on April 30th. Once the Fani Cyclone made landfall, strong aftereffects were noted in several Indian states. Odisha was the state most severely damaged, with a total estimated cost of 120 billion rupees (about $460 million USD). Homes, governmental structures, religious sites, and educational facilities have all been destroyed by this enormous hurricane. In India there were 508,467 homes affected. 189,095 kutcha (temporary houses) were damaged in Puri. Over 13,000 dwellings in Bangladesh were demolished or damaged. Major effects on the farming, fishing, and agricultural industries included destroyed crops, missing or dead animals, lost fishing boats, and lost fishing nets. In India, about 38 million livestock, mostly poultry, were killed. The main coconut industry in India is located along the shore, and trees were uprooted from their roots. (Cyclone Fani). Damage to Puri’s most famous temple, Jagannath Temple, necessitated repairs that cost over 51 million rupees ($630,000 USD). In addition to endangering the animals’ lives, this terrible disaster also seriously damaged the ecosystem. The state of Andhra Pradesh suffered a loss of over 586.2 million rupees ($620,000 USD) despite not experiencing such severity. The government of India, according to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has provided the Fani-affected states subsidies of more than ten billion rupees ($120 million USD) (Dhyani). 

During cyclone Fani, government authorities in Odisha, along India’s eastern flank, hardly stood still. They warned people of what was coming, they deployed everything they had: 2.6 million text messages, 43,000 volunteers, nearly 1,000 emergency workers, television commercials, coastal sirens, buses, police officers, and public address systems blaring the same message on a loop, in local language, in very clear terms: “A cyclone is coming. Get to the shelters” (NY Times). Odisha evacuated about 1.4 million people to more than 900 of their cyclone shelters, in a timely way. Only about 70 people died which was a fraction of those at risk. Its efforts have drawn international praise (Dolšak and Prakash). India’s coast guard and navy deployed ships and helicopters for relief and rescue operations on Friday. Air force units and the army are also on standby in vulnerable states (CNN). The Odisha’s government took as much control as possible while the cyclone was striking their home. Whereas when Hurricane Kartina hit New Orleans, many people were outraged at the slow rate it took the federal government to meet the needs of the people affected by the storm. 

Multiple sources have suggested that Cyclone Fani is one of the worst cyclones to ever hit throughout history.  Perhaps this assessment comes from the damages that resulted on the land, perhaps it is based on the number of casualties, maybe it is based solely on their understanding of classification and wind speeds. To the typical person, a cyclone that reached the same classification of a Category 4 hurricane would rightfully be ranked as one of the “worst” cyclones to ever hit landfall.  However, we offer an alternative dilemma for folks to consider in terms of a cyclone’s effect.  Looking beyond the title of “third worst cyclone” to exist in our current history we are met with the serious ramifications of a government that properly provided for their citizens to the best of their abilities, but still being unable to protect the land from the continuous rage that the coastal regions will fall victim to.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change and the warming of the water does not tell us that there will be more tropical cyclones, but rather the worry is that the cyclones that occur will now be more intense, so areas that have come accustomed to certain storm warnings and effects, will be met with new challenges for their families, homes, and businesses (Nat India).  This means that before the country and districts are able to begin rebuilding, more cyclones will continue to hit with the same strength, forcing people to reconsider their plan of action and where they are living.  Not to mention, the effects on the climate specifically surrounding India comes from the industrialization of the land from foreign entities.  The coastal affects the country is currently facing comes from a line of capitalists using India for their resources, but then leaving them to fend for themselves in times  of need, such as Cyclone Fani. Similarly, although an unexpected disaster, the people of India were given less than a year to rebuild their lives from the rubble before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. After countries continued to put quarantines in place, many Indian citizens found themselves not having  a home to quarantine in.  This resulted in many Indian citizens getting the virus and fighting against the virus while trying to keep others safe. Yet, similarly to when the cyclone hit, once the government was able to begin finding a solution for the people, it was never withheld.  As of October 21st, 2021 India had administered its billionth dose of the Covid vaccine, continuing to strengthen the country (The Enterprise).  From the rise of Covid the country has still been hit with the typical number of cyclones they expect every year, only now with higher winds, more expected damage, as well as the concern of catching a virus while remaining in the shelters the government has in place.  To describe Cyclone Fani as one of the worst cyclones we have seen as a society does not seem fair for a multitude of reasons, however, it could be argued that Cyclone Fani began a chain of damages that would be continuously tested by illness, weather, economics, and whatever else continues to be thrown at India. 

While it is understood that the government played a tremendous role in taking care of the people of India throughout these trying times, there is always an after for each individual person and the country as a whole. With some many different districts affected, it was clear that international support would be required in the aftermath of the storm. This led to the typical suspects making their way to towns and cities that are experiencing loss, devastation, and memories that can not be fixed with one group of paramedics or religious groups coming to aid them with food and shelter. World Vision was one of many responders to come and help with recovery efforts, however, this comes with the cost of Christian missionaries coming to towns and cities whose local religion is different from theirs (World Vision). These missionaries come offering clothes and food, but ultimately stay in order to spread their messages and understandings of God. This allows for the further justification that “God has a plan” and this storm was simply a part of the plan, losing your home, losing your art is a part of this plan. Insult is only added to injury when the further implications are added that COVID struck there and because of the storms damage, as opposed to other countries opening their arms and continuing to support India, they were treated as expendable, simply because they could not protect themselves from the virus as a result of the storm. And more importantly, the world did not stop and wait for India to recover. The world turned, storms formed, and the people tried to move on, build houses, come to terms with deaths, come to terms with a potential plague all while being told by outsiders that this was “God’s plan” for them.  The people of India, especially those of smaller districts and towns still continue to suffer from the effects of Cyclone Fani. 

This Damage, Loss, and Needs Assessment (DLNA) of the Cyclone Fani in Odisha was conducted between 24 May and 4 June 2019 by Government of Odisha in collaboration with the United Nations, World Bank, and ADB (Prevention Web). After cyclone Fani, the Odisha government announced financial assistance for families that were affected and relief packages (Outlook India). Their government’s priority was to assist the people affected and then fix up their state from the aftermath of cyclone Fani. After Hurricane Katrina hit, officials, even including President George W. Bush, seemed unaware of just how bad things were down in New Orleans. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) took days to establish operations in New Orleans, and even then did not seem to have a sound plan of action (History). Only a week and a half after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the FEMA Director Michael Brown resigned. And it took two weeks for the president to make his first appearance down in New Orleans (Politico). It was upsetting to see how unprepared the United States government was when Katrina hit considering all the factors that they were well aware of before the hurricane. Some factors include being made aware of the hurricane days in advance, the poor structure of the levees, and more than half the city being below sea level. Although Cyclone Fani and Hurricane Katrina were extremely different events, both governments acted differently before, during, and after. 

“A woman of Raghurajpur village shows her artwork that was damaged in the cyclone in Puri.” (The Hindu)

The storm’s aftermath revealed the defacing of the village of Raghurajpur. The once-established and alluring artistic village that drew in tourism with its priceless Patachitra paintings was left devastated.  One article explaining the aftermath of the storm states, “Raghurajpur, home of Odisha’s famous Pattachitra art, is a village ruined, priceless pieces of art washed away by the cyclone that stormed through the state on May 3. Just four coconut trees standing upright after the storm that was, still strong and unbending, quite like the people of this famed crafts village, despairing but resilient as they come to terms with the destruction Cyclone Fani left in its wake” (NationalHerald).  The tourism in this village supported the artist’s livelihoods; as this was destroyed it could have been easy for them to become disheartened, yet they were accepting of the damage of the storm and tried to remain optimistic. This hope of reestablishing, however, only lasted a brief time before a global pandemic struck. COVID-19 had vast damaging impacts, but the restriction of travel was one that caused further injury to the village of Raghurajpur. The conjunction of Cyclone Fani’s aftermath and COVID-19 caused the historical art pieces to be destroyed and forgotten, and the prestige of the artistic village was left overlooked in the wake. 

Catastrophes are often remembered through art; whether it be through literature, paintings, sculptures, performances, or other expressive works. Cyclone Fani was a sardonic storm as it destroyed art and then led to the creation of more art in the storm’s remembrance. Even though priceless Patachitra paintings and countless cultural artistic pieces were destroyed by the storm and COVID-19 ceased global tourism to the village, the people of Raghurajpur were determined to remember these catastrophes and rebuild their village’s historic reputation. One effort to renovate and remember is through Odisha’s Sand Art Festival. This is an annual festival that draws artists from all over the country to participate in the construction of elaborate sand art.  Through this art form, people of diverse backgrounds have expressed meaningful themes, some of which include remembering Cyclone Fani and its impacts. The remembrance of this tragic storm through art paired with the rise of tourism brought in by the festival has helped the artists of Raghurajpur overcome the damage suffered from the storm and pandemic. 

Sand art created by Sudarsan Pattnaik at Odisha’s 2021 Sand Art Festival (ZeeNews)

There is a sense of irony in using a Sand Art festival to remember the catastrophe of Cyclone Fani. Sand is a volatile medium that can be moved and changed unpredictably; it can easily be washed away and the shape it once held can be forgotten. Odisha’s Sand Art Festival uses sand as the medium of art through which diverse and talented artists create their works, often which portray a theme of remembering Cyclone Fani. It is almost paradoxical that a medium so unstable is used in artwork that remembers the tragic storm that ultimately “washed away” a very well-known artist village. One example of this was demonstrated prior to Cyclone Fani when artist Sudarsan Pattnaik created a sculpture that warned individuals to stay safe and remain calm. This artwork could serve as an effigy for the volatility of sand, as it was created prior to a storm that was about to wash the sand art away. 

Sand Art created by Sudarsan Pattnaik prior to Cyclone Fani in 2019 (TimesNow)

We acknowledge that sometimes, when a tragedy hits close to home, we tend to only care about it since it directly impacts our own lives, our families, our country, etc. Likewise, we realize that other countries provide aid on a worldwide scale, but it’s not always clear whether they do so out of genuine concern or to project a positive image. We may also look at how other nations serve their citizens, such as the contrast between India’s response to Cyclone Fani and the United States’ response to Hurricane Katrina. As a society we have denounced cyclones to being a “lesser” level of storm, but as we continue to deal with the consequences of global warming we are forced to look at, not only how we categorize storms, but how we move past the damages. The news of Cyclone Fani barely hit the American News organizations and those that it had impacted, wrote only one or two paragraphs on wind speeds and death tolls. Storms are more than the place they hit in our ranking system and the amount of people they take away from us. The lack of knowledge on Cyclone Fani, the fact there are still people in India today that are without a home because of the storm matters. The ethnocentrist tells tales of Katrina and its devastation. The horror that resulted from the storm is undeniable, but just because Hurricane Katrina negatively impacted us, does not mean we immediately lose the ability to be empathetic towards other countries when they struggle in the wake and aftermath of storms. Despite the tragedies that many faced as a result of Cyclone Fani and then COVID-19 striking immediately after, their prayers of rebuilding did not go unanswered. The Odisha’s Sand Art Festival was not only used to remember the tragic storm, but was also successful in drawing in tourists from all around the world to participate in the creation of sand art, or to observe the beautiful and meaningful artwork. This helped many of the local artists as tourism supported their income, and furthermore helped return the prestige of the artistic village. 

The Allusions of Waste: Violence Preformed on Hurricane Katrina Victims

“Waste” is a term that can reference a broad array of allusions. For some, waste can exist as a form of physical garbage, bodily excretions, or other tangible debris. And yet, for others waste holds a greater significance in representing concepts such as time, energy, thoughts, or even people. In an expansive sense, “waste” is something that has the ability to be spent, ridden of, abandoned, rejected, or discarded. Another implication of “waste” could be supported as something that could be sacrificed or expended with a sense of disregard and lack of care. Most importantly, however, I feel as though the strongest ability of “waste” lies within its capability of being forgotten.

People forget what they deem unimportant or unworthy of remembrance. This coincides with “waste” because the many insinuations of this term all reference the lack of merit that we deem our waste to have.  As for remembrance, memory is the process of retaining information, analyzing it, and storing it so that it can be brought to mind later. In Joseph Roach’s performance “Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance”, he explained how the process of “memory operates as both quotation and invention, an improvisation on borrowed themes, with claims on the future as well as the past” (Roach, 1996, pg.33). Therefore, memory is persuaded by the source and the environment from which the memory is being recalled; it is an easily influenced concept. He further explained that “memory circulates and migrates like gossip from location to location as well as from generation to generation, growing or attenuating as it passes through the hands of those who possess it and those whom it possesses”(Roach, 1996, pg.35). Comprehensively, he is reaffirming his idea that memory is interpretive and can be manipulated through interpersonal communication. It can be a biased misinterpretation of the past that can be wrongfully expounded in the future. Overall, our ability to forget “waste” and the misconstruction of memories create a threatening combination for our past, present, and future. 

Within his performance, Roach also referenced the consequential undertone that the term “waste” could carry, especially in regard to representing groups of people. With this, he explained the harm that is led to arise from the classification of people as waste, and he referenced both historical and more recent contexts in doing so. Historically, human societies have often turned to violence when one group of people identifies another group as “waste” that could be sacrificed, as they are considered inferior and worthless. Through this, he ultimately supported his claim that “violence is a performance of waste” (Roach, 1996, pg. 41).

Promptly after this claim, Roach clarified his definition of what violence truly entails; he explained, “first, that violence is never senseless but always meaningful, because violence in human culture always serves, one way or the other, to make a point; second, that all violence is excessive, because to be fully demonstrative, to make its point, it must spend things—material objects, blood, environments—in acts  of Bataillian “unproductive expenditure” (or Veblenian “conspicuous consumption”); and third, that all violence is performative, for the simple reason that it must have an audience—even if that audience is only the victim, even if that audience is only God” (Roach, 1996, pg.41). Comprehensively, this definition exploits the true intent of violence as a purposeful performance of brutality upon an “expendable” victim. Personally, I have always felt as though violence stems from an accumulation of internal anger that is eventually “taken out” on another through a physical or verbal act of rage. Furthermore, I have always believed that people tend to become violent against those that they deem inferior, as they are seen as unworthy of respect and civility. The collaboration of my thoughts on violence and Roach’s own personal and elaborate definition therefore both support Roach’s ultimate claim that “violence is a performance of waste” (Roach, 1996, pg.41).

As mentioned prior, groups of people have been categorized as “waste” throughout history and have therefore been considered to be expendable; consequently, suggesting that violence could be administered upon these groups. Such examples of historical violence have often resulted after a catastrophe, a word which Roach defines as a “…word rife with kinesthetic imagination, which carries forward through time the memory of a movement, a “downward turning,” redolent of violence and fatality but also of agency and decision.” (Roach, 1996, pg. 33).  Hurricane Katrina is an example of such a catastrophe that revealed a sense of violence against the people of New Orleans performed by national leaders and organizations of the United States. 

The tragedy of this category 5 hurricane and the violence that followed was depicted in Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke: a film that exposed the truth behind the events before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina occurred. Throughout the four acts of this film, Lee unveiled an array of people that were involved in or affected by Katrina and had them tell their side of the story. Many of these stories explained their mentality prior to Katrina, and then the hardships they faced as a result of such a severe storm. Most of these people referenced their frustration and helplessness during and after the storm’s outbreak, and many pointed their fingers at the same common enemies: the United States government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Following this hurricane, thousands of New Orleans residents were left stranded in the flooded city and forced to deal with starvation, dehydration, unbearable heat, and unsanitary living conditions. Over one thousand people died as a result of this tragic event, and yet, many feel as though this high death toll could have been avoided. 

Returning to Roach’s performance, the people trapped in New Orleans felt “expendable” by the U.S. government. There were countless preparations that should have been executed prior to the hurricane, especially knowing the damage that a category 5 hurricane is capable of causing. The main example of this was the structural incompleteness of the levee in the 9th ward of the city of New Orleans. For this, many residents blamed the federal government of Louisiana for their ignorance of the inadequate design and construction of the levee; and as a result, this levee was incapable of withstanding the force of the hurricane. In the book, Unfathomable City Solnit and Snedeker referenced the federal involvement in New Orleans in stating, “Like many urban Infrastructure systems in the United States, the city’s trinity of waterways has not been well maintained. People haven’t been willing to or able to pay up– and we haven’t adapted these systems to the problems we had” (Solnit, 2013, pg.156). From this, I, like many of the New Orleans residents, questioned: what is the true reason why the levees were inadequately constructed? Knowing that a majority of New Orleans’s geography lies below sea level, as well as its proximity to a quickly eroding coast, why wouldn’t the federal government prioritize the establishment of adequate flood protection? These were the questions that fueled so many residents’ frustrations following Hurricane Katrina, as preventative measures could have been taken to potentially have avoided the storm’s detrimental effects. This idea was further expressed in the lyrics of the Wood Brothers’ song, “River Takes the Town”, as they stated, “nothing’s ever for certain until the levee breaks down–The water comes in and the river–The river takes the town”.  Overall, as these precautionary measures were not taken to prevent flooding water from drowning the city, it could be argued that the U.S. government was willing to sacrifice the people of New Orleans. 

This argument was further supported by the aftermath of the storm depicted in Spike Lee’s film, whereas the people of New Orleans were abandoned in dehumanizing conditions and left helpless. Families were separated, dead bodies lay in the streets, people remained trapped in buildings, and thousands faced starvation and dehydration, and yet, where was the United States Government to provide relief? The Federal Emergency Management Agency was not sufficiently prepared for the severity of the storm and took multiple days to begin helping those in need. Furthermore, President Bush remained on his vacation following the hurricane, and waited three weeks to arrive and begin assisting the flooded city. This delay infuriated the many scared and desperate New Orleans residents. One example of this was expressed in a poem by Patricia Smith, where she wrote from the perspective of a  New Orleans woman in stating, “Looks like this country done left us for dead”(Smith, 2008, pg. 22).  Evidently, there should’ve been a greater sense of urgency for the government to assist the people of New Orleans. These people felt expended by a government that is supposed to protect and care for them. Their helplessness quickly transformed into frustration against the powers of the United States that had sacrificed them as “waste”.

Throughout history, Roach explained how we  “tend to place catastrophe in the past, as a grief to be expiated, and not necessarily in the future, as a singular fate yet to be endured”(Roach, 1996, pg.35). Yet, considering all of the hardships faced by the victims of Katrina, I argue that we should not allow this catastrophe to be left in the past. The hardships these people faced impact their lives to this day, and the United States government should still be held accountable for the wrongs they executed. In the context of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath, it is important that we do not forget the truth that the United States government was willing to sacrifice the people of New Orleans.  The government enacted violence against these residents as they abandoned them and left them helpless. The horrifying injustice of this catastrophe is something that cannot be ignored because this violence could be repeated again if another tragedy were to occur in an “expendable” city. As civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. once stated, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars”. With this, we must hold the United States government accountable for their consideration of people as waste and remember the true violence that the people of New Orleans underwent during and after Hurricane Katrina.