Over the past week, I’ve received emails and texts from friends and family, asking if I’m alright, if I’m okay.
At first, I just thought it was the usual thing, the thing we’re all doing now as we sit at home, waiting out this virus: checking in on folks that we haven’t spoken to in a while. I know I’ve done it–emailed or texted or Facebook Messaged someone who crossed my mind. “Hey, just wanted to let you know I’m thinking about you. Hope you’re holding up well, and I hope to see you in person once all this mess is over.” That kind of thing.
But the calls I haven’t gotten haven’t been that. They’ve come from people who’ve been alarmed by media reports about New Orleans. Rats are swarming through the streets. Florida wants New Orleanians to stay home. So does Texas. And so on.
This is one of the calls I received. It’s from my mother (the adoptive one):
(Yes, she referenced Fox News.)
Now, just to be clear, we do have a problem in New Orleans–a big one. COVID-19 has been tearing through the city, and the percentage of people dying from the disease is higher here than in many places. (Whether that’s due to our medical infrastructure or the fact that the virus has popped up in 11 nursing homes, only time will tell.) Things are likely to get worse this week.
So, I’m not upset about people checking in with me during the pandemic. No, what’s starting to piss me off is the media reports, the ones that have inspired the emails, the text messages, and the call from mom. Hidden between the lines, you’ll often notice a little smugness, a little judgy-ness, a prim moral narrative. “New Orleans, America’s great bastion of hedonism and papism, is getting its comeuppance as the dirty sinners who live there pass around the coronavirus like a marijuana cigarette at one of them rap concerts. They’re dropping like flies, bless their hearts.”
It reminds me of the reports about New Orleans that came out after Katrina. I had to field calls from reporters back then, and when I spoke to them, I could tell that they’d already dreamed up their narrative arc, they just wanted me to corroborate with some good sound bites. “Six months ago, Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, and still no one knows if this den of iniquity, poverty, sloth, and corruption will ever recover. So sad!” Then again, that’s the kind of headline that gets eyeballs, not “Hurricane Katrina was terrible, but life continues in New Orleans because humans are pretty good about picking up the pieces and moving on.“
In fact, The Guardian went so far as to invoke Katrina in its headline for a recent article about the city: “‘A nightmare all over again’: after surviving Katrina, New Orleans battles Covid-19“. Apart from some Old Testament-y similarities, I’m not sure what links a flood and a plague separated by a decade and a half, but you know, get those clicks.
So, if you’re calling or texting or emailing someone in New Orleans because you’ve heard that the city is falling to pieces, please check yourself. We are struggling through this, the same as everyone. We’re doing worse than many, better than some. Our grocery stores are open, our restaurants are closed, our teachers are trying to educate kids from afar, and among adults who still have jobs, a fair percentage have tested positive to a newfound hatred of Zoom.
In short, this is not Jezebel, but lord please watch Jezebel. Holy hell, ain’t that something?