10/03/2005 10:44 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The R Word and the C Word

Any doubt that there are rhythms, if not fashions, to news coverage might be obliterated today by a look at what some major media are doing about New Orleans. It almost suggests that now, five weeks after the Katrina disaster, it's time for a long, perhaps last, look, before we move on to newer sensations and disasters--Bali's back. So the NYT has an elegaic portrait of how much of New Orleans is not returning to normal now or any time soon, something to sober the expectations of those, like me, who are planning their return to the City that Care Forgot to Forget. But the Washington Post and the AP both take more serious approaches, tiptoeing into the questions of whether the Lower Ninth Ward will be rebuilt (WP), and the racial and class lines in a city that has been caricatured for a month as "black" (AP). It is, as the AP piece points out, a far more complex stew of races and classes, and the WP story touches on that complexity--noting that equally flood-prone middle- and upper-class neighborhoods are sure to be rebuilt while folks measure the historically poor (but culturally rich) Lower Ninth for its re-swamping duds.
What sticks, though, is this from the AP story:

One New Orleans native, when questioned via e-mail about the city's black Creole community, wrote, "We're not all black anymore. Didn't you get the memo?" Declining to be interviewed, he added that it was inappropriate to discuss skin color and class divisions in a news article.

A "normal" community would embrace discussion of its divisions, if for no other reason than to dispel stereotypes. But not a community that still feels itself under enormous economic and social pressure. For a country that has gotten used to its highest-paid entertainer being first Cosby, then Oprah, and its pop charts being dominated by insouciant young black men flaunting enough jewelry to make Joan Rivers gag, that is news indeed.