A volunteer psychologist's account
of evacuee conditions in Dallas
There are so many words that come to mind. As a scholar I am thinking Diaspora, social displacement, systemic disruption, mass trauma, pandemic and unbelievable chaos. As a clinician, I am looking at something that we have never been trained to handle in this country--a level of victimization and its resultant psychosocial ripples that mandate a whole new field of clinical practice-mass victimology.
Katrina kicked the top off of a racist and social termite's nest that has been growing beneath the ground since Reconstruction. These were deeply religious people who have lost God and for that matter, faith and hope.
Hope has been replaced by magical thinking that augurs a second and more terrible level of social disruption and anger not far down the road.
Over and over, I kept hearing a framing of self that puzzled me until I realized that this is how it must have been for blacks after Reconstruction. Over and over, people said, "everyone has been so wonderful, thank you, thank you." When I said, "there is no need to thank us, you are our fellow citizens and we want to help you--American to American," there would be a long pause as if the idea of being the same never struck them before.
They are angry and it is growing. The system failed them. For that matter, there is no system because all the safeguards and preparations that we thought were in place aren't there. I have been begging anyone who would listen over the past two years for a program in mass victimology to prepare for the next tragedy after 9/11. Now it is here and the lack of organization, science, and preparation are going to result in terrible consequences for us as a nation.
Imagine sending people who have been assimilated into the most stable demographic population in America into cities and towns all over the US who are as unprepared as the victims to understand their sense of dislocation and their support needs. The lower Gulf States have a language, a history, a social dynamic, a faith, a societal structure, and a ritual system unlike any other in America. These people have lived in and been acculturated to this system for generations. When the dust settles and the mud dries, we are going to see all over America, a nation that will lose patience with the needs of a foreign refugee population. Abandoned once again, the fury and the trauma that have been momentarily quieted by the outpouring of empathy and support post-crisis, will arise larger and more terrible than we have been equipped as a nation to handle. I hear it now, over and over, in the survivor stories, in the loss of self, and the need to reclaim dignity and power.
Right now, numbness is being replaced by magical thinking. "People want me here--here is better. I think I'll stay here." What is going to happen when reality sets in? The bulk of people who are planning to stay don't understand the system here. Even though we abut borders, we are a vastly different nation. At least we are southerners. What is going to happen to the thousands being sent to Connecticut or Illinois or New Jersey? They are being offered free apartments, furniture etc, by generous and well meaning people who haven't thought the long term consequences through very well. A lot of the apartments are in areas where they won't have transportation or jobs. What is going to happen six months down the road when the magic wears off and the help slowly fades? How about the holidays for a people who thrive on ritual, tradition, and celebration?