Although the BP oil spill may finally be stopped for good, there is no gush of relief and jubilation in southeast Louisiana. Months if not years of expensive and arduous cleanup remain to be done, and no one knows when, if ever, the commercial-fishing economy will return to pre-spill levels.
The entire populace — every racial, cultural, ethnic, neighborhood and socio-economic group — has been seriously affected. In response, every group with a sense of self-identity has rallied to its own defense. But variances in political connections, education, money, organizational skills and media savvy have led to widely differing levels of attention, coverage and perceived credibility. As a result, some communities with a historic sense of alienation are feeling marginalized yet again.
The very existence of an African-American commercial fishing community, for instance, has seemingly surprised some local and national media outlets. As Byron Encalade, the African-American president of the Louisiana Oystermen’s Association, put it, “Until [U.S. Reps.] Maxine Waters and Sheila Jackson Lee came down recently to check out the spill situation first-hand, hardly anyone knew that African-American and Native American oystermen and fishermen even lived in Plaquemines Parish.” (Encalade has also testified about the spill before the House Judiciary Committee.) “The black community has been here for generations,” he said, “and my ancestry is also part Native American, just like practically everybody else here. Those native people aren’t highly visible anymore, but they didn’t just vanish. They were absorbed.