The underlying narrative in the whole Katrina #edreform turnaround is that it took White people to come save the poor little Black children. It’s very offensive and wrong.

Leigh Patel

Malcolm Gladwell’s essay on New Orleans ten years after Hurricane Katrina is but one of the many narratives that center whiteness as the protagonist of the city during and after Katrina. The purchase this essay has by virtue of its publication in a nationally renowned news, politics and culture magazine holds lessons not just about how whiteness craves and tells the story of black vulnerability but the fertile reception there is still for this mythic rendition. Whiteness is a default for white people as the referent for intelligence, beauty and objective truth. It operates by naming these explicitly. But it also works, arguably far more impactfully, by implicitly communicating white ideals not as specific but simply the norm, barely uttering it. Gladwell’s essay, “Starting Over,” is an abject lesson in this overt naming and whispering.

Gladwell begins his essay through the perspective of a phenotypically white sociologist, an outsider to…

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