The popular perception that African-Americans living in New Orleans were disproportionately victimized by the government's botched Hurricane Katrina rescue effort turns out not to be true - at least according to preliminary death statistics released by the state of Louisiana.
On Wednesday, Congress heard dramatic testimony from black Katrina survivors, who complained that racism drove the federal rescue efforts and resulted in an unnecessarily high number of African-American deaths.
"People were allowed to die," storm survivor Leah Hodges testified, telling a House panel that black residents of New Orleans had been victims of "genocide and ethnic cleansing."
But preliminary figures compiled by the morgue in St. Gabriel, Louisiana, which is the primary facility handling the bodies of Katrina deceased, show that a majority of the dead in New Orleans and surrounding parishes were actually not black.
Of the 883 bodies processed so far by medical examiners at St. Gabriel, 562 have been identified by race. Slightly less than half that number - 48 percent - are African-American. Forty-one percent are white, 8 percent unknown and 2 percent Hispanic.
The remarkable numbers, which undermine claims that Katrina rescue efforts were somehow infused by racism, have been completely ignored by the national media, with only the Lousiana-based news web site, The Bayou Buzz, devoting any coverage at all to the story.
The surprisingly low death rate for black Katrina victims comes despite the fact that New Orleans itself was more than two-thirds black [67 percent] when the storm hit. White residents made up less than a third [28 percent] of the city's population, according to U.S. Census bureau numbers.
The two hardest hit areas were Orleans parish, which is the city itself - with 720 people killed by Katrina - and St. Bernard parish, with 123 dead.
St. Bernard parish is 88 percent white, but the total population before the storm was just 65,554 people. The city of New Orleans, on the other hand, had 484,674 people before the storm, 67 percent of whom were black.
The two populations combined were still over 60 percent black - twelve points higher than the percentage of black residents killed by Katrina.
So more whites died per capita than blacks. So you had elderly white people who chose to ride out the storm at home vs the hell that awaited them in the dome. Many of them died. The black population that could not evacuate went to the dome.. And while they were uncomfortable, they lived.