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Did Hurricane Katrina Expose Racism in America?

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Jamison Ellis

on 9 March 2016

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Transcript of Did Hurricane Katrina Expose Racism in America?

Did Hurricane Katrina Expose Racism in America?
Media Coverage
"Looting" v. "Finding Food"
Concentrated Poverty
Reed & Steinberg emphasize that political leaders and commentator emphasizes the black poor of New Orleans as a major source of the city’s problems and the best propose method for overcoming these problems is to “ resettle” the black population in a manner that does not permit “the concentration of poverty” in the future. What Happen?
Government Policy
Over one-fourth of the population was below the poverty line and a little over one-fourth owned a vehicle, making evacuation of the city very complicated for those inhabitants without transportation and the means to buy a hotel room or a ticket out of town. The poverty rate among African Americans in New Orleans is the highest of any large U.S city at 35%, so it is safe to say that they made up the majority of residents who stayed to ride out the storm. The Bush Administration made tremendous cuts to and even eliminated emergency preparedness projects to pay for the war on terror so the much needed rebuilding and repairing of the levees was put off.
Hurricane Katrina did not expose racism in the United States. The African American population of New Orleans was devastated by a natural disaster, not by any form of institutional racism. Those living within New Orleans chose to live in an area that was potentially dangerous due to it's geographical characteristics. Any social characteristics, such as poverty and segregation that led to the disproportionate amount of African Americans impacted by the hurricane was a result of the failure of America's black citizens to improve themselves, not the failures of the government to assist them. Varying opinions on these issues may exist within the media, but that does not suggest an overall issue of racism in America.
While it cannot be denied that government relief agencies such as FEMA responded poorly to the needs of New Orleans and it's residents during Hurricane Katrina, the idea that the severity of this disaster was the result of "racist government policies" that ignored the needs of New Orleans (specifically the city's poorer black neighborhoods) is completely unjustified.

The government should not be blamed for the inadequate levee system that amplified the disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina. The 17th Street, London Avenue and Industrial Canals all failed due to construction failures that were inevitable due to the nature of New Orleans geographic location.

FEMA is an agency of merely 2,500 full-time employees designed to work closely with other government and private relief organizations. They were not unresponsive because of the lack of government commitment to New Orleans' black population, but because they lacked the resources and local support needed to be fully effective.

Since Hurricane Katrina the government has addressed the devastation caused by creating government programs such as Move to Opportunity, Gulf Opportunity, and Work Recovery Accounts. These acts have: provided funds to displaced families for school and housing, stimulated employment, and have helped rebuild the city.
Government Policy
Concentrated Poverty
Media Coverage
It also became clear that a number of people victimized by Katrina had been extremely disadvantaged even before the storm, and had lost what little they possessed to the raging floodwater.

Citizen were encourage to “take personal responsibility” just prior to Katrina.

Defined as stocking up on equipment, food, water, and medicine necessary to ride out the storms or make sure they had enough gas in their cars to evacuate if needed.
What does this mean to the poor, disabled, and elderly whose food stamps or social security were spent earlier in the month, who also need medication that their Medicare and Medicaid will not allow them to stock up on, and those that don’t have cars to fill up with gas ( those that rely on public transportation.)

• Increasingly some Americans tend to believe that racism, color prejudice and racial discrimination are phenomena of the past and that America is essentially transformed into a truly equal society. However,

Adolph Reed, professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania and Stephen Steinberg, challenge the policy makers and other commentator to focus on blacks as the source of the problem faced by New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and emphasize the need to address race and poverty.
Use of Language
Hurricane Katrina did reveal high levels of concentrated poverty within New Orleans' African American communities, but this poverty is not a result of institutional, social, or any other form of racism within America. Shelby Steele, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and political commentator, argues that the African American population of New Orleans (and others around the country) should focus more on meaningful methods for overcoming their underdevelopment, rather than blame white racism for their situation.

White responsibility vs. Black responsibility.
Black and white citizens each have their own responsibilities to strive and change the past social reforms positively. Steele's “No” argument states that African Americans should view Hurricane Katrina not as another example of black plight in America, but as an opportunity to address the personal, social factors that have prevented economic and social improvement within black communities.

White racism vs. Black inferiority.
Each races' responsibility would be to strive for equality based on their shame such as "white racism" & "black inferiority". Steele believes that in order to have a mutual balance of power between races, (although he does not view racism as part of the Katrina aftermath) whites and blacks need to acknowledge their own sources of mistakes (shame), act as witnesses to each other, and take responsibility for their own social problems.
Wilfred M. McClay, "The Storm Over Katrina,"
(December 1, 2005) 34-41.
Shelby Steele, "Witness: Blacks, Whites, and the Politics of Shame in America,"
The Wall Street Journal
(October 26, 2005).

There simply were more African American people in areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina. White families tended to be more wealthy giving them the means to leave the city. They also lived in safer neighborhoods that were more protected from flooding. Black families tended to be more poverty stricken. This gave them less opportunity to vacate due to lack of resources.
The media portrayed poor black victims as refugees, a word infrequently used to describe American citizens still within the borders of the US.

When comparing the word "refugee" and "evacuee", refugee was the more popular term by a statistically significant margin of 68% to 32%.
Media On Crime
Reports described sniper fire aimed at rescuers, rampant homicide, and gangs of youths committing rapes against teenage victims and even babies.

CNN and other outlets on September 1st reported that," Gunfire directed at helicopters halted a hospital rescue mission."
Hurricane Katrina did expose racism in America. While the hurricane itself was an unavoidable disaster, what it revealed were completely avoidable situations of poverty and segregation within New Orleans' African American communities. The inaction of FEMA and the limited city renewal policies used by the government after Katrina reflect a belief within government agencies that many black neighborhoods were not worth saving. This belief ignores the systemic factors that led to the high rates of poverty, crime and joblessness that defined those neighborhoods. Instead of poverty and crime becoming areas of concern for government agencies, they became unavoidable black cultural traits, perpetuated by racist media coverage.

The media and their published pieces are supposed to be unbiased, but personal opinion plays into what a reporter says. Much of the coverage in news articles and stories reflect more individual racism rather than systemic racism.

Media sensationalizes the news in order to attract viewers as possible. Often outlets bounce ideas back and forth bringing more attention to their subject.

Some background and statistics of New Orleans, Louisiana:
-The city was the center of the slave trade and the oppression of African Americans continued in full force after emancipation. Extreme segregation within the city took place during the 1950's-60's. The Brown vs. Board decision was not implemented in the city's public school system for 6 years.
-(2000 Census) The population that made up the Ninth Ward was about 98% African-American and had an average income of about $37,000 annually. A little over one-fourth of the population had an income of $10,000 or less. The population that made up Lakeview was about 93% Caucasian and had an income of almost$74,000 annually.
The proposed plan to break up the communities where there was high rates of poverty-and African American residents- can be described to seem like the government is doing these citizens a favor, but how can you justify relocating the poor elsewhere and moving middle-class citizens in? These communities have established support systems within the family and their neighborhoods, you can't just relocate these people and expect them to bring themselves out of poverty. "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."-Representative Richard Baker
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