Are Race and Racism responsible for the Katrina Crisis?

 Hurricane Katrina developed over the Bahamas on the 23rd August 2005 creating a mild Category 1 hurricane, causing relative flooding. The storm developed into a Category 5 hurricane on August 29th, ripping through the U.S. Gulf Coast region and  destroyed the civilisation and infrastructure within the city of New Orleans. The hurricane accumulated a cost of $75 billion in damages (White et al., 2007). The Ninth Ward in particular, a 98% black populated area in New Orleans was one of the worst affected areas and unfortunately remains in the same state of devastation that Hurricane Katrina left it in, in August 2005.

Ninth Ward Destruction of Civilisation.

Prior to the hurricane, the city of New Orleans had a population of 480,000. 70% of this population were African American, and 30% of this population were living below the federal poverty line (Manning, 2006). Unfortunately due to low socio-economic characteristics of African-America citizens within New Orleans, many were unable to evacuate the city before the hurricane took place. Those who could not evacuate were told to take refuge in the Louisiana Superdome, yet the government did not expect the numbers to reach as high as 20,000 people.

Local citizens taking refuge in the Superdome.

The media displayed stories of murders, sexual assault, carjacking and terrorist shootings at rescue workers, carried out by African Americans within the Superdome (Manning, 2006). For carrying out these crimes the black citizens were not worthy of being saved, which could possibly describe the immediate inaction of the American government. The stories published encouraged the government to keep those in the Superdome captivated for as long as possible, preventing supplies and possible rescuers from entering the dome.  For days citizens were without adequate electricity, sanitation and food supplies (BBC News, 2005), with seven people dying due to the inability to cope with such conditions. The only bodies found were caused by either suicide or natural deaths (Solnit, 2009). Yet the government expected hundreds of murders, by the ‘so-called’ criminals. They even sent massive refrigerator trucks to collect the corpses.

Body being taken away from the Superdome by a refrigerated truck.

As a geographer, the concept of racism appears within many realms of society, and can be expressed through different scales. The accumulation of such racism can be manipulated and enforced substantially by the media, and the stories that they publish. The repercussions of the hurricane have increased expressions of global racism substantially, due to the climax of narrow-minded views and stories expressed about the Superdome refugees. BondGraham (2007) states that ‘Katrina was not a freak event’, it has been imminent for a long time. In fact the eradication of unfortunate neighbourhoods like the Ninth Ward has been an anticipated dream for many of New Orleans’ privileged communities. The event sparked the public expression of hatred of many white citizens against black citizens. In fact more recently, ‘Katrina’s Hidden Race War’ has been publicized. After the hurricane struck and people began to leave the city, there were 12 shooting cases that were carried out unprocessed by the police. White citizens aimed fire at black citizens, with the belief that the black citizens were looters. The shooters have been filmed admitting their criminality, and triumphant with their doings. The criminals have not yet been arrested for their offences even after the publication of their confessions. There seems to be no care or sympathy portrayed by the American police force.

The video below discusses this in more detail:

References:

BBC News. (2005). Refugees tell tales of horror. Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4207944.stm. Last accessed 04.03.12.

D, BondGraham. (2007). The New Orleans that race built: racism, disaster and urban spatial relationships. Souls: A critical journal of black politics, culture and society. 9 (1), 4-18.

Manning, M. (2006). Race, Class, and the Katrina Crisis. Working USA. 9 (2), 155-160.

Picture 1: Jewell Parkerr Hodes.  http://jewellparkerrhodes.com/children/books/ninth-ward/the-real-ninth-ward/. Last accessed on 07.03.12.

Picture 2: Marcelo Monte Cino Blog.  http://marcelomontecino.blogspot.com/2010_08_01_archive.html. Last accessed on 07.03.12.

Picture 3: Ben Sklar Photography.  http://bensklar.photoshelter.com/image/I0000zdwpcGoru9A. Last accessed on 07.03.12.

Solnit, R. (2009). Four years on, Katrina remains cursed by rumour, cliché, lies and racism. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/aug/26/katrina-racism-us-media. Last accessed 03.03.12.

Video 1: Video Nation, Youtube. youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5r1X_G7cWak. Last accessed on 06.03.12

White, I. et al. (2007). Feeling the pain of my people: Hurricane Katrina, Racial Inequality, and the Psyche of Black America. Journal of Black Studies. 37 (4), 523-538.

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