Hurricane Katrina


Historical Background

    Before the Civil War, New Orleans stood out the most because they employed more slaves than any other state.  During this time slaves worked in "agricultural laborers on large and small plantations" and any other place their owner would want them to work.  Until the late 19 century black became part of the political, social and economic power as attorneys, newspapers publishers, commission merchants and insurance executives.  Due to their success white conservatives were able to reduce the political, social and economic power of African Americans.  "For the most part, though New Orleans blacks worked in the lowest position within local economy.  Only a small percentage of African Americans were able to survive as middle class and the rest struggled to survive. 

    New Orleans history "was built on a legacy of slavery, racial segregation, and racial discrimination. Virtually since its founding, poor African Americans were relegated to housing in low-lying areas near the coast, where flooding was most likely" (Rose Weitz).  The chances of floods increased with time.  The city supported the straightening of the Mississippi River which helped shipping and oil productions.  This increased the river force and its natural protection from the sea.  Also the levees which protected the city "was allowed to deteriorate by politicians who believed that taxes should be kept to a minimum and that private enterprise could do a better job than government of providing transportation, housing, emergency aid, and other needs of the citizenry" (Weitz).  On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast which included New Orleans.  Many people were affected because of the lack of resources.



    New Orleans knew that about one-third of its population did not have enough resources to survive a disaster and that the Superdome did not have the enough resources to help everyone in need.  When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans poor blacks and poor people were hit the most because they did not have cars or any money to buy gas or to go stay at a hotel.  They also did not know how severe Hurricane Katrina was going to hit, so they  decided to stay and most of them lost their lives. "As a result, those horrors illuminate the social division in our nation and the disproportionate burden of illness, injury, disability and death experience those at the bottom" (Weitz).  New Orleans consisted of  67 percent of  blacks and of those 67 percent, 34 percent lived below poverty line.  Look at those who were able to survive and those who were not.  "We’re shocked by the reality of government both failing to get to people soon enough and then the racist and classist nature of some of the media coverage" (Greg Palast).  The media is stating how people in New Orleans were neglected to be rescued and how they were neglected  funds to repair levee.  Also how the government has failed to supply New Orleans with better services for their people.

    "It is no accident that African Americans in New Orleans are disproportionately poor, or that a disproportionate number of the poor in New Orleans are African American. It is the result of centuries of concerted decision-making by political actors at the local, state, and national levels, going back to the days of slavery and continuing up to our current political moment" (Paul Frymer, Dara Z. Strolovitch and Dorian T. Warren).  Even though we are in the 21 century classism still exist.  The white elites stay in their circle and do not let anyone in except of their own color.  The white have privileges that people of color do not have..  "White privilege is like an invisible weightless, knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear and blank checks" (Peggy McIntosh).  If it would of been white elites that lived in those areas the government would have fixed the levees and protected them in any disaster.  But because it was poor black people they just let them die.





A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store in New Orleans on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005. Flood waters continue to rise in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina did extensive damage when it made landfall on Monday. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)


Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store after Hurricane Katrina came through the area in New Orleans, Louisiana


During the catastrophe of Katrina, “most of the faces of suffering we were seeing from New Orleans … wake were black faces” (Victor Singletary). Racism lifted its ugly head when people were in most need. It was reported by CBS that New Orleans city councilman Oliver Thomas said that people were afraid of black people to go in and save them. This kind of attitude was shared by the President and many other people.

As people were running out of food many went into closed stores and homes for any signs of food and water. The national media portrayed African Americans as “looters” but whites were portrayed as “finders of food and necessary supplies” (Singletary).

            As African Americans left New Orleans to other parts of the country they were called refugees by the media. The term refugee is a word used for people from foreign nations who seek refuge because of persecution or natural disaster. Recent history “demonstrates that blacks will not fare well if whites have to choose between them and illegals of other races” (Singletary). Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean spoke of racism after Hurricane Katrina at a National Baptist Convention and also spoke of the term “refugee.” The victims of Katrina are not refugees; they are citizens of this country who were ignored because of the color of their skin. He was quoted by saying “we must… come to terms with the ugly truth that skin color … played a deadly role in who survived and who did not” (Dean).