One-Year After Katrina

The Editors pull together an interactive catalogue of our investigative coverage on race and rebuilding after the storm.

By Tram Nguyen Aug 25, 2006

Eye of the Storm, Rebuilding Communities of Color

The following questions are designed to stimulate meaningful discussion based on some of the articles and projects ColorLines has published in the year since the catastrophic landfall of Hurricane Katrina.

The questions here are based on individual articles but are designed to get our readers thinking about connections between the articles and their own lives and experiences.  We concluded this section with a supplemental reading list.

We hope this catalog of our coverage sheds some light on the devastation the Gulf coast has experienced as well as the complexities facing communities of color as they rebuild.

Looking for Common Ground — David Bacon

*    Since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, some media attention has focused on the treatment of Black people in this country, while "illegal" immigration has also been a topic of debate and policy. From your background knowledge or previous research, what brought the majority of Louisiana’s Black population to that region? What do you think brings the majority of Mexican immigrants to that region?

*    According to the 2004 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, at least 1.5 million Mexican farmers have lost their livelihoods under NAFTA because they cannot compete with U.S. government subsidized agricultural products. Does this affect how you feel about "illegal" immigration? How well do you think people in this country understand the forces that drive immigration? Does it make a difference to understand why people migrate, often at great personal risk?
*    According to the author, wealthy contractors and developers benefit from a rift between Blacks and immigrants because it increases competition at the bottom of the labor market, among low-wage workers. If so, how should building contractors and developers be compelled to offer decent wages to all workers?
*    In general, do you think undocumented immigrant workers should be allowed to unionize and demand better wages and working conditions? Why or why not?  How would this affect the American working class in general?
*    In April and May, huge protests to immigration reform legislation broke out across the country. The main bill being debated at the time was the Sensenbrenner bill. What did that bill propose, and why were immigrant rights advocates so angry about it?
*    This quote appears on page 18: "’Every immigrant rights bill in Mississippi has been introduced by African-American legislators.’…In the state’s poultry and meatpacking plants, longtime Black workers and a new wave of immigrants have found themselves on the same side in union organizing efforts." What is the significance of multiracial efforts like this?
*    In the end, where do you think these issues will be resolved? In Congress? Through grassroots organizations? Through unions? Or through other venues?
*    Do some Internet research to find out what happened to Sheila Jackson Lee’s bill, the Save America Comprehensive Immigration Act of 2005, HR 2092. 
*    By the end of this article, it becomes clear that both the Republican and Democratic parties are pretty much on the same page when it comes to employment issues. Why do you think the Democrats are not offering any opposition to the "free market" ideology that keeps wages and working conditions so low?

Imprisoned in New Orleans — Jordan Flaherty and Tamika Middleton

*    Do you think a government can be judged by how it treats its prisoners? Do you think the treatment of prisoners reflects any values of the free society surrounding those prisoners?
*    During a disaster that calls for an evacuation of an area, should certain populations have priority over others? Why or why not? How can an evacuation be conducted in an efficient and organized manner which also safeguards the rights and safety of people whom some might consider to be on the fringe of society?
*    On page 20, there are a number of important statistics about Louisiana, including the fact that Black people make up 72 percent of the state’s prison population. What are the implications of such a staggering figure? What could account for such large numbers of Black men and women in the prison system across the country?
*    As we have seen of the evacuation and relief efforts in New Orleans, even the civilian, non-prison population was not treated very well. Disregarding that for a moment, what might have been a different approach to evacuating and protecting prisoners?

Boat People — Eric Tang

*    According to the author, when did the model minority myth become prevalent? What was its purpose?
*    How does the Vietnamese community, particularly in the Gulf Coast areas, differ from other Asian immigrant communities? 
*    One Vietnamese woman is quoted as saying, "We never expected anything from the government." What is your reaction to this sentiment? 
*    On page 25, Tram Nguyen of Boat People SOS describes how several Vietnamese people were turned away from Houston shelters because the general public perceives the personal and social networks within the Vietnamese community to be very strong. How does this fit in with the model minority myth? Does Nguyen challenge or support the model minority myth when she says, "Yes, we’re very good at taking care of our own…that’s our strength. And it’s now become our weakness."

Rebuilding on Poisoned Ground
— Oskar Cole and Cleo Woelfle-Erskine

*    The story of Momma D.–Diane Frenchcoat–illustrates that poor areas of New Orleans have been flooded and rebuilt before through the initiative of residents and survivors. What factors complicate the rebuilding efforts this time?
*    What is meant by "environmental racism?" What are some historical and current examples of environmental racism mentioned in the article?
*    What are some reasons for the high levels of toxicity in the low-lying neighborhoods of New Orleans? What could the government have done to prevent or control the damage?
*    Do you think Black evacuees should return to their homes even if the environmental damage creates long-term health problems? Why or why not?
*    What has been the role of regulation agencies like the EPA in this environmental debate?
*    What could happen if residents return to these areas before the necessary clean-up? On the other hand, what could happen if they don’t return?
*    Do you think these areas are likely to be cleaned up and made safe for residents?  If so, who do you think will be responsible for the clean-up?

The Future of the Ninth Ward — Daisy Hernandez

*    An initial proposal by the city’s rebuilding commission would have given all residents a year to rebuild "regardless of safety concerns." Why would this plan not work for most residents of the Ninth Ward?
*    Consider this quote on page 30: "Bringing people back to the Lower Ninth Ward is nihilistic." What might Russell Henderson mean by that? Do you agree?
*    Besides environmental safety, what are some other problems facing residents of the Lower Ninth Ward if they do return and rebuild?
*    The Lower Ninth Ward has been flooded and rebuilt before to some extent. What does Brandon Darby say is different this time? Why would this be the case now?
*    What do you think of Henderson’s plan to convert parking lots into trailer parks for residents of the majority Black Ninth Ward and the majority white Lakeview area? Does that seem like a viable option during the rebuilding and clean-up? 

The Inequality of Suffering
— Basav Sen

*    Sen mentions the ideology of "small government." What defines an ideology? Is "small government" part of a larger ideology? What are the values of this ideology? 
*    In both the cases of the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, how did governments deprive vulnerable areas of resources that might have prevented or reduced the death and destruction?
*    In the debates about rebuilding areas hit by Katrina and the tsunami, what are some similar themes, ideas and proposals?
*    What does "privatization" mean, and what are the economic and social implications of privatizing things like water or disaster relief? Why would governments, in response to both the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, seize opportunities for privatization? 
*    Why might it be useful for activists and policy makers who are advocating for survivors of natural disasters to have a global perspective on this issue?

General Questions

*    All of these articles deal in some way with the role of government–what it was and what it should be–in helping its citizens through natural crises. Consider the following themes: prevention (i.e. levee maintenance), evacuation, environmental safety, rebuilding, relief and survival and healthcare. Overall, what has been the role of the federal government in response to Katrina? 
*    What surprised you most when reading these articles? 
*    What do you think the role of government should be? How should a government look after the welfare of those that live within its borders? What resources should it provide? What should its role be in response to natural disasters? What should a government’s top five priorities be?
*    Natural disasters are part of life on earth. However, much science and engineering exists to prevent floods and provide early warning for earthquakes and tsunamis.  In the 21st century, how should humanity view and respond to natural disasters?

Group Exercises

1)    In groups of three or four, develop an evacuation plan for your town or city, considering in particular its most vulnerable populations. How would you ensure people’s safety? Would you force people to evacuate? What would you provide for people if they chose not to leave their homes? How would you deal with hospitals and prisons?

2)    Also in a small group, consider the issues discussed in the article "The Future of the Ninth Ward." Discuss what you think would be the best way to rebuild the Ninth Ward that would allow its former residents to return. Write up a short statement defending your ideas. 

3)    Write a skit depicting three scenarios, one in which government representatives attempt to evacuate a poor, Black neighborhood in a way that suggests concern and respect, one that suggests indifference and neglect, and one that suggests hostility. Perform the three skits and reflect on them. How was each scene different? What thoughts and emotions does each scene provoke? In society, what kinds of values and conflicts make each scenario likely?

Suggested Readings:

Bigelow, Bill, The Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration. Rethinking Schools, 2006.

Brinkley, Douglas, The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. William Morrow, 2006.

Bullard, Robert D, Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots. South End Press, 1993.

Bullard, Robert D, Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality. Westview Press, 2000.

Childs, John Brown, editor, Hurricane Katrina: Response and Responsibilities. New Pacific Press, 2006.

H Dyson, Michael Eric, Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster. Perseus Books Group, 2006.

Greider, Willaim, Ralph Nader and Margaret Eleanor Atwood, The Case Against Free Trade: GATT, NAFTA, and the Globalization of Corporate Power. North Atlantic Books, 1993.

Roediger, David R., Working Towards Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Become White. Basic Books, 2005.

Smiley, Tavis, The Covenant with Black America. Third World Press, 2006.

Mann, Eric, Letter in Support of a Black Reconstruction in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Frontlines Press, 2006.

Troutt, David Dante, editor, After the Storm: Black Intellectuals Explore the Meaning of Hurricane Katrina. The New Press, 2006.