Race And Class In Katrina's Aftermath

In looking back at the year since Hurricane Katrina ABC News took a look at the issue of race and class that was exposed after the storm. We asked a number of Americans, some notable national figures and others who are less well known but who live and work in the region, about these issues. The question we asked:

"Hurricane Katrina highlighted the problems of race and class, both in the affected region and nationally. After the storm, there were calls to deal with those problems. Has any progress been made over the last year? Who is leading positive efforts, and who's to blame for a lack of progress? What do you think could/should be done to address these issues?"


Author and Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities

University of Pennsylvania

Very little progress. The tragic reality is that America failed to take advantage of a wonderful opportunity to engage in discussions about race, class, and poverty and further to do something substantive about that. So in the aftermath of one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the nation, an even more foreboding man-made disaster has occurred and that is indifference to the plight of the poor or barely registered concern about the fundamental issues that make poor people poor-- lack of access to education, incredible social and economic inequality that prevail and, in New Orleans in particular, the failure to rehabilitate that community so that the most vulnerable citizens will be able to thrive.

Many of the positive efforts are being made by grass roots organizations in and around New Orleans where people are exercising extraordinary self investment to protect themselves and to furthermore highlight and underscore some of the major problems in their areas. Beyond that I think that certain institutions of higher education which have tried to focus a big spotlight on these problems are working in the right direction, as well as certain media outlets that refuse to let the government or politicians off the hook.

On the other hand, there has been little movement in the federal government for the relief of the poor. I think there's been a huge failure among politicians and policymakers, and as a result of the failure of imagination among them, I think we're inching closer toward the fear that critics had at the beginning of Katrina that it would become whiter and richer and more conservative and that African-American interests would be progressively closed out. While it's too early to say that's indeed the case, it does appear that the poor people are having a much tougher time.

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