Elevate Difference

Race, Place, and Environmental Justice After Hurricane Katrina: Struggles to Reclaim, Rebuilt and Revitalize New Orleans and the Gulf Coast

Hurricane Katrina was one of those events that it was impossible not to be affected by because the images we all watched on our televisions and in the newspapers were so horrible. There was a sense of shock that U.S. citizens could be treated so poorly in their own country. Yet this outrage seems to have faded along with the general public’s memory of the storm.

Hurricane Katrina will forever alter the course of history in New Orleans and the life paths of thousands of families from the region. Bullard and Wright’s set of essays, Race, Place, and Environmental Justice After Hurricane Katrina, begins to make sense of the government policies that allowed New Orleans to flood, as well as post-Katrina efforts to rebuild the city and region. This collection is a reminder that there is a lot of work that still needs to be done in New Orleans, particularly in poor and African American communities, which have suffered disproportionately.

The twelve essays that make up the book are broken into four sections, encompassing the challenges of racialized place, health and environment post-Katrina, equitable rebuilding and recovery and policy choices for social change. Essay topics range from disparities in access to transportation to environmental contaminants after the hurricane. The most powerful aspect of the book is that it sheds light on the fact that Hurricane Katrina was only partly a natural disaster, which was substantially exacerbated by the way that government and society as a whole chose to (not) respond.

The authors argue that the lack of preparedness and dismal response to victims of Hurricane Katrina are profoundly impacted by race and class. The essays force the reader to ask themselves again and again, “What would have happened if New Orleans was full of predominantly wealthy white people?”

Race, Place, and Environmental Justice After Hurricane Katrina isn’t exactly an easy or light-hearted read, but it is full of important information that will be of particular interest to people interested in the theoretical importance of the concept of place, as well as anyone interested in better understanding environmental justice and racial disparities.

Written by: Liz Simmons, July 20th 2009

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