Dear Mr. President,
After addressing the nation immediately following the disastrous consequences of Hurricane Katrina, President Bush assured the American people that he and the United States government would make it their priority to “do whatever it takes” to ensure that there would be as rapid a recovery as possible (Bush, 2005). He further stressed they would work tirelessly to improve environmental conditions so that these occurrences are not so needlessly tragic in the future. Poor disaster preparations and abysmal infrastructure devastated Americans of all races, but it became obvious that the african-american population of the New Orleans area suffered disproportionately to other racial groups. The legacy of “separate and unequal” has left Louisiana black communities in low-income areas with levees that were too fragile to withstand the hurricane’s intense wind. The housing in these predominantly black areas was so weak, that they even failed to be adequate before Katrina devastated the area. After the storm, 91 percent of rental properties in the area were completely destroyed. Had the proper safety precautions been put into place, this number would have not been so severe. This is not a mere coincidence. Our nation, the one you serve, has a history that has implored policy decisions that perpetrate environmental racism. Deliberate attempts to concentrate toxins and major pollutants into heavily-minority areas, in addition to the ignoring of infrastructure updates, have affected black communities all over the nation, not simply New Orleans. A more contemporary example is the Flint water crisis. Reports show that officials were aware of the lead content and still directed the toxic water supply to the minority-dominated Michigan city. Many victims of Katrina became aware of this injustice, as they likened their treatment by your government to the treatment of Jews in Germany during the Third Reich. Black victims of the hurricane stated that they were severely neglected and left to die in body bags because of how inefficiently the disaster response team came to their assistance (Sanders, 2005). They were left destitute and dying by their own government.
This isn’t to say that Bush himself learned nothing from his government’s negligence. During another speech following Katrina, he mentioned “inequality”, “racial injustice”, and that bold action needed to be taken against poverty in New Orleans. Nonetheless, sufficient action was never taken to combat the rampant environmental racism in Louisiana nor the rest of the country. There needs to be a more constructive conversation about race in this country. Many white congressmen and citizens support color-blind policy choices which ignore the economic and social struggles faced by marginalized groups (Hardisty, 2005). They blame their struggles on laziness and unwillingness towards positive contributions towards their community. This resentment of black populations led there to be reports that black hurricane victims were looting, raping, and rioting in the streets of New Orleans. These sentiments matter, and these attitudes instill in white lawmakers that black lives are less important and are less in need of protecting. These viewpoints are dangerous and further put the lives of black citizens in needless danger, further allowing disasters like Katrina to be more deadly than they need to be. A simple solution going forward would be to invest more money into updated infrastructure. Minority-majority neighborhoods are updated at an appallingly low frequency. Further, action needs to be taken to prevent the next major disaster. It’s easy to use an event like Katrina as motivation for social change, but thousands of more lives could be saved if safety is made a priority before helpless civilization lose their lives.
- Bush, G. W. (2005, September 15). CNN.com – Bush: ‘We will do what it takes’ – Sep 15, 2005. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2005/POLITICS/09/15/bush.transcript/
- Sanders/NBC News, K. (2005, December 6). Katrina victims blame racism for slow aid | Vote – US news – Katrina, The Long Road Back | NBC News. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/id/10354221/ns/us_news-katrina_the_long_road_back/t/katrina-victims-blame-racism-slow-aid/#.WTYUxvmlzeg
- Morris, M. W. (2010, August 24). Environmental racism is still rampant post-Katrina | theGrio. Retrieved from http://thegrio.com/2010/08/24/environmental-racism-is-still-rampant-post-katrina/
- Hardisty, J. (2005, October). Hurricane Katrina and Structural Racism: A Letter to White People | Jean Hardisty. Retrieved from http://www.jeanhardisty.com/errant-thoughts/hurricane-katrina-and-structural-racism-a-letter-to-white-people/