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Katrina's Imprint

Katrina's Imprint: Race and Vulnerability in America

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Katrina's Imprint
    Book Description:

    Katrina's Imprinthighlights the power of this sentinel American event and its continuing reverberations in contemporary politics, culture, and public policy. Published on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the multidisciplinary volume reflects on how history, location, access to transportation, health care, and social position feed resilience, recovery, and prospects for the future of New Orleans and the Gulf region. Essays examine the intersecting vulnerabilities that gave rise to the disaster, explore the cultural and psychic legacies of the storm, reveal how the process of rebuilding and starting over replicates past vulnerabilities, and analyze Katrina's imprint alongside American's myths of self-sufficiency. A case study of new weaknesses that have emerged in our era, this book offers an argument for why we cannot wait for the next disaster before we apply the lessons that should be learned from Katrina.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4978-1
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Katrinaʹs Imprint
    (pp. 1-6)

    The mention of Hurricane Katrina conjures up more than just a violent storm that unleashed nature’s destructive force on an American city. Hurricane Katrina is now also recalled as a political event that issued a black mark on a presidency, an epic media story that produced collective trauma far beyond those physically affected, a breakdown of order that shredded the American social fabric (as demonstrated by the divergent reactions of black and white Americans), and an economic calamity that has produced one of the most dramatic urban transformations in modern times. Finally, Katrina is a shameful episode, unparalleled in American...

  5. PART ONE The Tangled Logic of Vulnerability

    • 1 Who Sank New Orleans? How Engineering the River Created Environmental Injustice
      (pp. 9-20)

      New Orleans is a special case in the story of vulnerability and environmental justice. The city lies on the hurricane coast, next to two lakes, and near the end of the immense Mississippi River. The lower third of Louisiana is made of river silt deposited over the ages. Federal river and hurricane levees have prevented river silt from depositing, causing nearly all of New Orleans’s land to compact and sink below the normal water levels of the nearby Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. The city must run pumping stations to remove water from its storm sewer system into city-built drainage...

    • 2 Invisible Tethers: Transportation and Discrimination in the Age of Katrina
      (pp. 21-33)
      MIA BAY

      New Orleans came into being as a transportation hub. Located between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, the city first took shape as a trading post at the point of portage between these two bodies of water. There, goods and people traveling along the inland waterways of the continent’s longest river could connect with Atlantic trade routes that began in the Gulf of Mexico. The city, formed around this intersection of waterways, became one the continent’s primary transfer points for both domestic and transatlantic goods. Founded by French and Scottish entrepreneurs in 1718, its initial growth was propelled by the...

    • 3 A Slow, Toxic Decline: Dialysis Patients, Technological Failure, and the Unfulfilled Promise of Health in America
      (pp. 34-44)

      Hurricane Katrina made private illness experiences and health vulnerabilities shockingly public, and nothing more graphically captures this fact than the drama surrounding dialysis patients in the days after the storm. Their commonplace and everyday problems were thrown open to deeper scrutiny, framed as a metaphor for the tragic moment and, as I shall argue, a metaphor for the nation’s unfulfilled political and economic commitments. Many commentators rightly connected the story of these patients to the uneven and endemic health vulnerabilities that long predated the storm. “How many of the dead will turn out to be dialysis patients?” asked one expert....

    • 4 The Ship of State: Framing an Understanding of Federalism and the Perfect Disaster
      (pp. 45-56)

      The first images from New Orleans of African Americans stranded on highway overpasses and rooftops waiting to be rescued, and of black bodies decaying in filthy water below them, suggested that historic and structural racism had produced vulnerability by devaluing lives and devaluing a city. This initial story, discussed in detail in this part of the book, also suggested that Hurricane Katrina could happen in other places in America where structural racism has produced similar inequitable settlement patterns. But media images correlating race, class, and vulnerability could not, by themselves, reveal why government institutions that have no obvious relationship to...

  6. PART TWO Cultural and Psychic Legacies

    • 5 Seeing Katrinaʹs Dead
      (pp. 59-68)

      I surprise my students sometimes with the idea that a cultural historian looking back on the United States during the first years of the twenty-first century will find a people troubled by unburied bodies—dead bodies and parts of bodies in all the wrong places. For many months, pieces of bodies turned up around the site of the World Trade Center. Construction on the memorial and on new buildings stopped. Just across lower Manhattan, at the South Street Seaport, crowds lined up to see an exhibit featuring the German anatomist Gunther von Hagens’s plasticized human bodies. But some visitors wondered...

    • 6 Second-Lining the Jazz City: Jazz Funerals, Katrina, and the Reemergence of New Orleans
      (pp. 69-77)

      Jazz, along with blues, shrimp gumbo, po-boy sandwiches, world-famous steak-houses in the French Quarter, and tantalizing desserts like Mama’s bread pudding and Café du Monde’s beignets, came to symbolize the pulsating life of New Orleans. Accessible to ships from Africa, Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, the city’s fusion of Spanish, West African, and European cultures shaped not only New Orleans’s Creole identity but contributed to the evolution of jazz. The sound of jazz likely emerged out of the field hollers and spirituals developed by enslaved African peoples in the swamps, lowlands, fields, churches, and houses (away from the...

    • 7 Racism, Trauma, and Resilience: The Psychological Impact of Katrina
      (pp. 78-94)

      Since Katrina, I have worked with hurricane survivors and have trained mental health providers treating the victims of this catastrophic event. I have traveled to New Orleans and other cities in Louisiana and Mississippi and have been profoundly affected by the destruction that I witnessed as well as the psychological trauma experienced by so many African Americans. Victims confronted multiple levels of trauma: the hurricane itself; the displacement of thousands when the levees broke; the desperation of waiting for help that was long overdue—whether on rooftops or in unendurable conditions in the Superdome or the Convention Center, with no...

    • 8 The Haunted Houses of New Orleans: Gothic Homelessness and African American Experience
      (pp. 95-114)

      Among the most potent images of post–Hurricane Katrina New Orleans are those depicting the wind-wrecked, water-ravaged, molding, abandoned houses. Neighborhoods nearest the levee breaches, like the predominantly African American Lower Ninth Ward, were filled with street after street of such structures after the storm. Even more disturbing, perhaps, are pictures of ragged lots that once held homes but were left empty when storm and floodwaters washed away everything except the concrete blocks upon which the buildings used to sit—the white, irregularly spaced rectangles unnervingly calling to mind tombstones. Photographs of individual houses tilting wildly at impossible angles or...

  7. PART THREE “Starting Over” in Post-Katrina America

    • 9 Rebroadcasting Katrina: Blame, Vulnerability, and Post-2005 Disaster Commentary
      (pp. 117-134)

      “What is clear,” writes sociologist Philip Kasinitz, “is that whatever national consensus eventually emerges on Katrina—what went wrong and who is to blame—it will have been largely forged in the media, and, perhapsbythe media.”¹ Across the board, commentators have identified the media (by which we mean print media, television, and online coverage) as a crucial force in shaping public understanding of Katrina. In this chapter, we argue that the media story of Katrina was forged not only in the initial coverage of the event, but that it has continued to evolve with subsequent disaster coverage—with...

    • 10 Protecting Our Assets: Private and Public Responses to Katrina
      (pp. 135-153)

      Hurricane Katrina exposed a fundamental difference between private-sector and public-section preparedness and the divergent abilities within each realm to protect their assets and their people. For New Orleans residents in the last days of August 2005, the main concern for each and every one of the citizens was leaving the flooded city. Some left in their cars after the first storm warning, but many were left with no resources to evacuate the city and were, therefore, dependent on government services. The vice president of a large bank told us that “there was no problem in getting out of the city…....

    • 11 The Labor Market Impact of Natural Disasters
      (pp. 154-168)

      Hurricane Katrina reignited debates about social policy and the role of government, particularly with regard to addressing racial inequality.¹ Media accounts as well as subsequent research have shown that African Americans bore the brunt of the storm, the failing levees, and the slow responses of local, state, and federal governments.

      Most economic studies on major natural disasters examine the impact of a specific disaster by estimating the dollar costs of the destruction. For example, William Nordhaus, in his 2006 study of the economics of hurricanes in the United States, estimates that Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Isabel (which hit North Carolina...

    • 12 The Katrina Diaspora: Dislocation and the Reproduction of Segregation and Employment Inequality
      (pp. 169-180)

      The natural disaster spawned by the 2005 hurricanes illuminated the poverty, unemployment, and low earnings of many black residents of the Gulf Coast. The people who fled their homes to other locales faced the life-altering question of whether to return to their former cities or make a new life in the places to which they evacuated. Was it better for black residents, particularly those who were not faring well in New Orleans before the hurricanes, to move on, or would similar dynamics of poverty and race reemerge and disadvantage Katrina evacuees in their new settings?¹

      To answer this question, I...

  8. PART FOUR Tragedy, Recovery, and Myth

    • 13 Katrina and the Myth of Self-Sufficiency
      (pp. 183-191)

      I saw the deaths and was outraged. I felt the delays and started a book.¹ A year later, I went on the radio to talk about it. That’s when “Jay” from St. Paul called in to make Katrina into the myth of self-reliance. I had just said something about how, a year into our 9/11-like sympathy and collective frustration, we were all “these people” in New Orleans. Jay’s initial delivery stuttered with obvious exasperation. “I couldn’t disagree more,” he began. “It seems to me that these people took no responsibility for themselves. If this happened in the Twin Cities …...

    • 14 Race, Vulnerability, and Recovery
      (pp. 192-196)

      As rescue helicopters hover overhead and media cameras roll, a group of young people, all African American, stand on the rooftop of a house, holding a sign, “Help us!” In the storm’s aftermath, families huddle in the shadow of a highway overpass, seeking shelter beneath the road that might have led them, under different circumstances, to safety. In one of Katrina’s more horrific images, a body floats face down in the water—graphic proof of the storm’s wrath, the broken levees, the water’s violent assault on the residents of New Orleans, and the failure of the city, the state, and...

    (pp. 197-200)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 201-210)