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The Wrong Complexion for Protection

The Wrong Complexion for Protection: How the Government Response to Disaster Endangers African American Communities

Robert D. Bullard
Beverly Wright
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qggrp
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  • Book Info
    The Wrong Complexion for Protection
    Book Description:

    When the images of desperate, hungry, thirsty, sick, mostly black people circulated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it became apparent to the whole country that race did indeed matter when it came to government assistance. In The Wrong Complexion for Protection, Robert D. Bullard and Beverly Wright place the government response to natural and human-induced disasters in historical context over the past eight decades. They compare and contrast how the government responded to emergencies, including environmental and public health emergencies, toxic contamination, industrial accidents, bioterrorism threats and show that African Americans are disproportionately affected. Bullard and Wright argue that uncovering and eliminating disparate disaster response can mean the difference between life and death for those most vulnerable in disastrous times.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6384-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Acronyms and Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Introduction: Anatomy of Vulnerability
    (pp. 1-8)

    Much attention has been devoted to natural and man-made disasters since the terrorist attack on the United States in September 2001, the anthrax attack in Washington, D.C., that same year, and the government response to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, in 2005. Before these incidents grabbed headlines and shone the national spotlight on government ineptness and incompetence and on severe gaps in disaster preparedness, African Americans for decades had complained about differential treatment, about being left behind, and about outright racial discrimination. Most of these complaints routinely fell on deaf ears long before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the...

  7. 1 Race, Place, and the Environment in a Small Southern Town: A Personal Perspective from Robert D. Bullard
    (pp. 9-25)

    Who we are often defines what we do. Many of our experiences also help define and shape our worldview. This chapter chronicles my early years growing up in the racially segregated South (Alabama and Louisiana) and the influence of those years on my thinking about race, environment, disaster, social equity, and government responsibility. It is written from a first-person perspective and provides unique insights into my journey to becoming environmental sociologist and one of the founders of the environmental justice movement in the United States.

    The analysis places in context three decades of research, policy work, and activism—all directed...

  8. 2 Growing Up in a City That Care Forgot, New Orleans: A Personal Perspective from Beverly Wright
    (pp. 26-46)

    Growing up in New Orleans was a uniquely delightful experience, filled with the warmth of family and friends who felt like family. My early beginnings in the City of New Orleans bring forth nothing but wonderful memories. The air was always filled with the smell of good food and the sounds of music. As I remember it, we all truly celebrated life. These memories serve as an ironic backdrop for that period of harsh segregation where Jim Crow ruled.

    However, within the confines of segregation, the black community was able to nurture and maintain its unique cultural traditions, which were...

  9. 3 The Legacy of Bias: Hurricanes, Droughts, and Floods
    (pp. 47-72)

    Much of the death and destruction attributed to “natural” disasters is unnatural and human-induced. Many unnatural disasters result from human error or malicious intent,” negligence, or the failure of a system.¹ Human activity is affecting our environment so much that the so-called natural disasters framework is being reassessed.² Quite often, preventable human error figures heavily in much of the death, damage, and destruction behind by natural disasters. Such is the case for industrial accidents, toxic chemical contamination, and even climate-related disasters that are exacerbated by human activity that meddles with already fragile environments.

    Some scholars argue that “there is no...

  10. 4 Recovery and Reconstruction in Post-Katrina New Orleans: A Time for Healing and Renewal
    (pp. 73-99)

    On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina laid waste to New Orleans, American city built below sea level in 1718 on the banks of the Mississippi.¹ Katrina was complete in its destruction of houses, neighborhoods, institutions, and communities.

    New Orleans was a vulnerable city before Katrina’s floodwaters devastated it.² It sits in a bowl—bounded by the Mississippi River, Lake Pontchartrain, the Gulf of Mexico. In this case, the city’s coastal wetlands, which normally serve as a natural buffer against storm surge, had been destroyed by offshore drilling, Mississippi River levees, and canals for navigation, pipelines, highway projects, and agricultural and...

  11. 5 The Wrong Complexion for Protection: Response to Toxic Contamination
    (pp. 100-125)

    The federal Superfund program was created in 1980 when Congress enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). This law imposed a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries that went into a trust fund to be used for cleaning up abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous-waste sites and allowed the federal government to respond to releases or potential releases of hazardous wastes that harm people or the environment. CERCLA was amended by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) on October 17, 1986.

    The Superfund program was designed to clean up the nation’s uncontrolled hazardous-waste sites. Under the Superfund...

  12. 6 Nightmare on Eno Road: Poisoned Water and Toxic Racism in Dickson, Tennessee
    (pp. 126-155)

    Access to clean water is something most Americans take for granted. When we turn on the faucet in our kitchens, we expect the colorless flowing into our sink to be clean and safe. Never in our wildest dreams we expect that the baths and showers that we take could make us sick even kill us. However, for some Americans whose wells and springs have poisoned with chemicals, clean water is a dream, and toxic contamination and slow government response have turned their lives into a nightmare.

    This chapter provides a real-life example of the deadly mix of toxic waste, and...

  13. 7 Living and Dying on the Fenceline: Response to Industrial Accidents
    (pp. 156-180)

    Industrial accidents tend to impact poor communities, communities whose residents are people of color, and environmentally overburdened communities over time. Industrial accidents change the lives of fenceline communities because the residents are always speculating about or waiting for the next chemical spill or toxic contamination that they fear will be the one that destroys the entire community. Many fenceline communities face daily threats from industrial explosions, spills, leaks, and possible terrorist attacks. Accidents and explosions at chemical and industrial facilities are common. Enforcement of safety laws is desperately needed to reduce the frequency, severity, and effects of industrial accidents.

    This...

  14. 8 Separate and Unequal Treatment: Responseto Health Emergencies, Human Experiments and Bioterrorism Threats
    (pp. 181-208)

    When societal resources are distributed unequally by class and by race, it should be no surprise population health will be distributed unequally along those lines, as well. African Americans have long struggled with structural inequities that impact their physical and social health. More than one hundred studies now link racism to poor health. A 2008 Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) documentary,Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick,made clear that “there’s more to our health than bad habits, health care, or unlucky genes.”¹ The social environment in which we are born, live, work, and play profoundly affects our well-being, health,...

  15. 9 Critical Conditions: Fixing a Broken System
    (pp. 209-234)

    Some population groups in the United States are more vulnerable to natural and human-induced disasters than others.¹ There are clear links among race, economic power, and vulnerability.² Some racial and ethnic communities face an increased risk and vulnerability as a result of where they have settled and the level of protection they are provided.³ In the real world, all communities are not created equal. Equal protection has eluded many communities that are located in low-lying flood plains, on the fenceline with dangerous polluting industries, and where railways haul their deadly cargo.⁴

    People of color experience different consequences of environmental hazards...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 235-244)
  17. References
    (pp. 245-276)
  18. Index
    (pp. 277-298)
  19. About the Authors
    (pp. 299-299)