Ethnic Studies Department Statement on the Hurricane Katrina Crisis

The recent natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the humanitarian crisis that followed have weighed heavily on our hearts. As scholars who study issues of race, class, gender and inequality, we know that the extent of devastation felt by gulf coast communities is linked directly to social and economic structures.

Local, state, and federal governments failed to act to protect the safety and dignity of the tens of thousands of people left stranded in the gulf region. It is a human tragedy that so many of “the poor, the elderly, the sick, the young, most of them African Americans” were essentially abandoned in places like New Orleans, left to fend for themselves and try their best to survive. We recognize the ways in which racialized groups have historically been criminalized in our society and we are deeply saddened and angered by the media’s repeated portrayals of African American victims of Hurricane Katrina as lawless and as looters. We are also outraged by the lack of aid, language-sensitive emergency information, and media attention given to other underrepresented communities that were also devastated along the gulf coast such as Vietnamese and Latino immigrant communities.

We call on the ethnic studies community to remain critical of the federal administration’s response to the crisis and also of the media’s portrayal of victims. Race, class and gender played a significant role in this catastrophe, an event that has brought to the public eye the stark socioeconomic inequalities that persist in our society. We hope that as recovery and rebuilding continue, we can also carry on open discussions on these issues as we strive for greater social justice in our world.

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