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Racing the Storm : Hillary Potter :
It is for this reason that even those political actors who support the expansion of racial and economic justice have had to make political calculations that work against such goals. This is perhaps most notable in the way that the two party system has been affected by the pivotal role of the South.
With brief exceptions, the two major political parties have been equal opportunity ignorers of racial inequality going back to their formation in the s. To win elections, parties need to appeal to southern whites and racially conservative voters. Democrats as much as Republicans are vividly aware of this, as the actions of national candidates from Bill Clinton to Al Gore to John Kerry have emphatically illustrated.
The poor in New Orleans only entered our television screens with Katrina, in part because no major party presidential nominee has made race or poverty a campaign issue in almost four decades. Most Americans were shocked by New Orleans and our media reflected this with pictures of the faces of inequality capped with headings ending with question marks—How did this happen? Where did this inequality come from? Who is to blame?
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The sense of wonderment is held only by some segments of the American population, however. For white respondents, the question seemed to ask whether overt racism had led the government to intentionally ignore black residents of New Orleans, leaving them to suffer on purpose. For black respondents, however, the question was much broader, and far more subtle. Though not disconnected from concerns about negative feelings about black people, intentional acts of discrimination by individuals and government agencies and from the facts of the hurricane itself, black responses are embedded within an understanding of what social theorists call structural racism.
Had anyone really been concerned about African Americans and other poor residents of New Orleans, they would have anticipated the fact that many did not own cars and would have arranged for transportation to help them leave the city as the storm approached. Although it should be noted that public officials have ignored just about every warning by scientists, academics, and journalists of the impending disaster in New Orleans. Just last year, Mike Davis forecasted exactly this chain of events in an article in Mother Jones magazine and his broader books on ecological disasters, blaming directly government officials who have promoted harmful policies for short-term benefit.
A similarly prescient article appeared on the front page of the New Orleans Times-Picayune only 3 years ago. Low-income and poor people always suffer more when disaster hits. Similar to the way in which canaries alerted miners to the specter of poisonous air, the fates that befall people who are disadvantaged by inequalities based on, for example, race, class, and gender, are signifiers of society-wide inequalities.
If policymakers and the public heed the lessons of Katrina and make efforts to address the structural and institutional sources of American inequality, perhaps the brunt of future disasters will not be borne by those who are the least able to endure their costs.
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