In the Wake of Hurricane Katrina

Woods, Clyde. (2010). In the wake of hurricane Katrina: New Paradigms and social visions. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

As I delve more into reading on risk communication, I’m finding that much of the recent work in the field touches on—or focuses on—Hurricane Katrina and the man-made parts of that disaster. This text, in fact, argues that all of Katrina was man-made, from the global warming that caused the storm to be so strong to the institutionalized poverty in the New Orleans region to the devastatingly slow government response. Specifically, this text devotes sections to “Histories of Race, Gender, Sex, and Class,” “Activists and Institutions,” “Culture, Music, and Performance,” “Tourism Industrial Complex,” and “Geographies of Disaster.” Perhaps one of the most controversial pieces in the text comes in the second section and takes the form of an interview entitled: “The Politics of Reproductive Violence.”

In this interview, activist Shana Griffin talks about “the ways in which interlocking policies, institution and systems of oppression operate to control and dominate Black women’s bodies, reproduction, sexuality and motherhood” (p. 158). Griffin is talking mostly about regulatory policies dealing with low-income women, who, in post-Katrina New Orleans, are predominantly Black. Griffin points to policies that “criminalize our ability reproduce, criminalize us for having sex and for being mothers” (p. 159). She is not talking about government aid being withheld, which is an even more controversial issue. Rather, Griffin points to instances of government aid being provided—but only at a cost. She gives the example of David Duke’s legislation to pay women receiving public assistance $100 per month if they would agree to be sterilized (p. 160). Griffin charges that women agree to this not because they want to be sterilized, but because they need the money. This plan is “designed to exploit low-income women’s economic vulnerability” (p. 161). Griffin also gives a separate personal example of how she was told that her income of $392 per month for disaster unemployment disqualified her from received Medicaid. The cut-off for Medicaid in post-Katrina New Orleans was $138 per month for a single woman with one dependent (p. 162).

Several chapters in this book also are concerned with the government’s policies on low-income housing. It was widely documented that legislative leaders used Katrina as an opportunity to destroy low-income housing that had previously occupied areas deemed desirable. This sort of urban planning not only left desperate families without lodging for critical weeks, but its result is a segregated cityscape. Every author in this book was critical of these types of policies, with some pointing to the effects on tourism, which is arguably New Orlean’s most productive and most exploitative industry.

Overall, this text provides a detailed look into the regulatory and social complexities of post-Katrina New Orleans. More work needs to be done in this area … which I’ll get to in a future post!

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