Due to the constant scrutiny over the images surrounding Hurricane Katrina, the Wolfington Center developed a panel of professors on Tuesday, Sept. 20 to receive their take on issues of race, poverty and the government’s response, as well as the media’s coverage of this natural disaster.
The panel consisted of Harvey Lape, a philosophy instructor, Dr. Jeffrey Gingerich, an associate professor of sociology, Dr. Millicent Carvalho, an associate professor of social work, Darryl Mace, an instructor of history and political science, and Dr. Jolyon Girard, a professor of history and political science.
Each panelist gave their own views on various aspects that related to this tragedy, however, race and poverty were present in the forefront of this meeting.
Harvey Lape focused his allotted time slot on a brief history starting in the 1990s and continuing with the emergency plans of evacuation for New Orleans. Lape quoted directly from these plans and said, “100,000 people in New Orleans didn’t have cars.” This quote proved his point that the emergency plans failed. He said that the plan worked well for those with cars because the plan never included evacuation plans for the whole city, just those with vehicles who could leave on their own.
Following Lape, Gingerich who lived in New Orleans for six years, gave his views as an ex-resident and as a sociologist. Gingerich stated that “Race is almost always a factor in New Orleans life.” He recounted a time in New Orleans when a white supremacist and former KKK member almost got elected governor of the mostly African-American city.
After witnessing the clean-up after Hurricane Andrew, Gingerich said that funding barely managed to last past one month’s time so for this clean-up the country needs to commit to a lengthy clean-up. From a sociological perspective, he said that despite media coverage of looting and stealing, studies show that people tend to come together after natural disasters.
Gingerich’s final point was “How do people with no resources make it” because while the poor rely on aid they rely more heavily on social networks to survive. Hurricane Katrina severed these social networks, which relied profoundly on face-to-face conversations and not on technology.
Carvalho took this concern in a direction opposite from Gingerich focusing first on the problems of fear and hopelessness due to this disaster. She said, “People heal by processing their lives” and that the survivors of this natural disaster will be strangers wherever they now reside. She also said that race does come up in this issue and that race will only eliminate more injustice if it is talked about and others don’t hide from this topic when it arises in conversations.
Mace related Hurricane Katrina to not only Cabrini but the common good as well. Mace said, “Race is a key issue but it deals with class as much as it does with race.” Mace states that most people from New Orleans were African American, but the media is playing on the racial division to get the best story possible because if no one watched, ratings would go down and networks have to sell.
Mace acknowledges that in Bush’s recent speech he says that race is an issue and that we should overcome inequality but he does ask why it took this disaster to bring this conclusion.
Mace says that “inequality will continue to exist because we live in a capitalist society where to gain more capital there will be people who get and people who don’t.” He stresses that rebuilding is a big issue because the people in this city were already under the poverty line so survival in the new New Orleans is questionable.
He concludes that we should not only see how blacks being shown on television will show change in race relations because many Hispanic and white faces aren’t being shown, but also that Hurricane Katrina should be a cause for not only unity and civil action but a call for self reflection.
This was followed by a question and answer session where Girard, having given up his allotted time to Mace, stated that we should not blame Bush because people elected him.
There was about 10 people in the audience, including more professors than students.
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