The consequences of Hurricane Katrina have provided obvious evidence of an often invisible phenomenon, racial segregation. Rarely talked about in the media, ignored by most whites as a problem that doesn't directly affect them negatively, and supported by political-economic policies, everyone knows our nation's cities are segregated but too few consider it seriously.
The poor response has brought up the question of how race factors in government policies that lead to such consequences and in government response in the wake of crises. These questions need to be asked not only of how they affected the situation surrounding Hurricane Katrina but also of how they affect the daily lives of people, especially minorities, living in all of our cities.
As I have argued previously and the Leadership Council has documented, segregation has created systemic inequalities and structural barriers to community development and personal improvement that continue to encourage a widening socio-economic gap between whites and minorities. This is especially true for African Americans.
Segregation negatively affects minorities in many ways. Economically, poverty is concentrated in minority neighborhoods thus, severely limiting the fiscal capacity of predominantly minority municipalities and the infrastructure in predominantly minority neighborhoods. That results in poorer schools, libraries, and public spaces; fewer services such as police, fire, and garbage; lower qualities of life including limited transportation options on more antiquated networks, less green space, more heavy industry, and fewer child care options; and reduced civic participation caused by (understandable) cynicism and despair.
As shown here at SUNY Albany's Lewis Mumford Center web site, New Orleans ranks as the 33rd most segregated city in the United States. Its black/white dissimilarity score is 69 -- meaning 69% of all whites and blacks would have to move in order to create a fully integrated city. Full integration does not mean equal percentages of each group. It means that percentages of each group for each census tract (typically larger in area than neighborhoods) will be similar to the region's average racial percentages.
Hurricane Katrina has shown just how stark a dissimilarity score of 69 is. Obviously, 32 Cities are more segregated than New Orleans include large, medium, and small cities such as:
1. Detroit, MI (85) [16 points higher than New Orleans]
4. New York, NY (82) [+13]
5. Chicago, IL (81) [+12]
14. Benton Harbor, MI (74) [+5]
17. Kankakee, IL (73) [+4]
24. Fort Wayne, IN (71) [+2]
30. Dayton, OH (70) [+1]
31. Johnstown, PA (70) [+1]
Clearly, there's not only a crisis in New Orleans. There is a crisis of racial relations in almost every city in America, especially east of the Mississippi River. For the most part, blacks and whites are not living together. And, they are not experiencing the same America. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. A serious and heartfelt discussion about race, racial inequality, and racial segregation in America could provide one positive result from this terrible disaster.