Reading Hurricane Katrina: Race, Class, and the Biopolitics of Disposability

The tragedy and suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is symptomatic of a crisis in the United States that extends far beyond matters of governance and the incompetence of the Bush administration. Rather than simply represent a crisis of leadership, Katrina is analysed as part of a biopolitics of disposability—in which entire populations marginalized by race and class are now considered redundant, an unnecessary burden on state coffers and consigned to fend for themselves. This new biopolitics is marked by deeply existential and material questions regarding who is going to die and who is going to live, and represents an insidious set of forces that have given up on the sanctity of human life for those populations rendered "at risk" by global neoliberal economies, and as Katrina makes clear works in diverse ways to render some groups as disposable and privileges others. Giroux argues that to confront the biopolitics of disposability, of which the political disaster of Katrina offers an exemplary case, we need to recognize the new confluence of anti-democratic forces that are now shaping American society. But more is needed than understanding and critique, such dark times also demand a new understanding of a cultural politics in which pedagogy becomes central to a renewed struggle for a politics in which the crisis of meaning, agency, and resistance can be addressed through a language of critique and possibility in order to create the conditions for multiple collective and global struggles that refuse to use politics as an act of war and markets as the measure of democracy. Making human beings superfluous is the essence of slavery, colonialism, and totalitarianism, and the ongoing struggle for an inclusive and substantive global democracy is the antidote in urgent need of being reclaimed. Katrina should keep the hope of such a struggle alive for quite some time because for many of us the images of those floating bodies serve as an desperate reminder of what it means when justice and politics, as the lifeblood of democracy, become cold and indifferent in the face human suffering and death.