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The Wrong Complexion for Protection

How the Government Response to Disaster Endangers African American Communities

Robert D. Bullard

Publication Year: 2012

When the images of desperate, hungry, thirsty, sick, mostly black people circulated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it became apparent to the whole country that race did indeed matter when it came to government assistance. In The Wrong Complexion for Protection, Robert D. Bullard and Beverly Wright place the government response to natural and human-induced disasters in historical context over the past eight decades. They compare and contrast how the government responded to emergencies, including environmental and public health emergencies, toxic contamination, industrial accidents, bioterrorism threats and show that African Americans are disproportionately affected. Bullard and Wright argue that uncovering and eliminating disparate disaster response can mean the difference between life and death for those most vulnerable in disastrous times.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The research for this book was made possible by support from the Ford Foundation. We would especially like to thank Michelle DePass, who, at the time we began this book project, was program officer at the Ford Foundation, for her support for our work before and after Hurricane Katrina. ...

List of Acronyms and Abbreviations

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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. xv-xviii

Reflecting upon the process of writing this book, we realized that the journey began in May 2004, when, during the annual convention of the Conference of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), held that year in Atlanta, we made a commitment to our colleagues at the Community Action and Response Against Toxics (CARAT) Team to write a book ...

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Introduction: Anatomy of Vulnerability

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pp. 1-8

Much attention has been devoted to natural and man-made disasters since the terrorist attack on the United States in September 2001, the anthrax attack in Washington, D.C., that same year, and the government response to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, in 2005. ...

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1. Race, Place, and the Environment in a Small Southern Town: A Personal Perspective from Robert D. Bullard

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pp. 9-25

Who we are often defines what we do. Many of our experiences also help define and shape our worldview. This chapter chronicles my early years growing up in the racially segregated South (Alabama and Louisiana) and the influence of those years on my thinking about race, environment, disaster, social equity, and government responsibility. ...

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2. Growing Up in a City That Care Forgot, New Orleans: A Personal Perspective from Beverly Wright

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pp. 26-46

Growing up in New Orleans was a uniquely delightful experience, filled with the warmth of family and friends who felt like family. My early beginnings in the City of New Orleans bring forth nothing but wonderful memories. The air was always filled with the smell of good food and the sounds of music. ...

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3. The Legacy of Bias: Hurricanes, Droughts, and Floods

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pp. 47-72

Much of the death and destruction attributed to “natural” disasters is unnatural and human-induced. Many unnatural disasters result from “human error or malicious intent,” negligence, or the failure of a system.1 Human activity is affecting our environment so much that the so-called natural disasters framework is being reassessed.2 ...

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4. Recovery and Reconstruction in Post-Katrina New Orleans: A Time for Healing and Renewal

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pp. 73-99

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina laid waste to New Orleans, an American city built below sea level in 1718 on the banks of the Mississippi.1 Katrina was complete in its destruction of houses, neighborhoods, institutions, and communities. ...

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5. The Wrong Complexion for Protection: Response to Toxic Contamination

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pp. 100-125

The federal Superfund program was created in 1980 when Congress enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). This law imposed a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries that went into a trust fund to be used for cleaning up abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous-waste sites ...

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6. Nightmare on Eno Road: Poisoned Water and Toxic Racism in Dickson, Tennessee

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pp. 126-155

Access to clean water is something most Americans take for granted. When we turn on the faucet in our kitchens, we expect the colorless liquid flowing into our sink to be clean and safe. Never in our wildest dreams would we expect that the baths and showers that we take could make us sick or even kill us. ...

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7. Living and Dying on the Fenceline: Response to Industrial Accidents

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pp. 156-180

Industrial accidents tend to impact poor communities, communities whose residents are people of color, and environmentally overburdened communities over time. Industrial accidents change the lives of fenceline communities because the residents are always speculating about or waiting for the next chemical spill ...

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8. Separate and Unequal Treatment: Responseto Health Emergencies, Human Experiments, and Bioterrorism Threats

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pp. 181-208

When societal resources are distributed unequally by class and by race, it should be no surprise population health will be distributed unequally along those lines, as well. African Americans have long struggled with structural inequities that impact their physical and social health. More than one hundred studies now link racism to poor health. ...

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9. Critical Conditions: Fixing a Broken System

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pp. 209-234

Some population groups in the United States are more vulnerable to natural and human-induced disasters than others.1 There are clear links among race, economic power, and vulnerability.2 Some racial and ethnic communities face an increased risk and vulnerability as a result of where they have settled and the level of protection they are provided.3


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pp. 235-244


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pp. 245-276


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pp. 277-298

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About the Authors

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pp. 299

Robert D. Bullard is Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston. He is author of many books, including The Black Metropolis in Twenty-First Century: Race, Power, and the Politics of Place; ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814763841
E-ISBN-10: 0814799930
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814799932
Print-ISBN-10: 0814799930

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Disaster relief -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights.
  • African Americans -- Social conditions.
  • Racism in public welfare -- United States.
  • Racism in social services -- United States.
  • Racism -- United States.
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