Teaching about Racism & Hurricane Katrina

I’m off this morning for a long day of teaching and meetings. And, I’m looking forward to teaching about racism and Hurricane Katrina (as much as anyone can with such grim subject matter). Since I currently teach in an Urban Public Health program, in the class we’ll be focusing a lot on the health consequences of the human-created disaster that followed the hurricane. For example, the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University has published a report called “On the Edge,” about the health impact of the disaster particularly on children. This study, the first comprehensive face-to-face field survey of residents in FEMA shelters based in Louisiana, was conducted in February 2006 by David Abramson PhD, MPH and Richard Garfield RN, DrPH, has found that:

34% of children living in FEMA-subsidized housing have at least one diagnosed chronic medical condition, a rate one-third higher than that of the general pediatric population in the United States.

And, these kids are predominantly African American. In the class, we’ll also be reading Michael Eric Dyson’s Come Hell or High Water, and screening Spike Lee’s documentary, When the Levees Broke. One of the pedagogical goals is to get across the notion of institutionalized discrimination. An additional goal is to get some of those in the class to post a comment or two here. 😉 More on this as the course unfolds.


  1. You may be very interested to get a copy of Teaching the Levees: A Curriculum for Democratic Dialogue and Civic Engagement, which was developed by a group of us at Teachers College, Columbia University, to help use When the Levees Broke as a teaching tool. The curriculum focuses on many of the issues of race and class touched on by Spike Lee’s film and is free for the asking at http://www.teachingthelevees.org. (Dyson’s book is used extensively in the curriculum, by the way). If you check out the website, you will also see that today’s post concerns the same issue you mentioned — the mental health crisis now facing New Orleans, particularly its children. Stay tuned to our blog — we post twice a week and undoubtedly will discuss many of the same issues you and your readers are interested in.

  2. Jessie Author

    Hey, Ellen ~ thanks for dropping by and for the link! I think I got an invitation to the launch of that curriculum, and couldn’t attend due to a scheduling conflict. It looks really wonderful and I’ll be sure to check out your blog regularly. Hope you’ll drop by back here as well.

  3. Kiriaki

    Their is no doubt in my mind that poverty and a lack of good health are linked together. However, I believe if you have good health insurance your likeliness if obtaining an illness wll be lessened. You will see the doctor more and he will be more likely to find an illness before it begins to accelerate into something harmful to your health. I also believe that good insurance is vital to getting good health. People should look into what insurance will give them the best possible social connections (such as after school programs), psychological health benefits, and good physical health. Although Spike Lee’s video is upsetting because it capitalizes on the poor black youth in despearte need of food and water. it is interesting to read about Dyson’s religious perspective about why and how God was not their for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He stated how maybe God decided to overlook the Hurricane because Lousianna is not a religious place and practices voodoo too much. I think this just accelerates the hatred for black people that is shown throughout Spike Lee’s video on the natural disaster.

  4. Vanessa

    Institutionalized racism, whether intended or unintended, has a sad but true presence in today’s society. There’s no doubt that ineptitude also played a role in the slow response by FEMA’s head Mike Brown, however I wonder if the response would have been as slow if the flood took place in New York. More importantly, funding kept on being cut to fix the levees in Louisiana before Hurricance Katrina (after countless articles and warnings were published about the effects) played a huger role in the disastrous effects of the hurricane. The levees went unfixed for about forty years. Furthermore, FEMA’s delay in sending help, while the government denied help from other countries, caused further trauma to the most vulnerable.
    Today, the victims are still displaced and effected by the trauma. They may be in FEMA subsidized homes, really trailors, however they may not be receiving the proper care. Many feel like charity cases and not like the victims and survivors that they should feel like. When moved from different states to different states, health coverage for their care would also change. Who would not think that instituionalized discrimination is not taking place?


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