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Critical Black Epistemologies of Citizenship, Rights, and Vulnerability Post-Hurricane Katrina

Authors: Kela Caldwell*, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Ethnicity and Race, Political Geography
Keywords: Discourses of Climate change vulnerability, Vulnerability as an identity, Disaster Capitalism, Citizenship, Black geographies
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Many scholars have explored the ways that Hurricane Katrina and the process of relief proved to be a historical example of state failure, more specifically, how the process was racialized (Camp, 2016; McKittrick, Woods, 2007; Ortiz, 2008). The experiences of limbo, neglect, and displacement that occurred for African Americans during and post-Hurricane Katrina reflects the vulnerability defined by Ruth Wilson Gilmore, as “Racism, specifically, […] the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death…” (Gilmore, 2007). Vulnerability calls into question how rights and citizenship are constructed and or unraveled for the “vulnerable”. How we evaluate and address the relationship between citizen and rights in the wake of climate disasters has compounding consequences for climate change and how disaster relief and reconstruction is addressed at both the local and global levels. The discourse surrounding the questioned citizenship of African Americans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina reveals the implicit hierarchies of vulnerability that are established during times of disaster, the neglect that is experienced, and the equally troubling humanitarian logics that replicate and compound denials of rights and citizenship. My project examines how the issues of rights and rightlessness are paramount for addressing climate change disaster relief. More importantly, I seek to explore how a reframing of rights and citizenship through critical black epistemologies may transform current practices of emergency management.

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