Guest post by Jasmine Waddell

Post-Katrina New Orleans is a case study in vulnerability, disenfranchisement, and stratification. The historical context echoes the same themes over many decades before the hurricanes hit. The result of this exponentially compounded deprivation was a vulnerable place and its people robbed of the opportunity to be resilient and restorative.

After Katrina and Rita forcefully revised the social and physical landscape of New Orleans, Dr. Silas Lee and I worked with Oxfam America to re-imagine the landscape of opportunity for the people of the city. Led by Oxfam, we have been advocating for building back through building community. Through public opinion poll research, we learned how African Americans and Latinos in the New Orleans metro area viewed each other--their commonalities, their differences, and the potential for working together two years after Katrina and Rita. In a chapter of the Brookings book, Resilience and Opportunity, Dr. Lee and I suggest that interracial alliances are a powerful tool for retrofitting this post-disaster community.

New Orleans is one of the many southern metropolises which are experiencing an influx of families from places like Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. While this trend has been well-documented and extensively researched, the potential impact of nurturing interracial, class-based alliances on community resilience is uncharted territory. 

Social and physical isolation perpetuated by poverty, racism, residential location, and limited mobility status is understood as a risk factor in disaster events. Our chapter in Resilience and Opportunity explores the capacity of strategic alliances with a case study profiling a vulnerable context (post-Katrina New Orleans) and maps out how two sub-groups (blacks and Latinos) of a high risk factor (racism) can work together to restore New Orleans. 

If we are to rebuild New Orleans, we must support these two communities in coming together to form a durable alliance.

Jasmine M. Waddell, Ph.D., is a visiting lecturer at Brandeis University.