New Policy Research
New Book: "The Wrong Complexion for Protection"
Robert D. Bullard and his colleague Beverly Wright completed new book from New York University Press, Wrong Complexion for Protection: How the Government Response to Disaster Endangers African American Communities (NYU Press 2012), that places the government response to natural and man-made disasters in historical context over the past eight decades. This new book is a follow up to our 2009 anthology, Race, Place and Environmental Justice After Hurricane Katrina: Struggles to Reclaim, Rebuild, and Revitalize New Orleans and the Gulf Coast published by Westview Press. Here, we compare and contrast how the government responded to emergencies, including environmental and public health emergencies, toxic contamination, industrial accidents, bioterrorism threats, and natural and human-induced disasters that disproportionately affect African Americans. Too often, African Americans have experienced slow “Katrina responses” from various local, state, and federal government agencies on a range of emergencies. Slow response or no response has often been the rule—not the exception.
While natural disasters do not discriminate based on race or class, some government response to disasters place African Americans at elevated health risks. The fact that the people who are most neglected by the government’s failure to respond expeditiously and competently are African Americans and the poor, place questions of race, institutional racism and class at the center of this analysis. Therefore, it is extremely important that disaster-response events over the past eight decades be placed within a social and historical context for analysis. This is more than an academic exercise. Uncovering and eliminating disparate response and treatment can mean the difference between life and death for those most vulnerable in natural and man-made disasters.
The simple but urgent message of this book centers on equity, justice and fairness. Centuries of black exploitation, experimentation, drug testing, and forced surgeries have engendered mistrust of government, medical establishment, and biomedical research. We believe fairness is essential to building trust and reaching any meaningful solution to natural and human-induced disasters and for achieving sustainability and homeland security. Fairness matters. It matters how we design plans and strategies for addressing public health emergencies, toxic contamination, industrial accidents and spills, earthquakes, extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods, tornados, droughts, heat waves, and bioterrorism threats.
The issues dealt with in this volume will be relevant for decades to come, for the nation is likely to see more public health emergencies, environmental hazards, toxic contaminations, industrial accidents, train wrecks, and toxic spills, including the April 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. To some extent, our analysis chronicles lessons not learned, government failures, and inadequate and inequitable government response to natural and human-induced disasters and emergencies. We believe our book will shed new light on issues of health equity, racial and environmental justice, and the government’s role in providing equal protection under the law for all Americans, without regard to race, color, or national origin, and income.
As the nation moves to strengthen our ability to prepare for and respond to the health consequences of potential bioterrorism, we also cannot forget or ignore real health and environmental pollution threats posed by chemical plants and railway accidents and explosions that threaten fence line communities. Much of our contemporary work comes from visiting, working with, and interviewing residents who view their communities as “sacrifice zones.” These are ordinary people who are engaged in extraordinary struggles.