A recently released report, entitled “The Roots of Structural Racism,” explored segregation in major cities across the United States. It found that some major cities were more segregated in 2019 than in 1990. The report also uncovered that highly segregated neighborhoods made up of primarily Black residents faced more financial barriers and hardships than highly segregated white neighborhoods or those neighborhoods that were integrated.
The New Orleans metro area is the 11th most segregated region in the United States. During the early 2000s, when many cities were becoming less segregated, New Orleans was becoming more segregated. New Orleans’ current population is 60% Black and 34% white.
New Orleans has a long history of segregation largely created by federal, state, and local policy. Redlining, exclusionary zoning practices, and Jim Crow laws forced Black residents to live in only certain areas of the city after the Civil War. Prior to the Civil War, Black families had lived throughout the city and often in close proximity to white neighbors.
Since New Orleans is a city below sea level, one of the disparate impacts we see is flood risk. Primarily Black neighborhoods tend to be located in the parts of the city that are more likely to experience severe flooding. Neighborhoods made up of primarily white residents are more likely to sit on high ground and be at less of a risk for flooding. These circumstances mean that Black New Orleanians are more at risk of displacement from natural disasters, like hurricanes.
In the first year after Hurricane Katrina, 70% of white residents were able to return to the city, while only 42% of Black residents could return. While recovery from the storm could have presented an opportunity to create a more equitable city, recovery policies were actually very similar to segregationist policies throughout the last century. This can be seen in policies such as the inequitable Road Home Program, St. Bernard Parish’s ‘blood relative’ ordinance, the demolition of New Orleans major housing projects, and the razing of homes in a primarily Black neighborhood for the construction of new hospitals.
Segregation and unjust disaster recovery policies make New Orleans exceptionally vulnerable to gentrification, which is a growing issue in cities all across the country. It is now as important as ever to advocate for inclusionary policy that helps to keep all New Orleans residents adequately housed and without significant rent burden.
To access the entire “The Roots of Structural Racism” report and view the recording of the project launch event, please follow this link.