Cedric Johnson, assistant professor of political science, recently spoke at a panel discussion at the Rochester Institute of Technology titled “Hurricane Katrina: A Discussion of Devastation and Restoration, One Year Later.”
His talk, “The Neoliberal Deluge: Rebuilding New Orleans After Katrina” focused on three approaches to addressing inequality in the wake of the hurricane, the majority of which had offered only mixed results.
1. Framing the problems in racial terms, Johnson said, is largely “unproductive” because the race does not “capture the nature of contemporary inequalities. Rather, it obscures class dynamics.”
2. Some commentators have argued that Katrina brought a “moment of opportunity,” pulling economically disadvantaged people out of their original setting and moving them into areas of more economic advantage. Johnson critiqued this for a number of reasons, especially because it contains the fallacy that “poor people don’t have any values worthy of emulation.”
3. Johnson looked at the argument for a “new Urbanism,” one which he believes has some merit because it provides constructive goals for the future of heavily damaged areas like the Gulf Coast, but he also criticized the notion of “mixed-income housing as an adequate remedy to social inequality” because it assumes that “the poor need to assimilate middle class values.”
The panel also included Murli Sinha, chair of the RIT Department of Sociology and Anthropology and Rochester's former Mayor and RIT distinguished professor of public policy, William A. Johnson.
Johnson has devoted his career to studying the intricacies of racial politics in the American landscape. He received his B.A. at Southern University, his first M.A. at Ohio State University, and both his second M.A. and his Ph.D. at University of Maryland, College Park. His dissertation was titled “Dilemmas of Black Power Politics: The National Black Assembly, Race Leaders and Radicalism in the Post Segregation Era.” He joined the Hobart and William Smith faculty in 2001.