What Does Racism Have to Do with Disaster Relief?

Guest Post – Jason Lacsamana, Director, Programs and Partnerships


In mid-August, the Guardian published an article recognizing a link between excess deaths of Black, brown, and Indigenous people and the increase in Atlantic storms. In the 30 years from 1988 to 2019, there were 179 named storms and 200,000 deaths over what was naturally predicted.


Robbie Parks, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University’s public health school, states in the article, “Cyclones don’t hit the whole country. They tend to hit places which have more Black, Indigenous, and Latin people who’ve been historically underserved and overburdened through racism, and it’s these socially vulnerable communities who are bearing the brunt of post-cyclone excess deaths.”


His message isn’t new to our field. However, it’s good that it’s out in the mainstream. Disasters don’t play equitably, and recovery historically discriminates against marginalized communities.


CNN wrote about the intersection of race and disaster recovery. Abre’ Conner, Director of Environmental and Climate Justice for the NAACP, said, “Until we really address the root issues of climate injustice, we’re going to continue to see a disproportionate impact as it relates to disasters in Black and historically excluded communities.” As stated in the same article, the EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs reports that minorities are most likely to live in areas impacted by climate change.


We must be mindful of how we show up in our disaster response and resilience efforts. Generationally the needs of communities have not been met, and, as both articles point out, racism still hampers progress. Without awareness, without getting uncomfortable, we can’t begin to address solutions for equitable disaster recovery. Investments aren’t just a check, a photo op, and a press release. We must develop an organized strategy built through an equitable lens and centering those with lived experience.


Community-based organizations and non-profits will always fill the gaps in services that our government leaves open. Most often, they are the individuals who have the expertise and empathy to consider these communities’ unique needs and experiences. Thus, ensuring resources and support are accessible, creating more equitable outcomes for long-term recovery and resilience.


We have a long way to go. But reading articles like these in widely circulated publications gives me hope that we may be making progress. If this work interests you, I hope you’ll take a look at what we’re doing at the St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund.


This article first appeared on LinkedIn.