From every angle, the photographs of New Orleans in the days after Hurricane Katrina captured black people waiting for help—on overpasses and rooftops, in the Superdome and convention center, at bus terminals and airports, everywhere. One year later, evaluations of governments’ responses to Katrina confirmed that help indeed dragged its feet.

Although incompetence and lack of preparation certainly stalled relief, racism was also a likely culprit, suggest the findings of three recent...

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