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Hurricane Katrina has placed, if only temporarily, America’s race problems at the forefront of international consciousness. The slow response of government and the conduct of some of the affected communities were seen as symbols of the catastrophe that is said to be race relations in America: blacks are marginalised and left behind, some of them respond with behaviour that has no place in a civilised country, and only a deluge of federal money and national guilt can wash away the problem.

But this symbolism was mainly misleading or wrong. Contrary to the impression created by the images of black looters…

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