In the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, reporters, politicians, and media commentators used the term “refugee” to describe the tens of thousands of storm victims, many of whom were poor African Americans, who were uprooted from their homes and forced to flee in search of refuge. Almost immediately, prominent African American leaders, including Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, charged that the use of “refugee” to refer to Katrina survivors was “racially biased,” contending that the term implies second-class citizens—or even non-Americans (Sommers et al. 2006, 40–41). For these critics, “refugeeness” connotes “otherness,” summoning the image of “people in a Third World country” who “carried the scraps of their lives in plastic trash bags,” wore “donated clothes,” and slept “on the floor of overpopulated shelters” (Masquelier 2006, 737). In this context, calling U.S.-born African Americans “refugees” was tantamount to stripping them of their citizenship—“their right to be part of the national order of things” (Masquelier 2006, 737). As the Katrina controversy makes clear, the term “refugee” triggers associations to highly charged images of Third World poverty, foreignness, and statelessness, which are intimately related to core issues of personal and national identity. These associations reflect the transnationally circulated representations of...

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