Editor’s Note: Peniel E. Joseph is the Barbara Jordan chair in ethics and political values and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also a professor of history. He is the author of several books, most recently, “The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.” The views expressed here are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.

CNN  — 

The historic winter storm that crippled Texas during the third week of February spotlighted the Lone Star State’s pervasive history of structural racism. Similarly, it revealed how seemingly universal crises, such as climate change and catastrophes sometimes referred to as “acts of God” affect some communities much more severely than others.

Peniel Joseph

During the height of this record winter storm, 4 million Texans lost power, but those who lived on grids that connected hospitals, emergency responders, or downtown commercial buildings and condos were more likely to retain their power. Wealth, income and housing inequality make it much more likely for Black and Latinx families in Texas to live away from densely populated and more expensive parts of the city – and when they do live in urban areas, to reside in places that are not deemed essential to the functioning of the electrical grid. They are more likely to live in areas lacking the robust infrastructure necessary to weather environmental and man-made catastrophes, environmental experts recently told The New York Times.

Black and Latinx families, many already disproportionately impacted by the lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, experienced power outages, burst pipes, freezing temperatures and water shutdowns that illustrate the hidden cost of racism. The storm’s aftershocks continue to be felt in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi where many Black and brown residents continue to lack power, clean drinking water and shelter.

In Texas, almost two weeks after the storm, almost 400,000 people remain without clean water (after power outages halted the ability of municipalities to adequately ensure the safety of water systems, leading to boil water orders in some areas such as Austin), many of them apartment dwellers whose landlords have been slow to respond to the crisis. Some residents of Jackson, Mississippi, a predominantly Black city, have been left reeling from the storm’s aftermath and are still struggling to obtain an adequate supply of clean water.

Black communities are disproportionately vulnerable to living in close proximity to environmentally dangerous neighborhoods.

What happened in Texas and across the South during the storm – and is still happening in its aftermath – is one facet of a national crisis of race and democracy, one that has been amplified in recent decades by economic and public policies that have greatly enhanced the power and wealth of the few at the expense of the many. Republicans led the charge for the privatization of public utilities and the evisceration of labor unions and social welfare programs during the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s, which impacted Texas by leading to the deregulation of the energy grid. Many Democrats also embraced that era’s “greed is good” ethos (a phrase popularized by Michael Douglas’ Oscar-winning performance as the amoral venture capitalist Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie “Wall Street”).

The conservative free-market ideology that led to the deregulation of Texas utilities has been catastrophic on racially segregated and economically impoverished communities. Structured to operate without federal safeguards that might have prevented last month’s disaster, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), represents a profound failure of political leadership and moral imagination.

Texas’ failure is also reflective of our larger racial and political divides. Members of the Black communities in Houston, some still not recovered from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey, stood in long lines seeking food, water, and other resources a week after the winter storm. Predominantly Black and Latinx low-income communities were especially vulnerable to freezing temperatures since they tend to live in older homes and apartments hit hardest by power outages that wrought havoc on neighborhoods with decaying infrastructure.

The split-screen nature of American democracy means that lying politicians often try to impose an alternate reality in service to their own power. This could be seen at the height of the crisis, with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott attacking the Green New Deal as a rhetorical sleight of hand intended to deflect from his fa