The Portrayal of African American Citizens During Hurricane Katrina Essay
Throughout the countries brief, yet eventful History there has been many recorded incidents of black oppression in the United States of America. A nation built on the notion that all men are created equal. However, this is not a view shared by a large number of the African American population, past or present. A prime example of this is the aftermath and controversial treatment given to many in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest and most destructive hurricanes to hit the Gulf Coast.
New Orleans was possibly the worst effected city due to what is considered as the “worst civil engineering disaster in U. S history” 1 Flood protectors failed to prevent the mass devastation and destruction of many neighborhoods surrounding the city. Neighborhoods that were home to predominantly two sets of families; those who had the economic means and ways of getting out of the evacuated areas were able to flee and survive the disaster.
However the families who didn’t have the financial stability to leave their own homes were left with risking their lives in the hands of the government who were later blamed for not doing as much as they could have keep those without hope from danger. This is according to many reports of negligence towards the people of New Orleans. Accusations such as the denial of allowing hundreds of school busses to help evacuate citizens to safe ground, choosing to cover themselves from a “lack of insurance liability and bus drivers” 2 Showing a completely moral disregard for human survival.
Alongside the government’s accountability for the aftermath of Katrina, the media also played a huge part in the representations of the black community during the recovery, labeling survivors of different ethnicities in completely different ways, For example the popular news website (used by thousands of Americans daily) ‘Yahoo!. com’ provided a very blatant use of racial prejudice from the disaster.
The website published two photos of residents trying to salvage anything they could to survive from what was left of the storm, the only difference between each photo being the residents skin colour; “The website featured a photo of two white residents, wading through the water with food. The caption read: “Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store after Hurricane Katrina came through the area in New Orleans, Louisiana. 3 Notice how the use of language towards this photograph seems very innocent, using words such as “finding” as if they’re entitled to whatever they find because being white in America comes with a sense of ownership and socio-economic advantage.
Compare this to the photograph of the black resident (who appears to be alone and a lot younger than the white couple show in the first picture) and it paints a completely different picture; “A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store in New Orleans on Tuesday, Aug. 0, 2005” 3 The phrase that obviously jumps out at you is ‘looting’; this instantly gives you the idea that the young black boy shown has unlawfully taken these items maliciously from another human being. I am not specifically stating that this is not the case however, it could be a possibility but to me this theme features very regularly in the media’s reporting style, which contributes to the prejudices that African Americans face daily by being portrayed as ‘other’ and, reinforcing the American government and media’s social ideologies, labeling the black residents as social pariahs.
A view also shared by black artist and producer Kanye West, who famously accused the President (at the time) George W. Bush of negligence towards not only the African Americans affected by the storm but the African American population as a whole. The exact words he used were: “I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says they’re looting. See a white family, it says they’re looking for food. And you know that it’s been five days, because most of the people are black.
And even for me to complain about it, I would be a hypocrite because I’ve tried to turn away from the TV, because it’s too hard to watch. We already realize a lot of people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way, and they have given them permission to go down and shoot us. ” 4 Then the words that are claimed to be the most disgusting moment in Bush’s presidency were spoken “George Bush does not care about Black People”. The sentence was not edited out or hidden to only appear in the depths of
YouTube months later, No, this happened during a live Katrina telethon. Aired to millions of U. S citizens, leading to mass media coverage from news networks across the globe showing the critically acclaimed artist pointing the finger for at his own President, a situation where he definitely wasn’t following a script given to him from NBC’s autocue. He blames Bush for two major offences; First of all, he’s saying that their leader cares not for the people of New Orleans in their time of need and does not care that they’re being left to die.
Secondly he’s making a rather large assumption that the President of the United States is in fact a racist. There are people who support West’s decision to go ‘off road’ with his comments however, Morris Reid in an interview on “Showbiz Tonight” voiced his clear praise and support of West’s comments about George W. Bush he says: “I gotta’ tell you I’m very proud of Kanye West, It took 28 year old rap artist; a pop culture figure, to get America talking about a real issue. If it wasn’t for Kanye West we wouldn’t be talking about this.
This is a man who is speaking his mind, speaking the truth and speaking passionately about what he has to say. ” 5 Now I don’t fully agree with the statement Mr West gave, but I don’t fully disagree ether due to the overwhelming amount of evidence that Bush seemed unconcerned and uninterested as the Hurricane ripped into the city of New Orleans and brought with him a very slow response to helping those in need. So what does all of this say about America’s attitude towards their poor, black citizens who have been known to suffer throughout the nation’s self-proclaimed Great History?
Can the world’s largest superpower really justify the fact that they didn’t have the means to send the right amount of aid to the people who really needed it most? And does this mean that class or socio-economic status really determine whether you stay alive or survive in times of desperation and despair? Unfortunately this is the harsh reality for those trapped with nowhere to go in August of 2005. A reality however, that was not completely shared with the more recent victims of Hurricane Sandy. The tropical cyclone that devastated huge parts of the Mid-Atlantic States of America, mainly such states as New Jersey, Washington D.
C Maryland, Pennsylvania, Both Virginia’s, Connecticut and New York. Now of course, media attention was aimed at New York City, Manhattan had cameras in every location before the storm hit just in case there was a chance of capturing devastation to one of the worlds most recognised cities. Thankfully though the affects of Hurricane Sandy were nothing compared to New Orleans with Katrina, only 10% of the lives were lost during Sandy and the estimation of damage costs so far is only half. This may be due to the fact that the hurricane was definitely a lot less powerful.
It could also be down to the fact that many-said President Obama was fully prepared as soon as he was told about the weather warnings; Republican Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie highly praised the President before the storm hit; “He said he would get it done. At 2 a. m. I got a call from FEMA to answer a couple of final questions, and he signed the declaration this morning. So I have to give the President great credit. He’s been on the phone with me three times in the last 4 hours. He’s been very attentive, and anything I’ve asked for, he’s gotten to me.
So I thank the president publicly for that. He’s done, as far as I’m concerned, a great job for New Jersey. ”6 A very different outlook compared to George Bush’s role in Katrina’s aftermath, receiving hardly any praise for his ‘so called’ efforts. It seems to be the little things that make a huge difference to the American people in a crisis. Obama was right there just days after the storm hit, He visited New Jersey and New York to experience first hand what had happened. He also cancelled pre-election campaign rallies to stay in Washington and help with the relief effort.
Whilst in 2005, it took Bush 12 days to arrive in New Orleans due to the disaster falling on the days he was “on vacation. ” It could also be argued that Hurricane Sandy helped the re-election of President Obama (whilst during Katrina, Bush was already into his second term in office) but I don’t think it was his only reason why he wanted to be a part of the relief because as leader, it is your responsibility and your duty to make sure you respond extremely fast when this many lives are at stake, something it seems George W. Bush failed to do.
Bush later admitted that his personal relief actions could have been more fulfilling for the city and remaining residents of New Orleans. Famously flying over the city in Presidential aircraft ‘Air Force One’ and photographed in what seems to be a detached and uncaring manner. Whilst down on the ground, scenes of unfathomable horror unfolded in the home of their beloved NFL team (New Orleans’ Saints) The Superdome became temporary accommodation to over 20,000 people. A mass range of residents and tourists without homes or the necessary means to be able to leave the city spent more than a week living inside the stadium itself.
Stories began to reach the media about the living conditions inside the Dome, stories of muggings; racist behaviour, rape, murder and even suicides were being broadcast across the world. People living with Cancer and other life threatening diseases were not getting the correct treatment they were used to, babies were being born by unqualified doctors and nurses surrounded by faecal matter and other incredibly unhygienic materials and countless amounts of people were collapsing due to the sheer heat and grotesque smells that surrounded them.
New Orleans was becoming more and more unimaginable as the days went on. One man relived the horrific scenes to a reporter: “It’s worse than a prison,” said Mar. Childs, who knew something about the subject, having spent three months in the Orleans Parish Prison on a drunken-driving charge. “In prison you have a place to urinate, a place for other bathroom needs. Here you get no water, no toilets, and no lights. You get all that in prison. “7
Maybe a description given to a third world country unfortunate enough to face the terror of such a natural disaster but here in this instance, we’re actually talking about the biggest superpower in the world. A country that is time and time again managing to keep the rich, richer and the poor, fighting within an inch of their lives. Or does this say more about America’s attitude towards the South, especially compared to the sublime efforts towards Sandy and the people of the North East.
Is there any correlation to the fact that many of the residential areas in New Orleans have just been left without repair as a constant, reminder of the terror bestowed upon the in 2005? And finally if this devastation happened to a white, middle class population instead of the demonised “black, looters who rape and murder to get what they want” we would definitely be hearing about and seeing a lot more stories of rebuild and restoration than what we are seven years after Hurricane Katrina.