Blaming the victims of Hurricane Katrina

August 31st, 2005 – 10:43 pm
Tagged as: Media

As the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina keeps looking worse and worse, I think it’s important to take a look at those who are still trapped in the city, and the media’s portrayal of them.

First, here’s a great piece of writing from Cherie Priest called Disjointed thoughts on the socio-economics of disaster:

Look at the reporters who are “incensed” by the rampant looting. Look at the smugness from those distant from the situation who chastise the dumb southerners for not evacuating when they had the chance. It blows their minds how many idiots stayed to wait it out. It makes them shake their heads and make “tsk-tsk” noises into their shiny microphones.

Well, fuck the lot of them.

New Orleans and Biloxi are not rich cities. They are poor southern cities disproportionately filled with poor southern people — people who may not have reliable transportation, people who live hand-to-mouth, people who have no where else to go, even if they had the means to get there.

And the evacuation was little more than a vague order to get the hell out — under your own power and at your own expense. If you have, at your immediate disposal, reliable transportation, money for gas, and either distant family OR money for shelter, then this isn’t a big deal. Of course you leave. You pack up everything you can and you head for higher ground. But it is somewhat less easy to do if you are lacking any one of these things, AND you have been informed that what little earthly lot you may claim is about to be destroyed. Do you hang on and try to save what you can? Do you let it go and return to less than nothing?

What the hell do you do?

Ned Sublette comments:

The poorest 20% (you can argue with the number — 10%? 18%? no one knows) of the city was left behind to drown. This was the plan. Forget the sanctimonious bullshit about the bullheaded people who wouldn’t leave. The evacuation plan was strictly laissez-faire. It depended on privately owned vehicles, and on having ready cash to fund an evacuation. The planners knew full well that the poor, who in new orleans are overwhelmingly black, wouldn’t be able to get out. The resources — meaning, the political will — weren’t there to get them out.

Amanda at Pandagon looks at the media’s motives:

I have an eerie feeling that the media is already spinning the horrific loss of life to Katrina into a story that is focused primarily on victim-blaming in order to distract from the massive failure to evacuate the city properly that is caused directly by inhumane BushCo policies.


One way or another, the discussion is going to come around to whether or not the absence of the National Guard in Louisiana and just general unwillingness to provide for what should seem inevitable–that New Orleans is in a prime position to get destroyed by a hurricane. And that’s not really a path the media wants to go down, as it’s all wonky and not kiss-assy enough for the modern major media.

So how to distract? Blame the victims.

Steve Gilliard, who’s got a hella ear for racist dog whistles, lays it on the line–racist coverage like this is laying the groundwork for excusing away the fact that the dead are almost surely going to be disproportionately black because the poor are disproportionately black and because the poor are going to be the people who couldn’t escape the city as easily. Atrios posted on the two nearly identical pictures of people taking things they need from flooded stores where the white people were described as “finding” and the black man as “looting”. Directly before that, he rightly complained about the media whining about looters.

Taken altogether, this is what I fear will happen: The victims of the flood will be portrayed via racist stereotypes as criminals and idiots. This will predispose the audience to disliking them. Then, after everything settles down, a few right wingers will start implying that the dead brought their own fate on themselves by being too stupid and/or criminal to evacuate. This focus will distract the pundits from discussing the real issue at hand, which is why the fuck we didn’t have the resources on hand to evacuate a city that has Hurricane Target written all over it. Before you know it, it’ll be a wingnut bonaza of people both gleefully indulging in the most racist tendencies while simultaneously claiming that the only reason one might end up dead in a hurricane is because one doesn’t have “personal responsibility”. But my guess is that the people who are dead mostly didn’t have transportation out of the city. Watch the media bury the truth of what happened so fast it’ll make your head spin.

[via Sarah and Atrios, respectively]

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