Thursday, January 21, 2010

Haitian Looters or Haitians Hungry?

Just caught this at The Root. Writer Natalie Hopkinson asks are the media repeating the mistakes of Hurricane Katrina coverage by labeling any Haitian running with a bag a looter?

After sharing a photo of a Haitian child running in Sunday's the New York Times, the writer says that just below the fold there was a story about looting in Haiti following the earthquake and it's left to the reader to make the connection between the boy and the story:
So was the kid looting?

Nearly five years ago, when you could see photo captions of white Hurricane Katrina survivors side-by-side with black survivors, the racial double standard in the news media covering a catastrophic tragedy were obvious. Hungry, desperate white survivors were "finding food" while hungry, desperate black survivors were "looting" for food.

Since the earthquake hit Haiti, I don't know what is more troubling: That so many observers, including political strategist and New Orleans native Donna Brazile, have been drawing facile parallels between the two cities. Or that so many of those comparisons are turning out to be true.

Start with this "the devil" cursed Port-au-Prince business. I discussed the truth about how Haitians managed to defeat the French army, without a Satanic assist in this essay. And Kathleen Parker uncovered the source of this urban legend (turns out it was a 1791 voodoo ceremony).

But this devil talk also came up in the wake of Katrina. Another so-called Christian, Pastor John Hagee, one of John McCain's high-profile backers, told NPR's Terry Gross that Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans. "New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God," Hagee said, because "there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came." (The Root)
As you can see, she draws other parallels between coverage of the Haitian disaster and Hurricane Katrina's New Orleans coverage. She's making sense.

I remember that controversy in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina. I wrote about sensationalism and racism with looter stories at my old blog, and at the Huffington Post, Van Jones wrote about the labeling black people as looters and white people as "finding bread." (Yes, it's the same Van Jones who became the "Green Czar" in the Obama administration, but was McCarthyed out by Glenn Beck.)

Haitians still need your help. You may have heard that the country aftershocks struck the country earlier today. There are a number of trustworthy institutions through which you may donate money. I recently donated through the United Methodist Church because I'm familiar with its work.


David said...

Your memory of the flood following hurricane Katrina is selective. Most of New Orleans' Whites heeded the government's warning and left the city. Of the few Whites that remained, most were "prepared" in the survivalist sense. They had food.

If you were to view the streets of New Orleans during the flood, you might see a White person once in a while. But the Black looters outnumbered the White looters greatly. The ratio must have been in the hundreds.

And whereas the White looters (what few of them there were) were stealing food, which might be understandable if not acceptable, the Black looters were stealing everything they could pick up and carry away. Even Black New Orleans police officers joined in the looting.

The black fellow with the big grin and the swept-back hair was carrying a tub filled with bottles of stolen beer, not packages of food.

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

First of all, I usually don't publish the comments of anonymous people because anonymous people lack credibility to me, but I published yours because I think it's educational for people who need to see the rhetoric that results from either external or internalized racism.

I covered the flood extensively as it was going on and go back to my personal archives that include media clips, reports, and commentary. And since then, I've personally interviewed both those who stayed behind and those who left. So, I don't just write willy-nilly whatever pops into my head. Nothing about my post suggests there were no black looters in New Orleans. The post refers to a specific incident that's been studied widely regarding bias in media reporting.

Before you drop by blogs with these kinds of comments, I suggest you study more on the economic factors related to who was left behind in New Orleans and the mistakes made, including the mistakes of the Nagin administration, with evacuation plans for the poor.

As for the police officers, they were fired; however, I grew up in New Orleans and so there's nothing new about corrupt police officers both black and white.

Leigh C. said...

David, go read Joshua Clark's Heart Like Water sometime. Survival, and scavenging to ensure that survival, know no color lines. It is the assumptions of the media that add the race to that chase. Please get over yourself.