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Racism in the Media Coverage of Katrinas Aftermath

Racism in the Media Coverage of Katrinas Aftermath


Racism is one of the issues, which have been always present in the American society despite the attempts to combat them. The efforts of Martin Luther King and other African-American scholars and legislators resulted in the fact that on the legal level racism is banned in the US. However, there are cases, which indicate that specific social prejudices and racial stigma are still present in peculiar citizens minds. Unless people locally discuss, criticize, and prevent these ideas from spreading in the society, there will be no path of good changes of this problem. Nevertheless, the investigation of the media exposes specific topics, which indicate that there is much work to do in order to banish racial problems from the public agenda. One of such issues is the police brutality towards African Americans where the media takes the position of the side, which protects social rights of African-American citizens. Despite this evidence, there is even a bigger problem when the media sources use unfair racial standards in the processes of characterizing and presenting various events, accidents, and news. One of the most famous examples of this is the hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, which had a context of specific racial stigma towards African Americans. This paper investigates media reports discussing the consequences of hurricane Katrina and exposes racial problems of the mediaspace of the country. Such measures would raise public awareness of the persistent social claims, which one has to reject as morally outdated and not suiting the standards of the modern civilized community.

The Image of Racism in the Media Coverage of Katrinas Aftermath

Despite the fact that hurricane Katrina was one of the gravest accidents in the US during the 20th century, its media coverage surprisingly revealed the issue, which seemed to be solved decades ago. Thus, it is reported that numerous media sources were stigmatizing African Americans as morally degraded because of their possible involvement in robberies and looting apart from Caucasians, which the police also caught when they were doing similar things. Basically, the skin color became one of the criteria of the media opinion regarding the question whether the figures on the photo and videotapes were criminals and looters or victims of the disaster. First, one should state that the population of New Orleans is predominantly African-American. The statistics indicating that the proportion of African Americans has been ranging from 66.7 to 58.8 per cent during the period between 2000 and 2014 support this claim (Who lives in New Orleans, 2016). Furthermore, the fact that deserves attention is that in the US, social class and race issues are tightly intertwined often representing African Americans as poorer and having narrower access to governmental aid (Bell, n. d.). Moreover, Bell (n. d.) argues that, this is the side of the United States that the public is hidden from and prefers to ignore. Consequently, the strike of hurricane Katrina aggravated this social disparity exposing it in the most inappropriate manner.

One of the biggest forces, which contributed to the negative characterization of the discussed problem were the social media. The reason for this was that they formed perverted portrayal of African-American community stigmatizing it instead of depicting as the major victim. It was later when, Left-wing mediacrats made that … poster for rich people not caring about poor people, or whites not caring about blacks (Olasky, 2015). However, during various media reports discussing the behavior of the New Orleans community, one depicted it as vicious, mostly on the racial basis. For instance, journalists and politicians characterized the community as, impoverished, overwhelmingly African-American masses of flood victims resorting to utter depravity, randomly attacking each other (Olasky, 2015). Moreover, there were reports about numerous rapes and fatal assaults, which the unknown representatives of African-American gangs mostly initiated. One of them, the most striking, involved the discussion of the seven-year-old girl raped and murdered in the Superdome (Younge, 2005). However, later investigations have found no evidence of this among the murdered bodies and no source of the indicated story (Younge, 2005). Despite such expositions of stigma were mostly rejected later, their actual presence during the Katrina response raised numerous questions in the society. Some official reports were in the same time astonishing and ridiculous despite being presented in the serious matter. Thus, Randall Robinson, one of the political organizers claimed that, thousands of blacks in New Orleans … have begun eating corpses to survive (Olasky, 2015). Without any doubt, the discussions of this kind were making even the most tolerant citizens to produce racial thoughts associated with Katrinas aftermath. More than that, the controversial media data and descriptions discriminating African Americans supported such reports.

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One of the most famous pictures supporting the media campaign characterizing Katrinas aftermath was the image of African-American looters and their Caucasian counterparts searching for food (Figure 1). Despite one does not know the actual context of lives or individuals presented on the photographs, the media sources quickly brought a verdict stigmatizing an African-American male. Thus, the journalists described the picture with two Caucasian individuals as, Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery (Wade, 2007). Their African-American counterpart might have been doing exactly the same thing trying to find some food in order to survive. However, one immediately stigmatized him as a criminal using the description, A young man walks through chest-deep flood water after looting a grocery store in New Orleans (Wade, 2007). Various media sources utilized these pictures and characteristics and, consequently, spread the defined ethical dilemma throughout the country and the world.


Figure 1. Controversial photos raising discriminating reaction of the public (Wade, 2007).

Furthermore, analyzing the values on the presented images, one should state that they substituted the characteristic of the individuals by morally inappropriate on the basis of the color of the skin. Thus, despite the discussed fact that people on the pictures might be looters or just citizens trying to survive, one marked them as positive or negative without the objective evidence. Thus, the media artificially created conflicting values representing African Americans as criminals manipulating with the factual information.

In addition, the analysis of the created appeal to the ethical principles suggests that depicted images impose strict social differentiation on the basis of the skin color. In contrast, the principle of Veil of Ignorance states that Justice emerges when negotiations are without social differentiation (Carveth, Ferraris & Backus, 2006). This statement supports the idea of the ethical inappropriateness of characteristics classifying people without criteria for objective judgment.

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Lastly, analyzing the situation from premises of the choice of loyalties, one should state that the pictures above raise public loyalty towards the Caucasian individuals. On the contrary, they suggest that the officially established law of racial equality is a myth because of the disproving objective evidence. Thus, the application of the Potter Box allows stating that the characterized pictures and their description stimulate the public towards ethically incorrect judgments on the basis of misinterpreted evidence.

Mass Media and Social Change

The performed analysis demonstrates that mass media can impact social change by means of misinterpreting different evidence and distributing incorrect judgments. Thus, the fact that the population of New Orleans is predominantly African-American resulted in the depiction of its representatives in news reports. Moreover, the mainstream media failed to recognize the fact that actual inhabitants of the city are mostly victims of the disaster.

Thus, analyzing the events of 2005, reporters state that, the story, as the mainstream media presented it at the time, was about marauding hordes of looters, rapists, and murderers swarming through the streets (Solnit, 2009). Similarly, the media representatives did not considered the fact that the city had two thirds of African-American inhabitants, which is the reason why they were at the focus of the reports (Solnit, 2009). Consequently, the produced images and their inappropriate context brought mainly negative social outreach because of creating ethically incorrect social influence.

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Therefore, the analysis of the media influence during the hurricane Katrinas aftermath demonstrates that media has a function of forming of social opinion. Thus, it is clear that if the news reports had been presenting African-American population of New Orleans as victims of the catastrophe, the racial issue would have been excluded. As a result, the local population would have been provided greater social and financial support to that group of people. Instead, the media stigmatized the locals of New Orleans as looters and criminals, which stimulated morally inappropriate comments even from the official representatives of the governmental bodies. As a result, the influential factor of the media led to the situation where people turned hostile to African Americans instead of attempting to support them.

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Summarizing the presented information, the paper concludes that the media coverage of the hurricane Katrinas aftermath resulted in the emergence of racial stigma against African Americans because of the inappropriate presentation of events. Thus, describing the actions of African Americans, media sources attempted to misinterpret the evidences presenting them mainly as criminals. As a result, with the major part of the population of New Orleans identified as African-American, one characterized this place as one full of looters and criminals. The ethical disparity of such action is that only African-American population was referred as breaking the law therefore initiating public stigma on the racial basis.

The performed analysis demonstrates the main drawbacks of media presentation criticizing the non-objective approach towards the journalistic work. It is evident that the journalists have to be objective in order to inform people adequately. However, the suggested analysis indicates that in some cases media sources lack objectivity, which their regulators and inner policies have to correct. In the opposite case, the society can initiate the activities such as protests to oppose the negative social influence. Consequently, it can result in the loss of public authority to media sources.

Moreover, the presented analysis allows stating that mass media could be a force for social changes. Thus, the depiction of the hurricane Katrinas aftermath made public to think that the African-American community of New Orleans is extremely criminal. Instead, people were trying to save their lives. Consequently, if this population was shown as victims, it would have obtained more governmental and social support. Instead, racial stigma, which the media produced, resulted in the absence of public interest to the assistance to actual victims of the disaster.

The application of Potter Box theory allowed revealing the key concepts, which one interpreted incorrectly during the media presentation of hurricane Katrinas consequences. Moreover, the analytical approach allowed critical evaluating of the presented media in terms of ethical misjudgments and professional malpractice. As a result, the applied theoretical toolkit allowed investigating the outcomes of the social influence of the media in general. One can apply the overall analysis and its elements to real life because people face media resources every day, and they should have skills of filtering information.