a little east of reality

Sunday, September 04, 2005

racism and the media

I was just reading this story about Kanye West's surprise comments at the NBC benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina victims.

Now I don't agree that the delays in relief are deliberate. I think they are just an example of a poorly prepared emergency plan, if anything. And as much as I find Bush scarily ignorant and hate most of his foreign policy decisions, I have no evidence that the guy is racist. But West's comments on the media did catch my attention and I think that there is some truth in them. He said:

"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".

I decided to do a little searching. What I found was that:

All the photos of 'looters' were of black people

The majority of photos concerning home owners and people waiting to buy limited gas supplies were of white people.

The majority of photos mentioning refugees/displaced persons were of black people.

I also found a hot debate going on regarding the kind of wording West was talking about. One news photo comparison in particular has been used:

Caption 1 under the very dark skinned person: " A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store in New Orleans."

Caption 2 under the light skinned people: "Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store..."

It isn't the only case. Another photo of a white man, for example, outside a convenience store is described as 'looking through his shopping bag'. You have to at least wonder if that possessive 'his' would have been used if the man were black, given all of the looting photos featuring black people coming out of stores.

To be fair, this isn't conclusive evidence of racism - for that to be so the captions on the two photos would have at least had to be written by the same person or passed by the same editor, or there would have had to be many more examples than there were. However, I see this kind of pattern often enough in the every day media to know that it's true to say that the media reports in a biassed manner, not only in terms of race, but also religion. Here in Australia, they will never fail to mention if a criminal (or alleged criminal) is Aboriginal, or Muslim, or something else that isn't white, or mainstream religion.

I really hate that. It is almost never relevent to their crime and shouldn't be mentioned. Usually when I retell stories from the news I'll just leave those details out altogether. A couple of times someone has come back to me and asked, 'hey you know that guy you were telling me about yesterday - did you know he's Aboriginal?' and I just say, 'yeah, I knew that. I just didn't think it was relevent.' Sometimes it irks me that they even brought it up, but mostly I'm glad for the chance to subtly point out that maybe they should think twice before treating it like it's relevent either.

Because it isn't. And the media should stop acting like it is.

Anyway, just to finish up on a positive note, I did find this very much exception to the rule, which I thought I'd share. This is a picture of volunteers delivering MRE (Meals - Ready to Eat) rations to refugees who'd been in their cars for some time, waiting to evacuate the area, if I remember correctly. Although I still think that colour isn't relevent in a situation like this one, in amongst all the other news photos taken, it was nice to see.