Color me devastated.
News reports tell us of the widespread looting that is going on in hurricane-ravaged areas hit by Katrina. Photos I have seen feature many dark-colored people running around with television sets and the like in their arms. The hues of the humans do not matter: Sixty-seven percent of New Orleans’ residents are assumed to be of African-American descent (though who knows for sure?), so it is logical that most of the poor stranded there would be brown-skinned. That so many pictured match that description isn’t the problem. What is horrifying to see is that in the midst of unspeakable tragedy, people trying to take advantage of the situation for personal gain. It’s disgusting: Stealing is wrong.
But something at least as horrifying is taking place as well. Of course, bigots are on the loose: Take a look at “white”-supremacist and anti-Semitic web sites that feature postings and comments thanking Hurricane Katrina for ridding the nation of people these sites consider undesirable and unfit to live. That doesn’t surprise me at all. But when such thinking seeps into the mainstream media, well, the result can crush a person’s soul.
The blog Booker Rising, which bills itself as a “news site for black moderates and black conservatives,” found something disturbing in mainstream coverage of the Katrina disaster.
This Associated Press photo is captioned thusly: “A young man walks through chest-deep flood water after looting a grocery store in New Orleans on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005.”
Meanwhile, the above Agence France Press photo is captioned with a slight variation: “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.”
As Shay of Booker Rising notes, “Now all the folks involved have bags or backpacks, from their trip to grocery stores. So why the different coverage? I know, I know…”
My heart fell to my toes after viewing the pictures and reading the captions. I turned to Spousal Unit and fell into his arms, tears pouring from my eyes. It becomes germane here to note that I have some African ancestry and my skin is brown-colored. SU is Irish and has pinkish-colored skin.
“What’s wrong?” the spouse asked, suddenly concerned. I sat up, took a deep breath to center myself, and showed him the photos and captions.
“Oh my god,” he intoned.
“Imagine if you and I were in this situation,” I said. “You and I — poor, hungry, stranded — coming out of a grocery store, each with a loaf of bread and a bottle of Pepsi. They’d say that you had found food and that I had looted it.”
SU looked at me and we both sighed in despair.
“It’s a sick fuckin’ world,” the spouse said. “Imagine how many people see this sort of crap and don’t question it.”
Imagine, indeed. It appears this country has deeper issues than the havoc wrought by a natural disaster.
A day later, more light appears regarding this story. Yahoo News, inundated with complaints, released this statement:
News photos are an especially popular section of Yahoo! News. In part, this is because we present thousands of news photos from some of the leading news services, including The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France Press. To make this volume of photos available in a timely manner, we present the photos and their captions as written, edited and distributed by the news services with no additional editing at Yahoo! News.
In recent days, a number of readers of Yahoo! News have commented on differences in the language in two Hurricane Katrina-related photo captions (from two news services). Since the controversy began, the supplier of one of the photos � AFP � has asked all its clients to remove the photo from their databases. Yahoo! News has complied with the AFP request. …