Inaccurate Portrayals of Hurricane Katrina


Images of women carrying boxes of Kotex or Maxi pads, children carrying bags of bread and men carrying jugs of water fade in and out of the media.  These images are those of  the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.


Yet, in many cases the media attaches the word "looting" next to the  image when African-Americans are shown. While the word "finding" appears when a similar image has Caucasian Americans


"The media wants attention and it’s easy to get people to watch the news when they can see black people doing wrong, but most people are taking what they need and doing what they got to do to survive," said Jeremy Johnson, President of the Black Student Alliance at Mississippi State University.


The media has drawn attention to itself in the Hurricane coverage– not from the information it provides, but from the way it represents black victims.   


Jared Ball, a journalist for FreeMix Radio: The Original Mixtape Radio Show, sees the media’s portrayal of black victims of the Hurricane as an addition to the already present negative image that is projected.  


"Image is very powerful.  Historically media has represented blacks as being overwhelmingly poor.  It is the consensus of the AP [Associated Press], said Ball, an elite, white-male group, that sets [media style] standards and makes these images acceptable, that is why you have these terms like Ëœlooters" and "refugees." 


Refugee is a term used to describe a person who flees from their home or country to seek refuge elsewhere. Johnson views this term as an insult.


"It’s like calling me out of my name,"said Johnson. "When I think of the word refugee, I think of people who had to escape their country, but this is their country."


So far, the mainstream media has yet to find another term to call the victims of the Hurricane or even be mindful of using the term "looting" so loosely.


According to Ball, even some of the black media has fallen to the same circumstance as mainsteam media.  


"Sometimes the black media doesn’t move until white media does.  Sometimes there is no difference in terms of perspective or critical depth.  The labels and definitions [looters and refugees] won’t change the situation, but it will increase the system." 


Dr. William McPhatter, Department Head for Journalism and Mass Communications at Saint Augustina’s College in Raleigh, N.C., said the media should be careful when labeling people as looters.  


"I think that the word looting has been used selectively," said McPhatter."If they are looting, then, by God say so, but if they are just taking the bare essentials, then that is what needs to be said."