Race is not a natural disaster

Steve Schirra

Credit: Steve Schirra

Sometimes you have to step back from a situation and think to yourself: What the heck are we doing?

There are thousands upon thousands of hurricane victims without food or water, living in huddled masses, homeless. Yet there are people wasting time debating whether or not the media is being racist in the captions of news photos.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

According to Salon, the controversy began when bloggers began to note differences in the captions of photos on Yahoo! news with respect to how they “portrayed” whites and blacks in search of food after hurricane Katrina.

Those who are blowing this out of proportion are claiming the captions for photos that feature African-Americans use harsher, more accusatory words like “looter,” while Caucasians “find” their food.

Photographers don’t get to write headline stories and receive bold, prominent bylines. Instead, they get a small credit next to their picture and a caption. This is where they are allowed to describe the context of the photograph and put it into perspective for the reader.

Does this mean that the same racist photographer took all these controversial pictures and deliberately used words like “looter” only for the blacks?

Absolutely not.

Anyone who looks at the photo credits can clearly see they were from different sources. Some of the pictures were from Agence France Press, while others were from the Associated Press. They were taken by several photographers, who independently wrote the captions.

This is not an attack by racists and bigots against minorities. This is a biased conclusion made by bloggers who have nothing better to do with their time than scrutinize Web sites.

The difference between what a blogger does and what a journalist does lies in the fact that journalists are expected to research their information with facts, while bloggers have the ability to vomit onto a computer screen and have it published for all to see without any sort of fact checking.

With the idea of racism stuck in the minds of thousands of Americans, it was only a matter of time before the disease of misinformation spread into the mainstream, creating uproar.

It was no longer “The media is racist,” but “Bush hates black people.”

And who better to convey the message of the thousands of angry citizens than hip-hop sensation Kanye West. Clearly Time magazine’s “smartest man in pop music” didn’t take his title too seriously when he made his outburst at the Concert for Hurricane Relief, which was simulcast Friday night on the NBC, MSNBC, CNBC and Pax networks.

Instead of reading the script, talking about the devastation in the South due to the hurricane, West went off on a tangent, first about the news captions, and then about the Bush administration.

“The Red Cross is doing everything they can. We already realized how a lot of the people who could help are at war right now fighting another war,” he began. “They’ve given them (the military) permission to go down (to New Orleans) and shoot us (the black people).”

He stood alongside Mike Myers, who nervously began to scratch his nose and sway from side to side. Myers continued with the script, talking about how the people’s spirit being broken and their desire to relocate may be the most tragic loss of all.

There was a long pause, after which West blurted, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

Mike Myers looked into the camera, deadpan, before the program cut to a very nervous Chris Tucker.

The line made it onto the air for the East Coast broadcast of the telethon, but it was edited out when played on the West Coast.

Los Angeles Times writer Robert Hilburn blasted NBC for its “censorship,” saying it was a tragedy for America that they didn’t get to hear West’s remark.

I think the only tragedy here was that West abused his television time to get on his soapbox and blast his political and social views at Americans, who should have other things on their minds.

This shouldn’t be about captions or censorship or the Bush administration; there are people out there who desperately need our help, and we’re too busy focusing on issues that are clearly worth much less than the well-being of our fellow Americans.

Steve Schirra is a junior English major and the Forum editor for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].