Saturday, September 03, 2005

Double Standards or Double Vision?

The media has been criticized over how they have been portraying blacks during this disaster. One of the main symbols of this is the fact that Yahoo! News has published two different photos of people getting food from a grocery store and while the one which shows a white couple has a caption which describes them as "finding food" the picture of a black youth has a caption which describes him as having "looted" from a grocery store. Now as much as I dislike having to be in the position of defending the media and as much as I would question the application of the term "looting" to getting food from an abandoned store in a collapsing city during a disaster with no probability of anyone coming back to take inventory anytime soon, I have some problems with this controversy.

There have even been celebrities condemning this double standard (Celebrities are involved! This is serious!). But this seems to be a classic example of the need to get both sides of an issue before you take sides. Yahoo! has made these pictures available without doing any editorializing. They have accepted the captions as written by the originating sources which in this case are not the same.

If I hire a woman to work for $100 a day and my competitor hires a man to do the same job for $120 a day, it is not proof that our industry is against equal pay for equal work. It might just be that I am a cheap SOB.

The claims that the failures (real and/or perceived) of the relief or preparedness effort is a result of racism and indifference is also something that requires a strong case to be made rather than just throwing out accusations. I can not help wonder how many people who might have wanted to join the Red Cross or FEMA or the National Guard will reconsider if they are going to be called a racist if their efforts are not 100% successful. On the evening news tonight, one refugee outside of New Orleans claimed she had been treated like less than human (with repeated emphasis on the term) because people could not help her. She gives the example that she asked at a FEMA office if they could help her find information on a family member inside New Orleans and they told her they did not have the data base yet. She later found out that FEMA had been given the data base. How could it possibly be that the FEMA organization has this information but this branch office does not? Her assumption is that the FEMA employees had the info but did not want to be bothered helping her.

Now it is easy to see why someone who has been through a disaster and is terrified for the welfare of a loved one would be over reacting due to frustration but fore the media to pick this out as an example of how heartless and half-assed the relief effort has been is disgusting. There is not even a private enterprise on this planet that works at 100% efficiency let alone a government agency in the middle of a disaster zone. I remember working in a public sector office that dealt with the public (government offices being about as far from 100% efficiency as you can get despite the hard working and dedicated employees they have - no really it is true... well, mostly) and being told by people that we were treating them like dogs because they were being asked to wait their turn as we dealt with people who had been waiting longer than them. I eventually asked myself why I was taking crap from people who I was trying to help. If I had been doing something life saving I might have had an answer to that but I suspect that even rescue workers have their limits.

Maybe it is the result of Karma that the media is being accused of racist portrayals given that they are uncritically repeating such accusations about the relief effort.


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