Friday, September 11, 2009

Harlem Target Store Sells Watermelon Soda
with 21st Century Pickanniny on Can

Is this Blackfolk being paranoid... or is racism live and well?

Notice the contradiction of the Sista with the "Sex & the City" T-shirt commenting on the racist nature of the soda. She's advertising a show that's not only sexist but racist also (Black and Latinos are invisible in this NYC-based show/movie!)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Erasing Katrina Four Years On,
media mostly neglect
an ongoing disaster

NOTE: My good friend/comrade, Dinizulu Tinnie comments on the PostKatrina essay found below...

Muchas gracias for this, Sam,
Excellent coverage of the non-coverage, which, truth to be told, was actually a problem right from the outset, as many of us painfully remember, but not nearly as painfully as those who actually underwent the disaster, and its secondary and tertiary disasters (the story is still not fully told of the failure of the levees being a separate development from the damage by the hurricane itself, and the barely-hinted-at stories of white vigilante groups, thankfully alluded to in this piece, has yet to fully come to light).

Not to be forgotten, which is what makes this piece so good, is that the story of the news coverage, or lack thereof, was, and is, a story in itself. In that context, there is also the story -- not alluded to here -- of the absolute worst of the "coverage," which was that multi-million-dollar Hollywood-style production featuring G.W. Bush standing before the stagelit St. Louis Cathedral, acting as if he cared, and having this treated as though it were actual news. (And then there was, as if enough cannot be said about the Bush family's response to the disaster, Laura Bush's later reference to "hurricane Corina." twice, do disconnected was she from the whole matter.)
What was also a story at the time, and still now, was the coverage of the prelude -- the conditions that existed in New Orleans and the surrounding area before Katrina, much of which took on a kind of blame-the-victim character. This fed, and was fed by, the kind of racist/hateful attitude that is cited in this article, with the doctor who was deciding, essentially, whom to euthanize. (Beyond scary.) We started hearing supposedly serious comments and questions as to whether New Orleans needed to be rebuilt at all, and that horrid comment by one of the senators, I believe, who dared to state that "God did for us what we couldn't do ourselves" by "cleaning up" New Orleans, or words to that effect. That is as much of a story as the story of the lack of stories since then.

Among the preconditions there was one especially profound story which glared by its absence of coverage, but only to those who knew it existed at all. I ended up learning about it all in one day, on a visit to NOLA in 1995, when the National Conference of Artists held its Annual Meeting there. On a connecting flight from Houston back to NO, I was seated next to a white-shirted Coloured gentleman (Black man would not be an accurate description, but he's still my brother), who didn't have much to say beyond a barely grunted reply to my greeting. He sat silent by the window until, as we neared our destination, he suddenly jumped with excitement, and practically shouted, to whomever might be listening, or to no one but himself, "Oh my God! Those are our plants! I can't believe it! Wow! Those are actually our plants!" The "plants" he was referring to were a string of white-smoke-spewing installations along a swath of the Mississippi River bank. I didn't know who the "we" were who could claim the plants as "ours," and I didn't ask.
Landing in NO and reaching the hotel, the very first individual I encounterd was iconic NCA member and Washington-based photographer Roy Lewis, one of those perpetual-motion machines who talks fast and gets things done. In the course of our warm reunion, I learned of a project he was involved with, which made him glad to be in NO, because he was documenting the little known fact that along a 50-mile stretch of the Mississippi River, coming into NO, was a series of chemical plants. These were built in an area where the population was predominantly Black, and that population was experiencing a cancer rate five times the national average. His goal was to bring this story to light, since no one else -- certainly not the corporate news media -- seemed to be inclined to do so. Roy had subsequent family issues, etc., so I don't know how far he ever progressed with it.

One would think that the fate of these chemical plants, considering the possible threat that damage to them could pose to the city downstream from them, might have been the focus of some media coverage, which, in turn, would have naturally raised the Environmental Justice issues surrounding their presence there. I actually heard about a nanosecond of a mention, both of the plants and the consequences for the population living near them, and that was it.
The point that this raises is that only by the dumb luck of two chance encounters with two individuals did I become aware of what should have been a major investigative-journalism story even without Katrina, and a full decade before Katrina, so, how many more hidden stories like that are there, in and around NO and elsewhere? (A lot more than we think, I imagine. At a recent one-day EJ Conference in fort Lauderdale, I just learned of a section of that city, a predominantly Black neighborhood, with a similar disparity in cancer rates. The woman who was the primary activist in bringing this out (with only limited success in the broad mainstream) has passed away herself, and the struggle is continuing to be led by her daughter.)

The lack of coverage of the human dimensions of the story since Katrina is egregious enough, but, as this article also suggests, the lack of focus on the natural/environmental aspects is equally shameful. Among the preconditions before Katrina was the fact that parts of the city were literally sinking: driveways falling two inches below the garage apron, for example. This was attributed to the work of the good old U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (they who brought us the Everglades drainage canal system with consequences that will take decades to repair), whose canals rerouted water flows and thus prevented the usual moisture content of the alluvial soil upon which the city was originally engineered to "sit lightly" from being maintained. The media has failed to inform us of the progress (if any, or if what is being called progress deserves the name) being made on restoring and improving the levee system, but also on whether there is any real effort to improve the overall environmental management so that the healthy condition of the city's foundation is restored.

One gets the impression that in the eyes of America's prevailing Puritanical popular culture, New Orleans was just to Black, too poor, too corrupt too fun-loving, and too frank and honest about its character -- all according to stereotypes -- to deserve to live. Katrina provided the God-sent opportunity, as the senator suggested, to erase this microcosmic indicting blot from America's wannabe image of pure white innocence, so the gradual erasure of Katrina by the corporate media becomes a way of erasing New Orleans itself -- at least the one we knew and loved in its own way -- through the journalistic equivalent of "demolition by neglect." The "New New Orleans" that these fantasizers imagine will quietly replace the old, without journalistic fanfare or scrutiny, will be a gentrified and "whiter" city, where any and all overdue improvements will be for the benefit of "developers" (an artist friend sagely calls that a "one-word oxymoron") and, supposedly, "the right kind of people." The silence of the corporate media is therefore not a passive non-action, but actually a pro-active strategy (consciously or not) in this drama.
By now it should be obvious -- but obviously is not, especially to the most favored segments of the population -- that the mindless pursuit of a life of ease, comfort and privilege for the few at the expense of the many is not a sustainable proposition. What I heard on my visits to New Orleans from the regular folks consistently was that the city's greatest single problem was the great disparity in wealth, which kept the place from ever fulfilling its full potential, and allowed its worst problems to fester and grow worse. Decision-making that is informed only by the narrow and corrupted interests of the privileged few is what led (and leads) to the poor engineering decisions that have brought so much natural destruction to the city, and engendered the fear factor that fosters the founding of white vigilante groups.

It said something profound and terrible about our human species when the reflex reaction of so many to a natural disaster of the magnitude of Katrina was not to help as many people as possible to survive, but to arm oneself in fear of "looters" or of Blacks who one thinks are more concerned about revenge upon whites for past wrongs than the survival of their families and communities in a present life-and-death circumstance. (Unfortunately, sadly, shamefully, this was nothing new, but rather a logical extension of past history: This was almost mild in comparison to the response to the devastating Greenwood, Mississippi, flood of 1927, when Blacks were deliberately not rescued and left to die, if that were to be, for fear that if they were rescued they might never return to work for slave wages.)

The fantasies of the "New New Orleans" can only be pursued by the same kind of discredited decision making. The trendy saying of our time defines mental illness as "persisting in the same behavior with the expectation of different outcomes." Not only does a more intelligent -- and inclusive -- vision for the future of New Orleans need to be pursued, but there is, beyond the obvious tasks of repair and restoration, a great task of healing, which cannot be ignored. The social costs that come with unhealed wounds and emotional scars are beyond measure, and certainly beyond measure in dollars. Social health only comes with the entire population being healthy. Healing does not just mean treating or "managing" the pain, but also attacking the causes and implementing prevention. A public policy that recognizes the "right of return" of evacuees, first and foremost, can go a very long way toward the healing that is needed.

On Thu, Sep 10, 2009 at 6:09 AM, S. E. Anderson <> wrote:
Erasing Katrina Four years on, media mostly neglect an ongoing disaster

<<...amazingly, according to a search of the Nexis news media database, neither the Washington Post nor the L.A. Times ran a single piece on Katrina in the past week. ABC and Fox News didn't mention the hurricane or its aftermath once.>>

August 29 marked the fourth anniversary of the day Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The devastation wrought by both the hurricane itself and the government's inept response prompted remarkably critical corporate media coverage that promised to fight for Katrina survivors and change the way we talk about poverty and race (FAIR Media Advisory, 9/9/05).

As NBC's Brian Williams told the St. Petersburg Times (3/1/06), "If this does not spark a national discussion on class, race, the environment, oil, Iraq, infrastructure and urban planning, I think we've failed." But four years later, corporate media outlets seem to have largely forgotten about Katrina and its survivors, let alone the conversations about race and poverty that were supposed to accompany it.

The Institute for Southern Studies issued a report (8-9/09) in which more than 50 Gulf Coast community leaders graded officials on their response to the ongoing disaster; the Obama administration received a D+, while Congress received a D. (George W. Bush received a D- in an earlier survey.) One million people are still displaced, rebuilding continues at a glacial pace, and the levees being rebuilt have been judged insufficient to protect New Orleans from another Katrina-level flood.

But amazingly, according to a search of the Nexis news media database, neither the Washington Post nor the L.A. Times ran a single piece on Katrina in the past week. ABC and Fox News didn't mention the hurricane or its aftermath once.

CBS ran two segments (8/28/09, 8/31/09), as well as a brief headline (8/29/09) on Barack Obama's weekly radio address that discussed post-Katrina reconstruction. The one mention on MSNBC came on the Ed Show (8/27/09), when host Ed Schultz singled out right-wing talk radio host Neal Boortz for his hateful remarks about displaced Katrina survivors, such as his recent commentary: "Obama wants to rebuild New Orleans? Why? 'Build it and they will come'? 'They'? The debris that Katrina chased out?"

NBC ran four segments, all of which put a remarkably upbeat spin on the situation. In one piece (8/30/09), reporter Ron Mott declared that while a third of the homes in New Orleans are still vacant or abandoned, "positive news abounds. The population is steadily climbing as are test scores in the overhauled public school system." Another segment (8/30/09) reported that "the city and its most famous cultural treasure are now well on the mend," while a day earlier (8/29/09), Saturday Today anchor Lester Holt introduced a short piece on "encouraging new signs for the city," in which reporter Mott announced that "much has improved and a lot of people are working."

The New York Times published a few pieces on Katrina, including an op-ed chart (8/28/09) and a report (8/30/09) on Obama's speech. The cover story of its weekend magazine (8/30/09) was a long piece by Sheri Fink, of the nonprofit journalism outfit ProPublica, on the "deadly choices" at a New Orleans hospital following the hurricane--one of the few anniversary pieces to touch even obliquely on issues of racism, quoting one doctor who helped euthanize patients as saying he was worried about "the animals" outside--that "these crazy black people who think they've been oppressed for all these years by white people" might start "raping...or, you know, dismembering" people.

The Times also ran an article (8/31/09) that talked about how the goal in New Orleans isn't to "revert to the city that existed here before the flood," but instead focusing on "revitalization." (See Extra!, 7-8/07.) Further down it mentioned that "fundamental problems" still exist, like high unemployment, and some neighborhoods that "seem barely touched" since four years ago. Race, though, wasn't mentioned a single time.

The day before the Katrina anniversary, the Times did manage to run a front-page piece on the abysmal state of flood recovery--in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (8/28/09): "Flooded Iowa City Rebuilding and Feeling Just a Bit Ignored." As reporter Susan Saulny put it, "The outpouring of attention toward New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, ratcheting up again now as the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, has not been seen here. In fact, the people of Cedar Rapids are feeling neglected."

As Saulny quickly made clear, her premise itself is flawed: "To be sure, Hurricane Katrina's huge reach and a botched emergency response devastated a far greater swath of the country than did the flooding in the Midwest, and no one here is trying to make tit-for-tat disaster comparisons. No lives were lost in the flooding in Cedar Rapids, and the government's initial response to the crisis was generally considered a success." And yet, the New York Times saw fit to run a front-page piece on Cedar Rapids and not Katrina. That "outpouring of attention" for Katrina victims Saulny described as attending the fourth anniversary certainly wasn't to be found in the Times.

CNN, whose relatively heavy Katrina coverage helped boost host Anderson Cooper's profile at the network (Extra!, 7-8/06), dedicated much more time than any other major outlet to the anniversary, with a few dozen segments over the days before and after August 29. But while some of the coverage dug deeper than other outlets, it betrayed CNN's lack of consistent interest in the issue. In one report, for example, correspondent Gary Tuchman "tracked down" a story on vigilante justice in which a white militia formed in a largely white neighborhood and shot black passersby in the chaotic days following the hurricane. It's a critical story--so why did CNN only come to it nearly nine months after ProPublica journalist A.C. Thompson (interviewed briefly in CNN's piece) broke the news in a lengthy investigative report published in the Nation (1/05/09)? It would seem the Katrina anniversaries are the only time such stories are considered newsworthy.

The media's neglect of the Gulf Coast is not a new thing; Extra! was writing about it as far back as July/August 2006. According to the Tyndall Report, which monitors TV news, there were 367 minutes on Katrina's aftermath that year (TVNewser, 1/3/07). In 2007 it was down to 116 minutes, while in 2008 it was not among the top 20 stories of the year. In the first seven months of 2009, Tyndall finds, there were just six Katrina-related stories (

There are plenty of ongoing stories to be told today. The Institute for Southern Studies report also highlighted some startling statistics: In addition to the estimated 1 million people still displaced by Katrina, rents in the New Orleans area have increased by 40 percent since the hurricane, and an estimated 11,000 people are currently homeless there. The report also reveals striking racial disparities in the impacts: Less than 49 percent of households in the largely African-American and working class Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans are actively receiving mail today (compared to 76 percent city-wide), for example, and black children's enrollment in public and private schools dropped from 49 percent of all students to 43 percent.

Independent journalists and outlets, such as Jordan Flaherty (CounterPunch, 8/26/09) and Democracy Now! (8/31/09), as well as local journalists like the New Orleans Times-Picayune's Jarvis DeBerry (e.g., 8/21/09), have been documenting such ongoing disparities and unfulfilled promises. It's work the major outlets can and should be doing--and it doesn't even have to wait until the next anniversary.

Monday, September 07, 2009

A New Oliver Stone Film
on the
New Progressive South America