Katrina:The Exploitation of African Americans and Their Bodies

This week our class discussed social media. Additionally, we had a speaker discuss social medias role in natural disasters, specifically she spoke about how social media helped residents stay informed about details regarding hurricane Sandy. This talk made me think of Hurricane Katrina, and a previous class discussion I had in my African American Politics class with Professor Melissa Harris -Perry. The discussion entailed how social media can be used as a tool to exploit and perpetuate racism among African Americans . The use of social media can be both beneficial as well as harmful to the public sphere. When used in negative ways, it is the most detrimental to marginalized and oppressed communities due to their lack of representation and resources.

The detrimental storm of Hurricane Katrina occurred in August of 2005, killing 1,800 people. While it enacted enormous physical and fiscal damage to most Gulf cities, it also had profound political consequences for New Orleans. Social media played a keen role in the coverage of this storm, where it exploited the New Orleans African American population. In Melissa Harris-Perry’s book Sister Citizen, she discusses how Katrina was also a “catastrophe of misrecognition (136)”, in which the real-time media footage of the disaster unfolding allowed the whole nation to witness and interpret what was happening in New Orleans. She quotes survey data illuminating the “wide perceptual gulf (136)” that existed between how white and black Americans perceived the disaster, with black Americans significantly more likely to view racial inequality as an important lesson of the governmental failure and to hold the belief that response would have been faster if most disaster victims had been white.

The  front cover of the Economist newspaper stirred up controversy and received critical backlash. That weeks issue featured  a nameless, middle aged African American Women wearing a yellow New Orleans tee shirt with emotions of distraught with the headline  “The Shaming of America” covering the entire front page. The picture and headline further added to the exploitation of Female African Americans and their bodies, portraying them as vulnerable and helpless. –metapsychology review of  Sister Citizen, features Melissa Harris –Perry’s view how the Economist manipulated and exploited the nameless black woman on the cover. The review states: “Her agonized visage is exploited as a bridge to public understanding of the ordeal faced by her and other black women. Through her face the world witnesses both the humiliation of the personal and the political in the delayed response to help her (metapsychology.mentalhelp.net, 2012)”.

Perry, Melissa V.. Sister citizen: shame, stereotypes, and Black women in America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011. Print.

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3 responses to “Katrina:The Exploitation of African Americans and Their Bodies

  • mattbrandeburg

    Very interesting perspective on the Economist’s decision for its cover during Katrina. I had not considered this angle of the exploitive situation and I am glad you provided quotes from such intellectuals as Melissa Harris-Perry. I will have to read her book on the events surrounding the storm and find out more for myself.

  • eturner1

    Great post! It was interesting to read more about social media’s negative aspects, especially with Hurricane Katrina. When thinking about social media and Katrina I assumed that sites such as Twitter and Facebook would discourage racial inequality, so it was eye opening to see that this wasn’t the case.

  • ohaberer

    Yeah, I’m highly interested in reading Harris-Perry’s book. I work in the Ninth Ward, and have often been frustrated at (1) the lack of resources given to a predominantly African-American neighborhood and (2) the misleading media representation of the African American residents of the neighborhood as poor and incapable of fending for themselves.

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