Television cameras reporting from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina beamed images of a grim reality in this southern city.
For the most part, those who have suffered most from the worst natural disaster to hit the United States in recent years are poor and marginalized African Americans.
Millions across the U.S and beyond watched live, in astonishment and horror, corpses floating in the streets and crowds of elderly men, women and children desperately waiting for aid, which never arrived.
New Orleans, it was reported, was a city founded by wine smugglers, slave trades and pirates. Many of its inhabitants lived under the poverty line and were unable to plan their escape from the flooded city. Many remained in their homes, too destitute to leave.
In a few days, Louisiana, one of the country”s poorest states, where 67% of the population is African American, exposed the racism that continues to plague the United States. What everyone saw on their television screen was not a natural disaster but a man-made crisis caused by deep-seated racial and class divisions. How is it possible for the world’s sole superpower to foster a third world in its midst, a place where relief teams cannot access in time to save lives?
Since Katrina hit Louisiana, media reports have focused on the US coverage of the crisis. The majority of television networks examining Katrina and its aftermath reported a failure to prepare for the hurricane and limit the humanitarian and material losses, thereby ignoring the seemingly obvious question on the race and wealth of the victims.
Journalists even used the word “refugees” to refer to survivors from New Orleans but adopted different terminology as discontent rose amongst African Americans who saw that as further evidence of being 2 nd class citizens amongst the many desperate people of the developing world.
A study by a number of organizations examining the US media response to the tragedy, demonstrated that race and class disparities were scarcely mentioned in news bulletins. Journalists, instead, adopted a cautious and guarded approach when tackling two of the most sensitive issues in modern-day America.
For all its power and political might, the United States is plagued by extreme poverty and wide disparities, which Katrina has fully exposed.
The U.S media seems to have missed the plethora of extremist messages and views, which have populated the internet. The hurricane revealed to the world the ongoing discrimination against African Americans, which previously lay unreported.
Meanwhile, the tragedy of Katrina continues. The deep-seated social problems it has exposed are too grave for the media to ignore.