"Normal day what a treasure you are."
By Dr. Maxine Thompson

Katrina and the Power of the Media

In April, 2005, at a writer’s conference, I heard an economic empowerment activist postulate that when a government withdraws its support from a race of people, the group is being set up for extermination. This speaker contended that historians have said this is what happened to the Jews in Germany, just before the Holocaust. The speaker went on to compare what happened to the Jews to what had happened to the Haitians when hit by Hurricane Jeanne last year. And he concluded that at this rate, African Americans will become extinct in about twenty years.

At the time, I remember thinking that perhaps this position was a bit extreme. But,

in view of the slow response to the survivors of Katrina, in that most of the survivors were African American, it makes one think. Why was the government response to the tsunami victims in Thailand, on the other side of the world, more speedy than the response here in our homeland? Was race a factor?

On 9-12-05 I saw an email where a group called The Black Psychologists of America issued a statement. They asserted, “When the displaced residents of New Orleans finally arrived at the Houston Astrodome they were called refugees. A refugee is defined as a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or power. These people were simply evacuees from a flooded city and the bus driver was resourceful.”

Moreover, The Black Psychologists of America has denounced some of the terminology used by the media during this natural disaster. In part, the email read:

“We further denounce the utilization of the word looters, in a discriminatory manner, for those individual seeking the secure some of the necessities of life.

We further denounce the utilization of the term renegade for those who have applied their genius to engage in an act of heroism in time of need. We further denounce the application of the term rapist to a large portion of African Americans who are honorable and respectful. The utilization of such terms is psychologically damaging and also delays the hurricane survivors from receiving the assistance that they need because people are less likely to help people that hurting them.”

Isn’t it pathetic how, when you don’t own the media, this vehicle of information can send a message, which maligns a whole race, to the world? Isn’t it a sad state of affairs that when you are poor, disenfranchised, and powerless, then struck by the worse disaster in the history of the United States, you are made a spectacle of before the whole world?

Just last month I wrote my column, celebrating, “Normal day, what a treasure you are.” Now, just one month later, we witness the capriciousness of life. Well, now we know that we are not living in normal times. One act of nature can wipe out your entire existence, your entire past, and even your physical life. Now, once again, as African Americans, we have to develop a new sense of what is normal.

After Katrina hit, I called my grandchildren who live in Eunice, Louisiana and couldn’t get through for nearly a week. However, my son, who lives in Atlanta, said he’d talked to them—that they were safe and unharmed because Eunice is inland and wasn’t hit. A week later, once I got through the telephone line, I got a firsthand report about the evacuees coming into Eunice. From what the other grandmother said, many of the people arriving in Eunice, said, “Don’t tell me it’s going to be all right.” At the same time, they said, “Don’t feel sorry for me.”

How will the evacuees ever attain a sense of normalcy again?

On 9-6-05, on The Dr. Maxine Show, I interviewed Rina Rispers, owner of New Citizen Press, Independent newspaper, found at http://www.tncp.net/. She told of Lansing, Michigan’s relief efforts by sending buses to New Orleans with food, aid, and transportation for helping families to relocate back to Michigan.

From this one-woman owned independent newspaper, I learned the power of the press to counteract many of the negative images being perpetuated in the larger media.

On 9-12-05, I called my client, an African American doctor, who was a former resident of New Orleans. He had written one book and, before Katrina, was preparing to write another.

Needless to say, the writing his second novel is the least of his concerns at this time. He was one of the fortunate ones—he had the resources that allowed him to get out of New Orleans before Katrina hit and relocate himself. He regrets he lost most of his personal reading library, (“I saved my copy of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man,” he reports,) but he has been able to secure another apartment near the hospital where he works in Baton Rouge. Of course, I told him to take as much time as he needs. Because of his finances, this doctor obviously had a car and the means to get away in time before Katrina hit New Orleans. But when will he feel normal again?

The truth is we all have to find a new normal.

So what lessons should we take away from Katrina?

This is what I gleaned. The media is a double-edged sword. At the same time that the news called African Americans refugees, looters, renegades, the visual images, which flashed across the world, told the real truth and that was this. There are two sets of people in America. The powerful and the powerless. Case in point. Those who had no money could not flee from the hurricane in time. Prior to Katrina, the government, in its taking away of support for med-i-cal, social security, welfare, has in essence sent a loud clear message. Everyone is on his own.

Therefore, what can we do about it?

As writers, as media persons, as caring, concerned citizens, let’s make those who lost their lives not be in vain. Help the memories of their lives count.

Don’t let us ever forget the lesson here. As a community, we must take care of our own. Just as the character Nana in the movie, “Lackawanna Blues,” took in people who were broken and made them whole, let us learn from her example. Let’s help those less fortunate than us in this time of need.

Take part in becoming entrepreneurs and building our own infrastructure as an African American community. Why not own our own newspaper, magazines, radio shows, TV shows? (Through the internet both TV and radio show ownership is now feasible.) We can then be in a position to set up our own programs to provide AID to our families who survived Katrina and other such disasters.

For this reason, I love Internet radio as a platform to give the voiceless a voice. Remember. He who sets the rules to the game, rules. Why would we expect a white media to show us in a favorable light?

P.S. Kudos to Tony Rose of Amber Books (www.amberbooks.com and Heather Covington of Disilgold www.disigold.com, who spearheaded a drive to provide books to the Katrina Hurricane victims.

“As Publisher and CEO of ACGI, we are urging all Independent African American publishers, book clubs, self published authors, literary services, libraries, authors, editors, and publishers at the major publishing houses, to join the donation drive to submit books to the Katrina Hurricane victims. If you wish to participate by donating books, please email us at Amberbk@aol.com or Heather Covington at Disilgold@aol.com.”