Skip

ragnarok now? or is it all just in your head?
October 21, 2005 9:46 AM   Subscribe

Why do we always seem to expect the worst from some people? By now, it's common knowledge that media reports of widespread looting, violence and sexual assault in the wake of Katrina's strike on New Orleans were grossly exaggerated, but why? Some might attribute such distortions to unconscious bias, offering up some hope of alleviating racial tension by bringing unexamined racial biases to light; still others see the problem of racial tension as an intractable one, leading inevitably to an all-out clash of cultures--even finding "evidence" of the inevitably of such a conflict in the unlikeliest of places. Still others seem especially eager to bring all these tensions to a head. What's really going on these days? Is racial tension ultimately a political problem or, as some suggest, a psychological one?
posted by all-seeing eye dog (35 comments total)

 
Wasn't it Randall Robinson who said that black people were eating other black people and trumped up the rapes, etc.?

Yeah, he's black. Wouldn't that effect this theory?
posted by dios at 9:51 AM on October 21, 2005


My belief is that it has less to do with race, and more to do with what seems to be the inherent human belief that people that are not part of your community are most likely bad (until proven otherwise).
I would argue that the unconscious bias can be based on factors other than race, such as economic status, political philosophy, and profession.
posted by forforf at 9:58 AM on October 21, 2005


Well, Black mayor Ray Nagin, and Black Chief of Police Edwin Compass are the ones who were trumping up and telling Oprah about how babies were being raped in the Superdome. So, I don't think it was a racial issue, and I'm not sure you can say that it was a The Other issue. These reports came from people inside the community and inside the race.

I think a better explanation for the Katrina tragedy is that it was a tragedy. In tumultuous times, people are afraid, scared, and always expect the worst. People try to assign blame for the powerlessness they feel when subjected to tragedy.

What happened in Katrina was a tragedy for everyone involved, and it shouldn't be transmuted into a racial situation as if the non-black people were just fine. The hurricane exposed socio-economic deficiencies.

And I will point out that the question "why do we always seem to expect the worst from some people?" can be turned around as question to those who thought the effectiveness of the federal response was due to malice towards those suffering.

As long as people aren't happy with their lives, they will look for someone else to blame because it easier than blaming themselves. It is easy and lazy to just blame someone that is different, and race is the easiest and laziest distinction to make. That is the explanation, in my opinion, of all racial issues.
posted by dios at 10:09 AM on October 21, 2005


News isn't news. It's tittilation for money. Unless you're getting your news from someone whose continuing employment isn't dependent on their ability to draw viewers, you're going to get the most trumped-up, racially-charged, tension-filled "news" that money can buy.
posted by gregor-e at 10:12 AM on October 21, 2005


Remember the New York City blackout? There were (I learned later) widespread reports of violence, looting, and near anarchy. I, however, had one of the best times I've ever had in New York that day, and never felt safer, before or since. I didn't see one broken window, and when I leaned what the news was saying, I was shocked. It was alot more carnical than it was riot.
posted by ChasFile at 10:16 AM on October 21, 2005


what gregor-e said.
posted by cgs at 10:16 AM on October 21, 2005


During hurricanes Frances & Jeanne in Fort Lauderdale last year, we had a great time. All of our neighbors got together for hurricane parties. Thankfully we never lost power and had no major damage. We did the same during Katrina this year (although it was only a category 1 when it hit us).
posted by mike3k at 10:43 AM on October 21, 2005


One of the most common themes in literature and music (e.g. Lord of the Flies and Elvis Costello's song New Lace Sleeves) is how humans are all savages at heart, hiding behind a mask of civility.
When order breaks down, perhaps it seems only natural that people would revert to a "dog eat dog" mentality and that the worst aspects of our nature would come to the fore.
Add in race and poverty and and it's a potent brew, indeed.
If Beverly Hills had been flooded, we wouldn't have seen those reports...or if we had, we'd be incredulous.
If anything, NOLA should teach us to be highly skeptical of the news...at least at first.
posted by black8 at 10:46 AM on October 21, 2005


In fact it went like this: hurricane...many rapes...rapes seen as false report>>>women's crises center now states that a number of rapes did take place and that some women are still turning up to report their rapes (I don't get into any color issue here; the reported rapes do not deal with race thus far). That which is here reported as Myth is in fact in part True!
posted by Postroad at 10:50 AM on October 21, 2005


Yeah, he's black. Wouldn't that effect this theory?

Actually dios, I've read about similar research that strongly suggests the same unconscious bias is found even among blacks themselves (meaning, black people too are more likely to show an increase in physiological threat response when shown images of other black people in some studies). That strongly seems to suggest a broader-reaching cultural component to the response (this odd result may make a certain amount of sense when you consider how disproportionately blacks are depicted as perpetrators of violent crime in entertainment media).


It is easy and lazy to just blame someone that is different, and race is the easiest and laziest distinction to make. That is the explanation, in my opinion, of all racial issues.

I agree. (BTW, it's not my intent here to suggest anyone is immune from responsibility for their beliefs or actions in this thread; quite the opposite. )
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 10:58 AM on October 21, 2005


All of our neighbors got together for hurricane parties.

You call 'em "hurricane parties"; others call them cannibalistic riots.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 11:01 AM on October 21, 2005


News isn't news. It's tittilation for money. Unless you're getting your news from someone whose continuing employment isn't dependent on their ability to draw viewers, you're going to get the most trumped-up, racially-charged, tension-filled "news" that money can buy.
posted by gregor-e


That's not the whole story. Adding to what dios already stated, most of the comments about rape and murder came from black people coming out of the superdome. Rumors happen. If later on some of the claims turn out to be false, that's a good thing.

I, however, had one of the best times I've ever had in New York that day, and never felt safer, before or since.

But there was more crime during the blackout, right? So your feeling of being safer was false, and not based on fact.

During hurricanes Frances & Jeanne in Fort Lauderdale last year, we had a great time. All of our neighbors got together for hurricane parties. Thankfully we never lost power and had no major damage. We did the same during Katrina this year (although it was only a category 1 when it hit us).
posted by mike3k


You lost me. Due to where I live I've been to a ton of hurricane parties. Most hurricanes either miss us, or aren't powerful enough to do much damage except at the coastline. A cat 3,4,5 hurricane hitting directly would kill any party.
posted by justgary at 11:08 AM on October 21, 2005


here's a link related to my last comment.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 11:24 AM on October 21, 2005


Serentiy now, ragnarok later.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:29 AM on October 21, 2005


"it's common knowledge that media reports of widespread looting, violence and sexual assault in the wake of Katrina's strike on New Orleans were grossly exaggerated"
BULLSHIT!!!
posted by mischief at 11:41 AM on October 21, 2005


BULLSHIT!!!

um, excellent point...?

what's an appropriate adult response to this comment supposed to be mischief?

mischief, if you have better more current information please share it with us to help the discussion along. thanks!
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 11:58 AM on October 21, 2005


Mischief: My claim about post-Katrina crime rumors being exaggerated is not controversial.

supporting link 1.

Supporting link 2.

Supporting link 3.

Supporting link 4.

...And there are dozens and dozens more where those came from.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 12:08 PM on October 21, 2005


Two highly recommended movies, out today and next week respectively, that deal with racial tensions: Protocols of Zion and Paradise Now.
posted by muckster at 12:45 PM on October 21, 2005


It is easy and lazy to just blame someone that is different, and race is the easiest and laziest distinction to make.

I agree - but your use of "lazy" is riddled with all sorts of value judgements that I would prefer to shed.

It make sense (survivability-wise) that we evolved a predisposition to bond with those that look most like us and fear those that do not. You see this with infants. They will cry when the come in contact with strange shapes, sounds colors and unfamiliar voices and faces. So this instinct is fairly deep.

We rarely honestly discuss race. Hiding from unpleasant facts - for the best of intentions - is not going to forward the discussion. An example would be the constant down-playing of Black on Black crime (overwhelmingly more 9-1-1 calls come from Back neighborhoods) in favor of the rarer black on white or white on black crimes.

What happened in NO was an example of some deep institutional race and class problems. The class issues must be addressed by those on the higher end of the spectrum since they have the resources and the political clout to fix those problems. But racism is everybody's problem. And we on the left have made racism a one way discussion where even mentioning somebody's skin color is "racism". We are essentially taking black people out of the equation as whole self-determined beings and citizens and reduced them to near helpless victims.
posted by tkchrist at 1:00 PM on October 21, 2005


tkchrist: agreed.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 1:44 PM on October 21, 2005


I enjoy the paralells between Thomas Szasz (from the last link) who insists upon a objectively measurable bodily defects as the sine qua non of true disease and his sort of 'nothing at the center' concept and the Batman villian Victor Zsasz, who believes all humans are nothing more then machines.

I suspect we always seem to expect the worst from some people because we're told to. Lots of bad guys are black in the movies, t.v. etc. (As all-seeing eye dog pointed out above).

That a person is black doesn't change that they are exposed to the same messages and may reiterate them.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:50 PM on October 21, 2005


I think gregor-e's point nails it. It's a matter of Moral Panic. Everyone loves sensationalism--look at the McMillan Preschool Trial. And everyone loves titillation that comes in the form of opprobrium.

And as far as the whole see-sawing "There were legions of rapists!/There were no rapes whatsoever" that seems to be happening in the news, I recently read this, which states that so far, 18 women have come forward saying they were raped. 18. How many women do you think get raped in any given week in New Orleans? I would bet that it's a comparable number.
posted by veronica sawyer at 2:10 PM on October 21, 2005


This phenomenon has everything to do with day to day spin in the South, that is still believed; and racism that is alive and still kicking, thank you very much. The haters and the bigots forget that they are alone together in their malice, and most of the US is okay with cultural diversity.

I talked to relatives in the deep South, right on the Gulf, after Katrina, and it was the same old thing I used to hear as a child.

Y'all don't know what you're doin', takin' in those people. They are scum, you are goin' ta find out just how awful they are, when they come to your state. They are the product of the welfare system, blah, blah, blah.

I kept talking about cultural differences and the rich mix of culture in the region, and that New Orleans is basically sub-tropical and is an easy place to get by in. If it is corrupt then you have to realize that as a major port, there are people who certainly profit from the corruption, and want it that way. These individuals won't be poor African-Americans, they will be well-heeled, white dealers in all kinds of illicit merchandise.

I was told that obviously I had a different view of things, and I said, "Well, yes I do, I never bought in to racial hatred."

I think the whole Katrina thing became a hot potato, rather than a disaster, at first, because of cowardice and racism, that led to a slow motion response.

I think the government players really thought that the rest of the US wouldn't care about the people of New Orleans that make that incredible cultural tapestry; like they could slum there, but keep their gloves on, like decent people weren't really going to wade in there to help.
posted by Oyéah at 2:26 PM on October 21, 2005


Hmm. My sense was that everyone knew at the time (and noted in reporting) was that many of these reports would turn out to be rumors of the kind that proliferate in situations like this.

What's more worrysome to me is how the lack of a pile of bodies in the superdome basement (or the presence of only a smaller pile, mostly outside), has turned the national discussion of Katrina into another session of complaints about the liberal media trying to smear the Bush admin, rather than prompted discussion on what to do about structural poverty and govenmental neglect revealed by the storm.

It's a lot like how, last year, Dan Rather's faked military documents became the story itself, all but pushing the actual fact of Bush's military desertion entirely from public view.
posted by washburn at 2:36 PM on October 21, 2005


This phenomenon has everything to do with day to day spin in the South, that is still believed; and racism that is alive and still kicking, thank you very much. The haters and the bigots forget that they are alone together in their malice, and most of the US is okay with cultural diversity.

I use to argue constantly on mefi against ignorance such as this. To put racism as existing only in the south is the height of simple-mindedness. Making sweeping generalizations against the entire south making sweeping generalizations about black people is the height of irony.

I think the government players really thought that the rest of the US wouldn't care about the people of New Orleans that make that incredible cultural tapestry; like they could slum there, but keep their gloves on, like decent people weren't really going to wade in there to help.

Please tell me you don't think southern people were waiting to be rescued. Plenty of southern people immediately went to work on the situation. People from all across the country came to help. Of course, 9/11 plenty of people from the south came to help.

But pointing your finger from behind your screen is just as helpful, right?
posted by justgary at 2:44 PM on October 21, 2005


It's bullshit because it is not at all "common knowledge".
posted by mischief at 3:25 PM on October 21, 2005


Breaking into the Katrina lovefest here, the most interesting point in the article is this:

Jacques Lacan claimed that, even if the patient's wife is really sleeping around with other men, the patient's jealousy is still to be treated as a pathological condition. In a homologous way, even if rich Jews in early 1930s Germany "really" had exploited German workers, seduced their daughters and dominated the popular press, the Nazis ' anti-Semitism would still have been an emphatically "untrue," pathological ideological condition. Why? Because the causes of all social antagonisms were projected onto the "Jew"--an object of perverted love-hatred, a spectral figure of mixed fascination and disgust.

And exactly the same goes for the looting in New Orleans: Even if all the reports on violence and rapes had proven to be factually true, the stories circulating about them would still be "pathological" and racist, since what motivated these stories were not facts, but racist prejudices, the satisfaction felt by those who would be able to say: "You see, Blacks really are like that, violent barbarians under the thin layer of civilization!" In other words, we would be dealing with what could be called lying in the guise of truth: Even if what I am saying is factually true, the motives that make me say it are false.

This goes to the heart of a particular and very widespread insanity: that telling the truth for a "wrong" reason is equivalent to lying. Let me quote mischief, above, and cry bullshit on that. The motives of a speaker who states X have zero point nothing to do with the truth value of X.
posted by jfuller at 3:59 PM on October 21, 2005


I do recall seeing a woman hysterically saying "they're raping babies" to a camera. Clearly that woman was not a politician of any stripe, but it's also clear that she greatly exaggerated what she saw (if indeed she saw anything).

And yes, because this discussion has been drawn into the great american racial debate, this woman was indeed an african-american.

This seemed, and still seems, to me to be a lot like people who tell urban legends while pretending they're real. What exactly is the motivation for saying stuff like that? Why do people keep doing it? Why is it that everyone seems to have a cousin who went to Detroit, got into an elevator, and proceeded to have the sh*t scared out of her by Eddie Murphy and his bodyguard when he asked her to "hit the floor (button)"? That must be a part of the human psyche I'll never understand.
posted by clevershark at 4:44 PM on October 21, 2005


It's bullshit because it is not at all "common knowledge".

Mischief: you may have a very good point. Here's what I wrote:

By now, it's common knowledge that media reports of widespread looting, violence and sexual assault in the wake of Katrina's strike on New Orleans were grossly exaggerated, but why?

Here's what I probably should have written:

Now, there's an emerging consensus that media reports of widespread looting, violence and sexual assault in the wake of Katrina's strike on New Orleans were grossly exaggerated, but why?

Honestly, I just took it for granted that this was "common knowledge" by now, because it truly seemed to me that it was. But in hindsight, there's a case to be made that it is premature to claim this as "common knowledge," so I apologize for any imprecision in the original claim.

That said, many in the press who originally made the more egregious claims are now back-peddling, so it's at least fair to say that those who originally reported on lawlessness in New Orleans now claim they overstated the case, and that still leaves the question why.

Personally, I think it's a combination of factors: One contributing factor may have been our basic tendency to take heresay at face-value (particularly when it comes from others with whom we feel some personal connection--such as might emerge in times of shared crisis; if i remember right, a lot of the reporters were right there in the thick of things when they made the now dubious reports). A second factor might have been that the reported facts seemed to fit with an expected story-line--in other words, the claims also seemed reasonable. The fact that they seemed reasonable tells us something--not really sure how much, but at lease something--about how we expected the citizens of New Orleans to respond to the crisis.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 5:12 PM on October 21, 2005


jfuller, to cherrypick and magnify some case to reinforce a stereotype is dishonesty, even if you do find an example or two of the phenomenon you are, intentionally or unintentionally, trying to make people believe is happening.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:16 PM on October 21, 2005


But there was more crime during the blackout, right? So your feeling of being safer was false, and not based on fact.

I think he/she was talking about the 2003 blackout, not 1977. In 2003 (I believe) the crime rate during the blackout was *lower* than normal, so actually his/her feeling of being safer was absolutely true.
posted by mrgrimm at 6:06 PM on October 21, 2005


I think he/she was talking about the 2003 blackout, not 1977.

My mistake. (though I think on average one would feel safer anywhere with lights on than lights out)
posted by justgary at 10:31 PM on October 21, 2005


Echoing clevershark, I watched CNN and FoxNews almost 10 hours a day (much to the consternation of my toon addicted son) during that week, and I do not recall any reporters on the scene for either channel explicitly stating that the most heinous crimes had occurred.

All explicit reports of such were video clips from 'victims', 'refugees', politicians and bureaucrats. The reporters used weasel words like "We hear reports that..." and "Allegedly...". Hell, even that asshole Bill Reilly was prefacing his statements with "If it's true that..." The only talking head I can remember commenting on these incidents as if they were reality was Nancy Grace.

Blaming these exaggerations on the media is absurd because field reporters cannot possibly verify such statements when under catastrophic conditions. They can only do what they learned to do while hacking away at local stations earlier in their careers: report that they heard this, this, this and this.
posted by mischief at 11:13 PM on October 21, 2005


Dios said: It is easy and lazy to just blame someone that is different, and race is the easiest and laziest distinction to make. That is the explanation, in my opinion, of all racial issues.

I agree that's the basis of many racial issues, but not by any means all. Don't forget that some people profit handsomely from racism, particularly politicians who promote racist policies and racist laws, and employers who use racism to drive down wages - to nothing, i.e. slavery, whenever they can get away with it.

Often there's a systemic component to it as well, and sometimes racism is deliberately imposed from above as a matter of policy.

If we focus only on the racism of individuals, as Dios suggested, then we'd miss the imprtant role that the State, and other centres of power such as employers, churches, banks, and the media, have in creating and sustaining racism.

Nobody is born racist - we almost all learn it, as young children, from our peers, our parents, and our televisions. Learning to get beyond racism, to see the lovable, respectable human beings behind the learnt stereotype, and to accept that we desire the love and respect of these human beings, is something which far too many people, evidently, in many parts of the world, miss out on.
posted by cleardawn at 11:29 AM on October 22, 2005


... Even if all the reports on violence and rapes had proven to be factually true, the stories circulating about them would still be “pathological” and racist, since what motivated these stories were not facts, but racist prejudices, the satisfaction felt by those who would be able to say: “You see, Blacks really are like that, violent barbarians under the thin layer of civilization!” In other words, we would be dealing with what could be called lying in the guise of truth: Even if what I am saying is factually true, the motives that make me say it are false. ...

and this: ... “I truly believe that it was God’s intention to have Katrina come to New Orleans to eliminate the blacks from the city” my mother’s Republican friend told her.
“This is God’s way of getting rid of the blacks” my dad overheard while having his flood-damaged car repaired....

posted by amberglow at 6:07 PM on October 22, 2005


« Older Treason is the reason for the season   |   Waxhoff Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post