SPECIAL SERIES : Hurricane Katrina
Platform Discusses Hurricane Katrina and Feelings of Disillusionment
September 22, 2005 5:09 PM
On Wednesday, SF State students had a platform to express feelings of disillusionment concerning Hurricane Katrina, not too long before Hurricane Rita is set to touch down on the Gulf Coast, making New Orleans old news.
The forum, entitled “Being Black during Hurricane Katrina,” was a meeting of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc.’s monthly current events group the “I”. The informal gathering of about 20 mostly African American students was held in Cesar Chavez Student Union and focused on two main themes: What were their feelings about the hip-hop community’s response concerning Katrina and media coverage of the event.
The debate over the racial aspects of Hurricane Katrina’s coverage and in turn America’s response to the tragedy has been raging since shortly after the Hurricane touched shore.
Pete Griffin, the moderator and a member of Iota Phi Theta, wanted to give people a chance to discuss the perceived racism in relation to Katrina before Rita hits and these issues are put on “a back burner.”
“There’s been a lot of questions with Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “We want people to know a lot of (what they see on TV) is untrue.”
Many of the students said they were troubled by images of African Americans looting, their constantly being referred to as “refugees,” and watching them wallow in knee-deep, unsanitary water literally for days as they awaited aid. They added that they felt people in Louisiana were being treated as though they were outsiders.
While frustrated with these images, many said they were not surprised since they say the media has historically portrayed African Americans in a negative light.
Some charged the media with denying racially biased reporting. They cited shows such as MSNBC’s Scarborough County and anchor Bill O’Reilly, who recently pointed fingers at Louisiana’s government, especially New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, in what group participants perceived as an effort by the conservatives to prove that the media and Bush administration is indeed color blind.
“People think when you say someone’s racist it’s ‘oh (they) hate black people’, but really it’s all about power and privilege,” SF State student Corey Hill-Crudup said. “From a historical and social context, do black people have power and privilege? No they don’t.”
As the discussion progressed from the media to the hip-hop community’s response, the mood in the room shifted from resentment to disappointment. Everyone agreed that many of the people who made up those, now lost, communities make up a large part the hip-hop audience and that rappers should be doing more to directly help the people.
“A lot of money was generated in that area between (New Orleans resident rappers) Master P and the Cash Money Millionaires,” said Tarramazz Harris, 23, a psychology major. "It took awhile to respond. They could’ve been in the neighborhoods on boats.”
There was a long debate about Kanye West, one rapper who did publicly speak out about the perceived injustices. His very public, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” comment was applauded by some and criticized by others.
“I saw what the potential of Kanye’s consciousness caused him to do,” Hill-Crudup said. “If Kanye West happened to be that one spark that made everybody think, then so be it.”
Tiffany O’Neal, 29, disagreed saying that West’s outburst was an isolated incident and the majority of entertainers are unwilling to risk their popularity for something they believe in.
“Instead of looking out for black people they look to their contracts to make sure it’s okay,” she said.
The hope for the group is that with another natural disaster looming on the horizon in the Houston area, the media will not make the same mistakes in their coverage and that leaders of the black community will have a stronger and more immediate response.
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