July 20, 2019 | 85° F

RAYMOND-GARCIA: Disasters in non-European countries need media coverage

Opinions Column: A Ray of Esperanza

Destroyed neighborhoods, helpless expressions and dead bodies: These are the images that are constantly being force-fed to the public when it comes to disasters affecting communities of color, both domestic and abroad. It’s quite interesting that mainstream media does not show the same images when similar disasters affect Euro-centric countries with economic and social power. By interesting, I mean not at all surprising, because black and brown folks have been historically made a spectacle of and degraded when chaotic events occur to their communities. 

When tragedy strikes in places that are Euro-centric and are not home to predominantly people of color, the images shown are much more likely to be censored and do not depict the same grueling scenes of pain and loss that were very likely to have occurred in both kinds of places. To compound this issue, there is a small amount of coverage offered to these disasters from the media when it comes to affecting communities of color. When thinking of these two components combined, you have a recipe for desensitization and dehumanization of immensely serious matters concerning thousands to millions of lives.

The way Western media represents non-Euro-centric countries has a lot to do with creating and maintaining Euro-centric power over the(ir) narrative of global geopolitics. This is done in order to keep the public as unaware of the underlying historical reasons as to why these countries came to be in their current state in the first place. These histories include conquering countries under a misrepresented and deceitful guise of “freedom” for the conquered and for the “best interests” of the countries being occupied. This is a conversation of history that is by no means meant to be extensive, but it is important to include here because the media plays an immense part in how the people in marginalized and colonized countries are being affected by such conquests today. If mass media is good at doing anything, it is very good at masking why the status quo is the way it is by not reporting on such issues at all.

With recent events unfolding in Haiti and the Caribbean with Hurricane Matthew and Syria with the U.S.-led intervention against ISIS, there has been something close to total silence from mainstream media outlets, despite these two very different disasters being some of the worst in recent history. This includes social media platforms, particularly their administration. These channels of information that reach millions of people daily are where many individuals get their exposure to current news. It is especially discouraging then that there is not enough being said about these tragedies. What does it say about our society when mass bombings and a category five hurricane, both changing millions of people’s lives for the worse, are met with widespread apathy? How can we expect change when only a minority of people who can make the most difference are willing to do so?

To give some point of comparison, when Paris, France was attacked in November of 2015, Facebook responded with the option to add a filter of a transparent French flag over your picture. The significance of this gesture meant that Facebook as a social media conglomerate was willing to show selective empathy and solidarity with a country that was terrorized by a group of criminals and a rising death toll. As for Haiti, Syria and a whole host of other countries in desperate need of empathy and aid today, Facebook has been comparably slow in responding to these disasters with the same kind of reaction. Selective empathy in this case can mean life or death for thousands of people who have been historically disenfranchised and whose lives are constantly dependent on external aid on the aid of others.

Despite the immense lack of attention brought to these disasters from mainstream media outlets, including social media administration, many individuals have used this lack as an opportunity to make their voices heard over social media to bring aid to those affected by Hurricane Matthew. They are bringing attention to the people of Syria, people whose lives have been destroyed because of relentless bombing from the U.S. led intervention. They are speaking out against the injustice that is bringing attention to a disaster by using dehumanizing and sensationalizing images through mass media. In order to make collective change, we should continue to strive to put pressure on the outlets and individuals that have the opportunity to make the most impact here in the U.S. and abroad.

Vanessa Raymond-Garcia is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in women’s and gender studies with a minor in public policy and a dual candidate for a master’s in public policy. Her column, "A Ray of Esperanza," runs on alternate Mondays.

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Vanessa Raymond-Garcia

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