By KRISTEN GOLEMBIEWSKI, Opinions Editor
DISCLAIMER: Yes, I am white. When I say “white people” in this article, it’s less about race and more about socioeconomic status. This isn’t meant to offend anyone.
When I talk about “white people problems,” I recall the great Louis CK’s definition: “’We have white people problems in America. That’s what we have. White people problems. You know what that is? That’s where your life is amazing, so you just make up sh** to be upset about. People in other countries have real problems. Like ‘Oh sh**, they’re cutting all our heads off, today!’ Things like that. Here, we make things up to be upset about. Like ‘How come I have to choose a language on the ATM. It’s bullsh**. I shouldn’t have to do that. I’m American!’”
Whenever a natural disaster strikes, it’s always interesting to watch what parts of the aftermath the media chooses to share with its viewers. In 2006, Hurricane Katrina brought us images of Louisiana residents stranded on roofs and wading through waist-high water with trash bags. Even worse were the homes with Xs on the windows, signifying that the people inside knew they would not make it out and were signaling to rescue forces that there were bodies inside. Or the images of violence and stories of gangs forming and African Americans looting storefronts for supplies (which is thanks largely in part to FEMA taking their sweet ol’ time, something that was rarely acknowledged because it’s so much easier to make people look bad then to call the government on their BS).
Actually, you know, the whole thing was such a circus that I can’t decide what the worst part of it is. The storm in itself was awful, but the response from the media and the response from George W. (or lack thereof) was even worse. I think Kanye West said it best when he declared that Bush didn’t care about black people. The media cared, but only to the extent that they could get huge ratings for their images of desperation.
When it came to Sandy, I was very interested to see how various news outlets would respond. This storm was hyped more than Katrina and predictions were that the destruction would be even worse. I was curious to see what images would come from this hurricane. What would be the defining pictures that we associated with this event forever?
So far, it seems to be celebrities serving food, people sharing their electricity so others may charge their iPhones, a rollercoaster from the Jersey Shore sitting in the Atlantic, and white people. Lots and lots of white people. Did the major news networks somehow forget the Sandy struck the Caribbean before making its way to the East Coast?
As white people were complaining about being unable to ride the subways in New York, I’m sure that the people of the Caribbean were wishing they had some water, or you know, some other basic human necessities that weren’t available. But of course, because of the lack of coverage there, I’ll never know what they were up to.
I do know, however, how mad New Yorkers were because the subways were taking a little longer and they had to wait in lines that wrapped along the block (I know I mentioned it twice but honestly, this is the image I will always associate with Sandy – white people being mad because they couldn’t have what they wanted when they wanted it – how tragic!). I know that investors were mad that the New York Stock Exchange shut down. But I still don’t know what life is like for thousands of people on the eastern seaboard who remain without power or without somewhere safe and warm to sleep.
I have never experienced a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or other natural disaster. And I am not trying to de-legitimize the problems people are facing as they try to rebuild their lives.
I just wish that someone would acknowledge that the media coverage is horribly slated towards white people, painting them sympathetically as completely helpless individuals deserving of national assistance whereas six years ago, you had people in a similar (or, as some would argue, even worse) situation being painted as criminals because they did what they had to do to survive because the government basically abandoned them. I wish that someone would acknowledge that there is more to the East Coast than wealthy Manhattanites. I wish someone would ask why the media is so obsessed with turning a natural disaster into the Real Housewives of New York: Hurricane Edition.
And most of all, I wish someone would acknowledge that there’s more to this than iconic shots of a darkened Manhattan or obliterated Seaside Heights. To paint an honest picture of what happened, well, you need to focus on more than just the white people problems.