‘Looters and Thugs’ – How the Media Distorts the Truth in a Crisis
We’ve all seen the pictures on the nightly news and read the headlines on social media: Looters Busted Stealing During Hurricane. The weird thing is, the pictures that go with these stories are almost always of black people running off with things like shoes and TVs, or anything else that fits the narrative white America is the most comfortable with.
This, of course, should come as no surprise to anyone, except maybe for the kind of people who think looking at statues is how you remember things. It’s pretty much always been this way, with the media taking advantage of any opportunity to reinforce racial biases and exploit the ages-old fears of white people who totally aren’t racist because they say they aren’t.
Here’s the thing, though. White people loot, too. A lot of white people looted stores during the hurricanes - but when you see pictures of people who look like me (as pasty white of a guy as they come), we’re called “survivors” or “heroes” for braving the flood waters to raid a grocery store for supplies to feed and care for our families. It’s still looting - white people taking bread and water without paying for it isn’t any different than black people doing the exact same thing. It’s just that we don’t tend to see pictures of black “survivors” and “heroes” - because they only steal luxury items they don’t need and are too lazy to work for, dontchaknow?
That’s the idea, anyway. It doesn’t really matter if it’s true or not. Print the lie, repeat the lie, and it eventually becomes true.
Did black people steal shoes and TVs during the hurricanes? Of course they did. But so did white people, even if the media didn't show you.
Did white people steal bread and water during the hurricanes? Of course they did. But so did black people, even if the media didn't show you.
It’s just another example in a long history of examples of tailoring the “news” to fit whatever narrative you’re peddling. Mark Twain called it “leaving out the truth” - which is a pretty accurate description.
We see white people wading through deep water, loaves of bread or canned good raised above their heads, and they’re sympathetic. America’s heart bleeds for them, and donations and support come rushing in from all sides. It’s a noble image of a rugged people just trying to survive amidst incredible adversity.
Do we see the same thing with black people? Nope. We only see them stealing tennis shoes because they’re “thugs” and “savages” who don’t have any place in the rugged individualist narrative so many white Americans want so desperately to believe.
Look at the statues white America keeps crywhining about. They’re celebrating traitors and treason and calling it heritage and culture. The myth of the South fighting for freedom and states’ rights persists not because it’s true, but because that’s what some people need to believe. They can’t allow a chink in the armor of their fantasy to show up, or their whole grand illusion might come crashing down around them.
Where are the statues of black people enduring, then breaking the chains of slavery?
Where are the pictures of black people struggling and hustling day in and day out to put food on the table while they climb uphill - always uphill - against a system that tries its hardest to keep pushing them down?
Where are the heartwarming human interest stories of black people saving lives in a natural disaster to go along with the feel-good stories of white people in airboats?
All of these things happen, and all of them are valid and true. But you wouldn’t know it by turning on Fox News or reading websites like Breitbart - which is all a lot of white people do. They never see the whole picture, because the media they choose to follow crops black people out of the frame whenever they don’t fit the mythology.
This is why racism is getting worse instead of better. With the rise of social media, people have slowly sequestered themselves off into tidy little echo chambers, where they only see news they already agree with, and only hear voices that confirm their worldviews, however misguided they might be.
The rest of the media - the “good” guys who do try to tell the whole truth, are attacked and demonized by whoever happens upon stories they disagree with. They’re called “fake news”, and reporters and editors are under constant threat of hearing calls for termination from their employers - simply for showing you the whole picture, without the contradictory bits carefully cut from the frame's edge.
We just saw it happen with ESPN’s Jemele Hill. She took to Twitter to express her opinion that she believes President Donald Trump is a white supremacist, after which the White House - along with Trump's loyal supporters - called for her to be fired.
But where were these people when Donald Trump was saying horrible things about President Barack Obama? Where were they every time he tweeted his birther claims and accused the President of not even being an American? Why did none of them call for him to be fired from The Apprentice?
Whether or not President Trump is a white supremacist isn’t the issue, although at the very least, he’s demonstrably complicit in tacitly supporting their movement. The issue lies with the double standard, which has always been there and, sadly, probably always will be.
We live in a time when people can tailor every “fact” they hear to fit what they already believe - whether or not it’s true doesn’t matter. We only speak to people we already know will agree with us, because anyone who doesn’t has already been unfollowed or muted or blocked. We exist in tiny little rooms of our own design, locked from the inside. We sit inside them and listen to the same voices shouting the same narrative day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, each voice bouncing off the walls and echoing into a chorus of ignorance and hate until that’s all we hear.
Is there a way to break that cycle?
Is there a way to move forward?
Is there a way to stop spinning lies and force-feed the truth to people who don’t want to hear it, like a mom desperately trying to get her baby to eat strained carrots?
I don’t know. I’m just the managing editor of a cluster of radio stations in Southwest Louisiana. As a state, we’re the prison capital of the world, and we lock up far more black people that white folks. Then, we keep those prisons full by exploiting a Jim Crow law we still have on the books that makes it easier to convict people by being the only state in the country that allows non-unanimous jury verdicts in non-capital, hard labor felony cases, requiring only 10 of 12 jurors to agree.
Among all the states, Louisiana is probably the one with the most systemic racism built into nearly every layer of our local society. As a white guy, just writing this article paints a target on my back for the moneyed, white sectors of our local and state communities to take aim at. As an editor, just publishing this article could lead to calls for my termination by people who need to protect the comforting lie they’re selling to the Make America Great Again crowd. It wouldn't be the first time. Probably won't be the last, either. (Ever notice how some people always want to go backward, rather than forward?)
Speaking out against the system is dangerous in a state like Louisiana, as saturated as it is by things the powers-that-be would rather cover up publicly, while still supporting them privately with a wink and a nod to the segment of the population that agrees. The Bayou State has a long and storied history of corruption at every level, going back decades in every part of the state. The system is more than the “system” here - it’s everything. And pissing it off has consequences.
But sometimes, it’s the right thing to do.