As I watch this disaster unfold, I keep comparing how the news frames the San Diego 2007 Firestorm in contrast to how they framed New Orlean's Hurrican Katrina. Race and class are at the heart of the comparisons. So much of this sounds different when you are talking about SD's primarily Caucasian middle-upper class communities being affected by the fire - whereas in new Orleans it was primarily poor black people stranded in the hurricane.
we can see many differences just by comparing how the media and government talks about the evacuees who stayed behind despite a mandatory evacuation. In New Orleans, helicopters didn't rescue all the black people on their roofs, supposedly because they were hearing "gun shots." I remember the reaction from the news and online community was that those who didn't listen to the mandatory evacuation were complete "idiots" or people trying to defy the law- essentially those stupid poor blacks folks. In San Diego - firefighters can't focus their resources on fighting the fires because of the winds and because they are also busy doing emergency rescues on people who didnt' listen to the mandatory evacuation. HOWEVER - the news frames these people in a more sympathetic light - by saying well you can understand why these people are so attached to their beautiful homes they own because of all the hard work they've put into it and even though they should have listened we understand the pain they are - essentially we are sympathetic to middle-upper class folks for staying behind in the face of a fire if they are protecting their houses. White people again are reinforced as HARD-WORKING and PERSISTENT even when they FAIL to evacuate while blacks are framed as LAZY and UNOBEDIENT for not evacuating.
Remember how the media
said black folks were raping, murdering and eating each other in the
New Orleans Superdome? Now the media in San Diego frames the 10,000
primarily white middle-upper class folks from North County in the
Qualcom Stadium as peacefully sharing oral stories about their homes
and eating home-baked brownies dropped off by sympathetic volunteers, and getting massages by compassionate massage therapist volunteers!!!! And please notice the headline of the article by ABC about those who are giving massages, "CIVILITY REIGNS IN SAN DIEGO," as if the opposite - UNCIVILITY - reigns in other places. CIVILITY refers so much to those who are CIVILIZED and separates the civilized from the uncivilized. This implies that the situation in Qualcomm stadium is totally different from the situation in other uncivilized evacuee areas - like the Superdome, where the black evacuees were supposedly unpolite, violent, sweaty, dirty and smelly - and where the Black Evacuees were called REFUGEES. So at least San Diego has learned so much from Katrina - they are taking the names of people who enter the stadium, and they are not referring to them non-US citizens. We have no white refugees in San Diego- truly they are first-class civilized citizens!
I have to admit that I am so upset right now that I am having a hard time finishing a deconstruction of this headline and the images - so if anyone wants to write more about this please do - and I will link to you.
I know the situations (Katrina and Southern California Wildfires) are completely different and do not stand for a sound comparison, but a comparison in media representation is worthwhile and reveals how the class and race of community matter. . For a reminder at how much race and class does matter in media discourse- here's a photo where I examined from the Hurrican Katrina and how the news framed a black man wading in water as "looting" while they framed a white man wading in water as "finding" floating goods. Btw- Many New Orleans evacuees are STILL homeless and not doing ok 2 years after the disaster. For those in Malibu and San Diego who had their mansions burn down - I wonder what will happen?
I am so mad that the city I live in is filled with so much sweet words of prejudice. Not that this doesn't happen everyday everywhere - but it's just really intense when your city is burning down and there is so much racial and class politics in the media. As Raquel has written - the whole South side of San Diego county is burning down, but it the press coverage is scant compared to North County of San Diego - where all the super-rich super-luxury mansions are loacted. It's where people, like this person, go to escape their 2nd home or to their friend's hotel or book a room at the Aviara for $350 a night with sculpted flamingos and golf courses.
(South County is more middle-low income, racially and ethnically mixed and 10-5 miles from Mexico.)
UPDATE: NPR just did a piece on how bloggers are either comparing or arguing against a comparison of Katrina vs.Southern Ca. Wildfires. They link to many other excellent blog posts that do some great comparisons.