[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/WORLD/americas/01/18/haiti.looting.earthquake/story.looting.haiti.gi.jpg caption="Looters brawl as a man tries to intervene in downtown Port-au-Prince on Monday." width=300 height=169]
Special to CNN
To define someone as a looter is not simply to describe him, or her, through an act, it is to make a moral judgment. It is to characterize the person as lawless and criminal. It connotes someone who is without self-restraint; an animal; wanton and depraved.
It is a description that is void of empathy for someone who is consciously or subconsciously viewed as "the other." Tragically, it fits into the stereotype that many have about people of African descent, be they African-Americans or Haitian-Americans.
The news media have to stop describing starving Haitians who are simply trying to survive the earthquake and aftershocks that took their homes, their loved ones, and all their possessions by this highly derogatory term.
It's a lesson they should have learned covering the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. I remember the news accounts then that described black residents of New Orleans as "looters," but used benign words to describe white residents engaged in the same action: taking things.
Academics have found repeated instances of this in media content analyses after disasters. One example, widely disseminated on the web post-Katrina, juxtaposed an Associated Press photo that showed a young black man wading through chest-high water "after looting a grocery store" (said the caption), with an AFP/Getty photo of a white woman in the same position, although the caption this time described her "finding" food "from a local grocery store."
Filed under: Haiti
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