Monday, September 12, 2005


You don't see what you ignore

posted by Rob at 4:38 PM

I think I have found the answer to the media's sudden facination with its discovery of poor people in New Orleans. It was buried inside a Sunday column by the editorial page editor of the Winston-Salem Journal:
Over the years, I've been to New Orleans a number of times. It's a great place, a fun city. ... I've seen the outlandish characters, the street preachers, the people who spray-paint themselves into living statues so tourists will give them money, the artists at Jackson Square and women who, if they aren't hookers, sure give a good impression of them.

But never on those visits did I see the people who were driven into the public eye by Katrina. They were the other side of New Orleans, the ones who weren't part of the allure of the city. ...

And you have to wonder, where are the invisible poor in our own cities? What will it take to make us see them?
How about buying a freakin' clue?! I've been to New Orleans twice. I have been in and around the downtown area, from the public urinal known as Bourbon Street to the business district surrounding the Superdome. The poverty slapped me in the face.

How cold and oblivious is this woman to not have seen what I did?

Back in 1994, a friend of mine about had a heart attack as, while we approached our hotel, an old black woman screamed "Help me! Help me!"

My friend rushed to her side with concern, "What, what do you need? How can I help?"

She smiled at him. "You got a dollar?"

My friend, who had the heart of a hyena and the chest of a baboon, came pretty close to giving her five reasons never to shout at anyone again.

As I posted earlier, I was once offered a "rock" of crack while in New Orleans. If you want it - drugs, sex, or a "rock" and a "roll" - you could find it there. After 5 p.m. daily, just about everyone in the internationally recognized economic engine known as the French Quarter is drunk, high, unclothed - or a combination thereof - as they browse strip clubs, drag shows and gay/straight/crooked bars. How many middle- or upper-class cities have such a center?

In 2000, during Sugar Bowl time, I had dozens of black kids dance in front of me, then stick out their hands and say, "How about that tap?" I wondered how many of them were breadwinners. And given the adults in the shadows rubbing their hands while their charges danced, I wondered how many were really modern day slaves for whatever habits their minders had.

A couple of hours after reading the Journal's insight into selective vision, I tuned into the Panther-Saints game. Sure enough, a New Orleans video package was shown which included two young blacks dancing for their dinner. The announcer intoned how hopeful he was that scenes such as that would return to the Big Easy. Are people really blind to how sad that is, or am I the fool? (it wouldn't be the first time).

Newsweek has more on "The Other America," admitting the poor have always been here yet somehow they are hidden. As Newsweek "reports":
It takes a hurricane. it [sic] takes a catastrophe like Katrina to strip away the old evasions, hypocrisies and not-so-benign neglect. It takes the sight of the United States with a big black eye—visible around the world—to help the rest of us begin to see again.
Actually, all it takes a national political convention. Every four years the public is treated to stories like this and this, in which the homeless and poor are swept from sight so the two dominant political parties can party without any unsightly economic refugees in sight.

High-minded editorial page editors and national news magazines see only what they want to see when they want to see it. Reporting on poverty doesn't enhance the fun one has while sipping hurricanes and marveling at the rich, well-to-do people in New Orleans who for laughs "spray-paint themselves into living statues so tourists will give them money."

The poor have been with us always, but it takes an especially cruel event to make their plights newsworthy.

3 Comments:

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5:22 PM, September 12, 2005  
Blogger Dave Jackson said...

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5:23 PM, September 12, 2005  
Blogger Woffle said...

You're right, and then you're wrong. Most of the poor in New Orleans didn't live in or dance on the streets of the French Quarter. They worked crap jobs further out in Elysian Fields and beyond. But still, the media's not squeaky clean on this one.

5:27 PM, September 12, 2005  

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