Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Wordplay: How the Media Reports on Katrina

Are the Victims Of Hurricane Katrina "Refugees"?

Rose, who writes the blog Lessons Learned, makes an interesting comment on this site in response to "Crisis PR, Katrina and the Bush Administration." In talking about the people displaced by Hurricane Katrina, Rose took exception to the media using the term "refugee" to describe those who became homeless as a result of the storm.

Rose, who is African-American, writes, "The media need their butts kicked calling our people refugees. [Hurricane victims] are trying to flee their city because of a natural disaster and not because of political or religious persecution."

Rose is not alone. Many critics cite racial insensitivity by news organizations for using the term refugees, especially when many of the Gulf Coast hurricane victims are people of color. The critics cry, "Black people are Americans, too!"

I decided to look up "refugee" in a few dictionaries. This is what I found:

One who flees in search of refuge, as in times of war, political oppression, or religious persecution.

Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company


An individual seeking refuge or asylum; especially : an individual who has left his or her native country and is unwilling or unable to return to it because of persecution or fear of persecution (as because of race, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion)

Source: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law, © 1996 Merriam-Webster, Inc.


An exile who flees for safety

Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University


So much for definitions. According to the Associated Press, President Bush now joins the ranks of those opposed to the word refugees. Some news sources are now using the term evacuees. Let's watch the news lingo in the days ahead as Katrina coverage continues.

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Rose said...

Great blog. My husband told me today that Oprah discussed this term on her show today. Asked people to not call these victims refugees also. See part two of her show on Wednesday. Thanks DCS for the info and for understanding why I hated that word...especially during this crisis.

Deb S. said...

Thanks, Rose, for the heads up on Oprah. By the way, some reports are now crossing my desk about "refugee camps" in the Gulf Coast area. Even I did a double-take on that one. Stay tuned.

Deb S. said...

Reports are also surfacing about another "black migration" from the South. A story by Reuters (dateline Houston), carries this lead ("led" for you die-hard journalists):

"If refugees end up building new lives away from New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina may prompt the largest U.S. black resettlement since the 20th century's Great Migration lured black southerners to the North in a search for jobs and better lives." The Chicago Tribune reports that Chicago is expecting a large number of people to relocate there.

FYI, the Reuters story has been picked up as far away as China. As I said earlier, stay tuned.