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Spread of misinformation by politicians disserves community

Apparently, a recent rhetorical event into which Shreveport political figures inserted themselves debased education and served only to rip open wounds in the community.

The purpose of a debate ought to inform and invite critical thinking on the behalf of those privy to it. The topic ought to feature facts usable by either side, where the participants argue persuasively that the facts better fit the worldview on their side of the argument. At its conclusion, the side which best employs fact (rather than rhetoric or fiction) informed through a worldview that is best demonstrated as valid should win and inspire the audience to evaluate or re-evaluate its opinion on the matter.

By this standard, the “debate” held as part of Black History Month observations at Southern University – Shreveport was not. Instead, current city councilman Theron Jackson and former city councilman Joe Shyne, among others, made remarks that not only were nonfactual, but which served to inflame, rather than to educate; to confuse, rather than to clarify.

The topic was whether the there was a racially-discriminant component to government responses to and media reporting of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. It seemed that the audience response, comprised mostly of black students, escalated “into a frenzy” when the likes of Jackson, Shyne, and others gave impassioned remarks that asserted the government’s response to victims of the storm discriminated against blacks and the media itself was biased in its portrayal of victims by race. The attendees seemed much more convinced of the veracity of these claims than their opposites.

Except, of course, there is not one shred of evidence to backup these assertions. Let’s take each point in turn.

Perhaps the most persuasive piece of evidence that government rescuing discriminated unfavorably against blacks would be if there were significantly more black mortalities than occurred to non-blacks. If blacks were neglected in favor of non-blacks in rescues, then the percentage of those who died who were black should be much higher than the actual proportion of blacks in the population.

In fact, Congressional research shows that 73 percent of the 373,000 evacuees from New Orleans were black (who comprised only 67.8 percent of the pre-storm population). Louisiana’s preliminary report on the deaths was that in Orleans Parish 59 percent of those who died were black. Also of interest was that deaths were fairly randomly distributed around the city in terms of socioeconomic status: given their relative proportions in the population, the poorer and richer were equally likely to have been killed by Katrina.

This fact makes very inconvenient the assertion that the government responded inequitably. Add to this that no nationally-prominent black politician or leader is willing to endorse this claim and that the only people who would seem to cannot produce any evidence beyond their vague, unsubstantiated “perceptions” (and some came away with very different views in the same situation.)

The charge of media bias in labeling (such as using pejorative terms to describe black victims) seems even sillier, apparently emerging over different wordings in cutlines of photos seized upon by people who specialize in finding offense to anything with which they don’t agree. In essence the photos’ captions were said to connote racial bias, when in fact their takers called the assigned cutlines accurate. Further, numerous, well-documented incidents occurred where the mainstream media itself hyped the imaginary racial element of the Katrina aftermath – hardly an indicator that it was “biased” against blacks in its coverage.

It’s disappointing that these myths have gained such traction, particularly in the black community. It’s unfortunate that locally this opportunity was missed to educate. But it’s shameful that local black political figures not only did not act as leaders to help educate in this matter, but that they encouraged ignorance. (And if they genuinely did not know these facts, they are derelict in their duty to be informed on matters in which they may be called to provide leadership).

As an educator, it frustrates me when those who should enlighten instead discourage inquiry that can open minds and improve the quality of public policy-making. Jackson in particular deserves shame because of his position in government; distancing himself from the event and the remarks made would be appropriate. By all means let’s have debate, but to engage in it bereft of facts not only makes the exercise useless and irresponsible, it makes it disingenuous and destructive, causing needless division and harm. Recall that it is only the truth that sets people free.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dr. Sadow it is refreshing to see words of truth coming from your columns. It's a shame that the public media can't(or choose to not). My father taught me that truth is truth and no matter how much a person tries to change it; it's still truth and can't be changed and God knows the heart. That lesson has followed me my whole life. Shame some of the "Pols" couldn't learn that! Thank you for what you do and keep doing it; it provides sanity in this insane world.