Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Cartoon #208: “Hurricane Names”

Title: Hurricane Names; Text: (two panels, first headed 'Hurricane Season 2004, second headed 'Hurricane Season 2005 -- woman saying) Panel 1: 'Why are hurricanes given only Anglo names? Why no African-American names?' Panel 2: 'Oh.')

A couple of hurricane seasons ago, the congressional newspaper the Hill reported that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, thought hurricane names were too "lily white," and wanted to see more names reflecting African-Americans and other ethnic groups.

“All racial groups should be represented,” the Hill quoted Lee saying. Ms. Lee said she hoped national weather officials “would try to be inclusive of African-American names.” The Hill cited some popular names that could be used, including Keisha, Jamal and Deshawn.

The tradition of naming hurricanes solely after women ended in 1978 when men’s and women’s names were included in the Eastern North Pacific storm lists. In 1979, lists for the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico followed suit.

You don’t hear this debate after Katrina. First of all, it was women who complained about the lack of men’s names in the 1970s. Women did not want the change because men were being discriminated against by the omission of their names. They wanted to mitigate the bad image women got from identifying hurricanes as feminine.

For the past two storm seasons, Sheila Jackson Lee apparently did not get it. Perhaps she does now. Katrina has spurred a different racial debate.

News footage following Katrina showed mostly African-Americans struggling to survive the destruction of New Orleans. News photos were captioned differently for whites and blacks. Captions on otherwise neutral photographs informed readers that whites were carrying supplies through the flooded streets, but black survivors were “looting.”

Political officials chose to believe that poor survivors “chose to stay,” rather than “couldn’t get out.” That belief was not only racist and elitist, it avoided the debate over preparedness.

No doubt hurricane names could be more ethnically representative. But why in the world would any ethnic group demand representation? After Katrina, those demands were silenced.

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