Front page photos of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017 reinforced harmful racial and gender stereotypes, a recent study published in Critical Studies in Media Communication finds. “If I only see images of people of color being given FEMA aid or being rescued from hurricane floods, it paints the community as incapable of having self-autonomy to persevere through problems on their own,” Ever Josue Figueroa, the author of the study, told Axios.
The analysis of 106 front page images from Texas-based and national newspapers found more than half included a “strong masculine hero,” per Axios. The images also depicted women as ‘damsels in distress’ and people of color as displaced migrants, “while white men were represented as saviors and caretakers who brought order back to the chaos,” a dynamic exacerbated by the fact that government officials and first responders tend to be white men.
The study illuminates how choices of who and how to portray in the aftermath of climate disasters can perpetuate harmful false narratives. “Research on media representations of marginalized groups during natural disasters is important,” Penn State professor Stefanie Kempton, who was not involved in the study, told Axios, “because we know these representations impact the way these groups are viewed in real life.” The study’s findings are consistent with a similar study of coverage of Hurricane Katrina. (Axios; Climate Signals background: Hurricane Harvey)