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While We Worried about 2 Comics’ Language … Puerto Rico

The headlines of U.S. news outlets last week seemed to be all about crass language used by two comedians.

Liberals and conservatives were up in arms about remarks tweeted by Rosanne Barr and voiced by Samantha Bee.

Barr tweeted racially charged comments targeting former Barack Obama aid Valerie Jarrett, while Bee used profane language to characterize her opinion of Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.

ABC cancelled Barr’s show, while TBS has yet to announce any consequences for Bee.

Let me state upfront: the language used by the two comedians is an important issue to discuss. Words matter, especially bigoted and vulgar words that lead to evil actions and wicked madness (see Ecclesiastes 10:13).

With that said, as people debated this issue and pointed fingers at one another, much more startling and infuriating news was overshadowed somewhat.

It was reported that the death toll from Hurricane Maria (Sept. 20, 2017) in Puerto Rico was gravely underestimated.

Governmental agencies have been reporting the death count to be 64, but a recent Harvard study concluded the number should be closer to 4,600.

A George Washington University study is scheduled to be released this summer, but most experts conclude the government report is significantly off base.

When the news media reported this discrepancy, it began a conversation about the enormous difference in the count. However, the story was quickly pushed off the front page due to the continued debate about language.

Again, language is important, but so too is life. And in this instance, if it is found that lives could have been saved but were lost due to government negligence and disregarded calls for help, then God have mercy on the wickedness of our words and actions.

It is upsetting to compare the relief responses for Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

After Hurricane Harvey in Texas (Aug. 25, 2017), the response was substantial and appropriate.

Federal and state governments, along with other faith-based organizations, rolled up their sleeves and began to help those devastated. It was truly an amazing effort to watch.

The same could be said about the response to Hurricane Irma in Florida (Sept. 10, 2017). Both responses were great examples of how citizens should react after such terrible devastation.

Yet, the response to Puerto Rico fell way short of the two mainland disasters.

All three hurricanes were category four storms, with Maria having the highest sustained winds at 155 mph. Reponses to all three hurricanes were swift, but the level of those responses appeared to be disproportionate.

“Frontline” reported the following statistics on May 1, 2018:

  • 1 million meals were delivered to Texas, 10.9 million to Florida and 1.6 million to Puerto Rico.
  • 5 million liters of water were distributed to Texas, 7 million to Florida and 2.8 million to Puerto Rico.
  • 20,000 tarps were sent to Texas, 98,000 to Florida and 5,000 to Puerto Rico.
  • The federal government sent 30,000 workers to Texas, 22,000 to Florida and 10,000 to Puerto Rico.
  • Texans received an average of $6,980 for housing assistance, Floridians received $1,290, and Puerto Ricans received $2,974.

These numbers appear to tell an important and sad story: When it comes to being a U.S. citizen and storm victim, it pays to live in a rich mainland state rather than a poverty-stricken island.

This brings me back to the language debate. If we think the language of two crass comedians is important, then so too is the language of Puerto Ricans and those charged with helping storm victims.

When cries for help from Puerto Ricans went ignored or filtered, we must ask hard questions and press for answers.

President Trump tweeted during the response, “[They] want everything to be done for them and it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on island doing a fantastic job.”

Compared to tweets about Texas and Florida, the tone was very different.

Trump tweeted about the relief effort in Texas, “Wow – Now experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500 year flood! We have an all out effort going, and going well!”

Now, the president is not alone in culpability regarding Puerto Rico, for the silence of both Republican and Democratic lawmakers speaks volumes as well.

As a people, we must discover our better selves.

When it comes to comedians using bigoted and vulgar language, it seriously concerns me that racism has become an acceptable comedic quip and that vulgarity rises to the level of political discourse.

We should be better than this as a nation. And with regard to the words and actions toward the poor victims of Puerto Rico, we must do better than we have done thus far.

As the count continues to rise, each death should prick the conscience of every citizen and motivate us to be a more perfect nation. Why? Hurricane season started June 1, 2018.

Mitch Randall is executive director of EthicsDaily.com. You can follow him on Twitter @rmitchrandall.

Mitch Randall

Mitch Randall is executive director of EthicsDaily.com.