Two Heroes- One Media Darling
The other day I read a disturbing headline. “Worker jumps into vat of acid to save colleague.” A roofer in New Jersey had fallen 40ft. through a roof into a vat of nitric acid and one of his coworkers jumped into the acid to save him. As the day went on I saw more and more postings and articles (here and here) about this horrendous, though heroic, workplace accident. Even the New York Times covered it. The reports indicated the contractor had not yet applied for the proper permits and safety inspections of the job site had not occurred. Reading about this tragic heroism reminded me of another case of workforce negligence that is shockingly similar but, so far, has been treated very differently by the media.
Earlier this year, at a compost facility just south of Bakersfield, CA, a young worker jumped into a toxic manhole in an attempt to save his brother from lethal fumes. Both died. They youngest was 16 years old.
This story and the one from New Jersey are very similar: both were preventable, involving gross disregard for safety on the part of management. Both were heroic attempts to save a life, resulting in an increase in casualty. Both happened to working-class people.
In fact, the only major difference in these two stories is the description of the victims: in New Jersey, they were white, middle aged men. In California, they were young, Latino immigrants.
Yet this one difference has resulted in completely different treatment by the media and public.
First, the amount and scale is different: in the case of the Californian brothers, media coverage has been restricted to mostly local news outlets. In the case of the New Jersey roofers, their story was told over and over again in national print, television, and online outlets.
Second, the tone of media coverage and public conversation for each has differed greatly. For the brothers, media outlets implied, and public comments explicitly placed blame on the victims for their involvement in dangerous work to begin with. Many used the brothers’ immigration status as the rationale for why their safety was neglected, essentially blaming the brown victims for their own deaths. In the case of the New Jersey roofers, reporters and public comments alike have praised the two men for their heroism, and placed blame where it belongs, on the negligent employer. Some have even made the two role models, stating a need for more people willing to put others before themselves for the right thing.
Where is the similar sentiment for Heladio when he jumped into an 8 foot manhole to try and save his brother? Why have people not said America could benefit from more people like Heladio? All victims were performing the jobs they were told to do, and all responded above-and-beyond when their workplace placed them and their co-workers in danger.
It is time for America to take the safety of workers – all workers – seriously. We cannot allow our media to determine worth of people based on their skin color, their age, the language they speak. We cannot allow employers to claim that job creation and green industries are more important than safety compliance. And when people are injured, when lives are lost, we must unite in our respect for the victims, and condemnation of those truly to blame.
The first step is calling out the inequity. What are other examples you’ve seen of folks being treated differently in the media based on the color of their skin? Their age? Their nationality?
Jun 03, 2013
May 29, 2013
May 29, 2013
May 29, 2013