Drowning in Disadvantage
Deconstructing what we know about the sinking of the Titanic
Fascinating Disaster Tale
For over one hundred years, the sinking of the Titanic left generations of people fascinated. On April 10th, 1912, the Titanic departed Southampton, England, for her maiden voyage. At the time, there was no other ocean liner like her when it came to accommodations, luxury, and technology. The White Star Line believed her to be “unsinkable” due to its water-tight compartments and media hype covering her maiden voyage.
How “the band played on” and the tale of Margaret “Molly” Brown’s heroic efforts are romanticized occurrences. In 1958, A Night to Remember premiered. James Cameron watched it years later, and he was inspired to write and direct his own film, Titanic. For over twenty years, the debate of whether or not there was enough room, for Jack, on the floating doorway rages on.
Made The Elite Money Only to Earn Their Disrespect
During the heyday of transatlantic crossings, immigrants in the third class took up the lion’s share of passenger lists and generated the most revenue and profits for shipping companies.
During the maiden voyage of the Titanic, seven hundred and nine third-class passengers had very limited deck space to leisure on and also shared living quarters and bathrooms. While it’s said that accommodations on the Titanic were more than the average third-class passenger was accustomed to, it paled in comparison to the Turkish baths, the a La Carte Restaurant, and luxurious staterooms of the first class. Third-class passengers were under heavy watch and didn’t have access to most of the ship.
A good number of the Titanic’s third class were non-English speaking immigrants. This held a disadvantage on the night of the sinking. There weren’t any translators to explain what happened or to give instructions. Even with English-speaking third-class passengers, the crew didn’t give directions when the Titanic began to take on water — first and second-class passengers received instruction and were guided to the upper decks. Many of the third-class passengers trusted the crew so much, to the point where they waited until the situation grew to be so severe.
The BBC published an article about Titanic films spreading misinformation, such as third-class passengers being locked below decks. It’s claimed that these luckless passengers had a hard time parting with their belongings or difficulties finding their way out.
Walter Lord wrote a book called A Night to Remember, which the movie of the same title is based on. It’s a compilation of eyewitness accounts from survivors. The recollections of how third-class passengers were treated are disturbing. Some of the third-class passengers who made it to the upper decks were terrified for their lives and tried to get on the lifeboats. To “maintain order”, crew members began shooting at them. Also, there were claims that some of the crew acted forcefully when keeping third-class passengers on their assigned deck.
The third class had the most passenger casualties than the first and second-class — including fifty-two children. Newspapers barely interviewed third-class survivors, and not one was invited to testify during the government inquiries. Only a lawyer was allowed to represent the third-class experience of the Titanic’s sinking.
Racism on Titanic — are we surprised, though?
Masabumi Hosono was a Japanese second-class passenger who worked for the Ministry of Transport in Japan. Before he made his way to Southampton, he was on a research trip in Russia, observing their state railway system. Hosono’s employer had the means to book him a first-class ticket, but non-whites weren’t welcomed on first class.
Miraculously, he survived the sinking and fought really hard to get on a lifeboat. The crew automatically assumed he was a third-class passenger and refused him access. All he thought about were his wife and children, and this fueled his bravery as he made his way to lifeboats.
Unfortunately, he received hostile treatment and was described by fellow survivor — Archibald Gracie — as a “stowaway”. During the United States inquiry, Hosono fell victim to a smear campaign, as he and another survivor were falsely accused of dressing as women to get on a lifeboat.
In his home country, he and his family were stripped of their honor because it was an embarrassment that despite the “women and children-only” protocol, he survived. Masabumi Hosono’s family fought for generations to have their honor restored, while Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon and his wife, Lady Lucile Duff-Gordon, were exonerated of wrongdoing. It was widely reported they bribed the crew to row away from the Titanic to avoid their lifeboat from being swamped.
Six Chinese passengers survived the sinking — including one who was rescued from the icy waters. After experiencing unimaginable trauma, they were treated with disdain because they survived while onboard the Carpathia. When they arrived in New York City, they were deported due to the racist Chinese Exclusion Act. After experiencing hell on Earth, they were forced to travel on a Caribbean fruit ship where strenuous labor was imposed on them.
The Loving and Forgotten Father
At Cherbourg, France, Joseph Phillippe Lemercier Laroche boarded the Titanic with his pregnant wife and children. He was a Black engineer of Haitian descent. He decided to leave France because he grew worrisome about racial discrimination, which made it difficult to maintain employment. He had political connections and more job opportunities in Haiti, and this influenced his decision to leave France.
Joseph’s upper-class mother purchased a first-class ticket for her son, grandchildren, and his wife, on the S.S. France. Children were not allowed to eat in the dining room, and he switched out for a second-class ticket on the Titanic. During their stay on the Titanic, this interracial family received disapproving stares and racist insults from fellow passengers and the ship’s crew.
It’s reported that the Laroche family ate in the first-class dining room. If he had the means to purchase a first-class ticket on another ship and was granted access to some of the first-class amenities, why wasn’t he a first-class passenger? One may conclude that it was the same problem Masabumi Hosono faced despite having money to be a first-class passenger — racism.
Soon after the Titanic struck an iceberg, he woke his family. He put all their valuables in his wife’s pockets and led them to the lifeboats. He spent their last moments together hugging and kissing his children. Laroche reassured his wife that he would see her in New York. His body was never recovered, and he missed out on the birth of his son. The widowed Laroche was so grief-stricken she went back to Paris, France.
Romanticizing State Violence
Over the years, there have been discussions about James Cameron’s Titanic — even academic papers were written. People love the story of two star-crossed lovers, from different social classes, on an ill-fated voyage. Today, there are Titanic museums with artifacts and historical exhibits. Before all of the survivors died, “Titanic Conventions” were held, and at times, survivors made appearances.
It’s been over a century, and it seems the public is desensitized to the injustice and tragedy that occurred when the Titanic sank on April 15th, 1912, at approximately 2:20am.
Try to envision multiple scenarios from an empathetic lens. Imagine yourself on board a ship that’s sinking, and there are no more lifeboats. Imagine yourself on a lifeboat shortly after the Titanic slipped beneath the freezing Atlantic Ocean, and you hear screams of over one thousand people pleading to be rescued. Imagine yourself to be the Chinese survivor who was rescued from the freezing water, only to be met with vile treatment because anti-Asian racism made fellow survivors hate you for surviving. Not only that, you’re deported due to racist immigration policies.
After the Titanic’s sinking, there was a major overhaul of maritime safety regulations. Surprisingly, at the time, The White Star Line exceeded the lifeboat accommodations required by the British Government. If ocean liners were ten thousand tons or more, they’re only legally obligated to have sixteen lifeboats.
Additionally, The White Star Line was assisted financially by the British Government, under the agreement their ships would be available for wartime use.
Capitalism, malice, and governmental involvement doomed the Titanic before the iceberg appeared on a cold Sunday night one hundred and nine years ago. Elitism and contemptuous attitudes towards oppressed and/or marginalized populations are still very present in today’s Westernized society. Learning about history — truthfully — will help the masses understand what happened then and how it led to the oppressive realities of contemporary times.