Friday, January 15, 2010

Know Your Context Before You Assume You are Helping

I debated posting pictures of Haiti post-quake here, but I decided that it was too easy for something like that to verge into pain porn, and I'm uncomfortable with the context of something like that. All too often, disasters in places like Haiti are given an uneven treatment that buys into a "3rd world tragedy" narrative that I do not wish to participate in. It is too important that we acknowledge not just this event and the effect it has had, but how it was able to happen in the first place.

With everything circling regarding Haiti and the earthquake plus drawn out aftershocks that have further hamstrung an already impoverished nation, several things must be kept in mind.

The first is that severe poverty creates exponential vulnerability to natural disasters like this. From Meloukhia:

So, we had an earthquake here on Sunday, a 6.5. It was a little bigger than the little quakes we get now and then, so it attracted some attention. Notably, no lives were lost, and the most serious injury was a broken hip.

And then, yesterday, a 7.0 in Haiti.

And, already, the headlines, all along the lines of “what happened in Haiti could happen here!”

And, here’s the thing.

No. It can’t...

...Yes, a 7.0 earthquake here would cause damage. But nothing on the level of what happened in Haiti. Nothing. And, you know, I think that’s something we should be thinking about; what happened in Haiti didn’t happen because there was an earthquake. It happened because Haiti’s infrastructure is shot.

The second thing that we must remember is that Haiti is not poor by chance, accident, "act of God" (and for the record, the only reason why I wish there was a God is so that assholes like Pat Robertson got a chance to actually meet him and get a holy fucking smack-down. If the context seems to be missing, just Google. I am not bringing poison like that into this space), or by the actions of Haitian people. They are intentionally kept poor as a punishment for being the first successful black rebellion against colonial European powers. France made them pay reparations for property lost dues to the slaves saying "Fuck this, and fuck you!" They have been hit by a debt that that is designed to keep them in perpetual servitude to more powerful countries, and the US specifically has stepped in a fucked with their politics on more than one occasion. This is not difficult information to find, but you can start here and here.

Third, because of this information, be careful how you help to make sure that you are ACTUALLY helping. Pick your charities and what you ask for carefully, considering many out there don't have good histories regarding impoverished people of color, many out there will use this tragedy as a perfect opportunity for obnoxious moralizing, or are just straight up frauds. There is also guaranteed to be a great deal of "shopping cart" activism (ex: Livestrong braclets, "Save the Ta Tas" t-shirts, etc.) I recommend Doctors Without Borders and Yele. (Thanks to meloukhia, kai_zuky and others for the links via Twitter.)

1 comment:

  1. This is a lot of important info--thanks for posting it. It reminds me, actually, of something somebody said way back during the Ethiopian famine in the 80's--something to the effect of "they say the famine's caused by a drought, but we've got a drought in the United States right now, and it's not causing widespread starvation, so clearly something else is going on..."