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More than Aid, Haiti Needs Allies

 The views expressed with in this editorial don’t necessarily reflect the views of AllHipHop.com or its staff.

“AllHipHop.com and other sites,

activists, entities and caring people are scrambling to create Hip-Hop for

Haiti. What it is exactly, we’ll let you know soon, but we know we will

continue to help the nation and support people like Wyclef that are more saints

than rappers these days,” wrote AllHipHop

CEO Chuck Creekmur last Friday.[1]

In his editorial, Creekmur castigated the apathy he believes certain well-to-do

Hip-Hop artists have displayed since news broke last Tuesday night of the 7.0 Mw

earthquake which leveled large parts of Haiti, claimed thousands of lives, and

displaced millions.

I applaud Creekmur for his charitable

endeavors at this time of need, but it’s also worth noting that aid alone never

goes far enough—more so in this specific scenario. Haiti needs more than aid—it

needs allies ready to carry as many crosses in not only helping rebuild broken

infrastructures, but ensuring political stability once the rubble clears, the

dead bodies have been disposed of, and mainstream media has turned its camera

lenses to more titillating topics.

In dark times like this, especially when

concerning darker people of the world, the liberal capitalists come out in

droves, ready to give as much tax-deductible money their accountants agree to.

As philosopher Slavoj Žižek wrote three years ago, this crew—of movie stars, TV

personalities, news anchors, entertainers, executives, wealthy philanthropists,

etc.—“love a humanitarian crisis; it brings out the best in them.” They never

hesitate to take a moment from their busy lives to urge everyone watching

whatever PSA they’re staring in this

time to “give” as “much” as possible; to spear a dime; to empty their pockets

for a good cause. But, to Žižek’s

point, more often than not, whatever aid is accumulated not only fails to reach

populations most in need, but also works to “mask” the underlying economic

exploitation exacerbating the disasters: “There is a chocolate-flavoured

laxative available on the shelves of US stores which is publicised with the

paradoxical injunction: Do you have constipation? Eat more of this chocolate!—i.e.

eat more of something that itself causes constipation.”[2]

And, it seems, the laxative-pushing has

already begun. The conservative Heritage Foundation was quick to remind patrons

that “Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the U.S.”

(Later renamed: “Things to Remember While Helping Haiti.”) In a blog post for

the foundation, an author describes why this life-altering (and life-stopping)

moment must be used, amidst the aid efforts of course, to “interrupt the

nightly flights of cocaine to Haiti and the Dominican Republic from the

Venezuelan coast,” to “prevent any large-scale movement by Haitians to take to

the sea in dangerous and rickety watercraft to try to enter the U.S.

illegally,” to “insist that the Haiti government work closely with the U.S. to

insure that corruption does not infect the humanitarian assistance,” and to

“implement a strong and vigorous public diplomacy effort to counter the

negative propaganda certain to emanate from the Castro-Chavez camp.” All these

are critical since “[l]ong-term reforms for Haitian democracy and its economy

are … badly overdue.”[3]

This is why aid is never innocent. There

are almost always political incentives tied to foreign aid. It’s not enough

merely to cut checks or text a few numbers; it’s critical to know into whose

hands—and toward what ends—one’s cash is going.  

Haiti has suffered enough—from the

bellicosity of its affluent neighbors—and as if to punish Haitians further, mainstream

media has made a circus of the crisis.

Once word of the disaster hit newsrooms

across the country, the big networks dispatched their celebrity correspondents with

swiftness. Anderson Cooper, Ann Curry, Brian Williams, Bill Hemmer—you name them.

Of course very few of the big-name bobbleheads were prepared for reality as it

stared them down. Take, for example, FOX News minion Bill Hemmer who whined,

“I’ve had the good fortune of seeing a good part of this world, and a lot of

the 3rd world, and this is the most inaccessible story I have ever covered.” He

went on: “It’s inaccessible in so many ways: our ability to communicate, our

ability to move around, our ability to get information.”[4]

Oh, you don’t say, Bill. Inaccessible? In a country systematically destroyed—and

turned upside down—by economic foreign policies!—Inaccessible? NBC’s Brian

Williams was less caustic: “This is just a colossal calamity.”[5]

The celebrity news men and women, with sleeves rolled up, made sure to

dramatize and document every aspect of their sojourn in Haiti—from sleeping in baggage containers, to inhaling

the toxic smell of dead bodies. These are the “stories” of their lives, as

Williams put it.  

But where’s Haiti’s story?

Starting last Tuesday night, viewers were

informed Haiti is such a “poor” country. Poor Haiti. Why this country is “poor”

has hardly gotten a second of address. Why a country only 500 miles from

Florida had, long before the earthquake, 50% of its citizens malnourished, with

70% making less than $1 a day, couldn’t be of lesser concern.[6]

In recent times, one other similar event—dramatically affecting the lives of

poor Black folk—comes to mind: Katrina.

The parallels are unmistakable:

1)     

The

historical antecedents which made both natural disasters even worse are almost

entirely ignored. In Katrina’s case, for a state with the third highest rate of

children living in poverty, and whose illiteracy rate was 40%, many, educated

by popular press, wondered why residents couldn’t simply drive out of the

impending storm. For Haiti, the most financially disempowered country in the

Western hemisphere, dilapidated by decades of political instability (sponsored

by certain governments), and flooded with foreign food imports and

subsidization—which inevitably led to famine, which inevitably led to street

riots and violent protests in mid-2008: little of this history has found solace

in the shock-and-awe broadcasts of network news and cable chatter.[7]

Instead, we are simply told that Haiti is a “poor” country. Poor by nature. Worse yet, the vibrant

history of successful revolt against former colonizers, of economic

independence, of genuine democracy—which spans centuries—is unknown to most

raised on Cable Network News.  

2)     

The

same news channels who sensationalized every bit of the Katrina debacle, and

then patted each other’s backs warmly for reportedly—though sufficient proof

doesn’t exist—holding accountable elected officials responsible, are back at

it. Sticking microphones into the faces of hapless victims, holding up babies

as props, shedding insincere tears—back at it. One wonders where the crocodile

tears were before relatives were picking and pulling out family members from

beneath bricks and buildings. The rain of salt water could have done greater

good when Haiti’s peoples were catching hell, for decades, due in large part to

the economic policies of a few superpowers.[8 ]

3)     

“I

hate the way they portray us in the media. You see a black family, it says,

‘They’re looting.’ You see a white family, it says, ‘They’re looking for

food’,” Kanye West eloquently protested five years ago, in wake of images,

disseminated by TV, web, and print media, describing Black New Orleans families

disproportionately (in stark contrast to those of Whites) as looters—rather

than harmless citizens starving of hunger.[9]

And, though the disparity of racial representation hasn’t been featured in the same

sense this time, news folk have already gotten down to the business of fixating

on a few Haitian men armed with machetes, and on reports of food-looting, than

the hungry bellies left unfilled and the lost ones unrecovered. Not only does

this thoughtless practice offer a very unfortunate and unfair presentation of

the real reality, it also discourages

some from giving any further since, they figure, their charitable dollars are

likely to end up being misused or looted by street thugs and rogues. Just as

with the many unsubstantiated reports of babies raped in the Superdome and

mothers sexually assaulted, news of widespread, uncontrollable crimes are also

dominating mainstream reports.[10]

4)     

With

this, of course, comes the rationalization of military boots on the ground. For

Katrina, it was the criminal gang Blackwater dispatched.[11]

For Haiti, it is the U.S. Army and U.N. Peacekeeping forces—and, to be sure, backup private security. 5 years ago,

police forces ran amok, with unfettered and unrestricted power, imprisoning (or

attacking) any citizen who even looked suspicious (Black and male).[12]

There’s no reason to believe the same wouldn’t happen—or isn’t already

happening—again in Haiti. And reports of Blackwater employees blowing off heads and clashing with innocent civilians

should dispel the mistruth that military might can do the job of relief organizations.  

5)     

The

cranks of the religious right never disappoint in helping translate God’s thoughts. Just last week, Rev. Pat

Robertson informed millions of viewers—who, I can only assume, he believes are

dumber than 5th graders—that the people of Haiti are simply paying

for their “pact to the devil.” They’ve been “cursed,” he lamented. Not economic

exploitation; not hazardous architectural decisions forced by economic

exploitation; not a natural disaster aided by an abused planet; but divine retribution—as was also said

following Katrina. “Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people

might not want to talk about it,” Rev. Robertson explained on his international

program, “The 700 Club.” “They were under the heel of the French—you know,

Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil.

They said, ‘We will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French.’ True

story. And so, the devil said, ‘Okay, it’s a deal’.”[13]

It’s obvious Robertson’s twisted theological thinking is steeped in racism, in

a belief, much like slave masters convinced themselves centuries ago, that

white domination of Black “savages” was divine ordinance. But it also bespeaks

an extremist philosophy of Christianity—far from the redemptive gospel of Jesus

Christ—that preaches eternal damnation of every sinful—better yet liberal—soul.

When Katrina struck and dead Black bodies were shown swimming in muddied waters,

popular preacher John Hagee, another press secretary for God, explained why it was wrong to feel sorry for the victims (in

both cases, predominantly Black): “What happened in New Orleans looked like the

curse of God. In time, if New Orleans recovers and becomes [a] pristine city,

it can … be called a blessing. But at this time it’s called a curse.”[14]

But for all the parallels between

Katrina and Haiti, one difference shatters all similarities: the Bush gang was

well-equipped, financially and infrastructurally, to provide relief efforts for

dying citizens. Haiti was in no such shape. Even if all government agencies

were functioning faultlessly, there still was a great gap in what could be done

and what should be done. The apathy of cold-hearted, insecure nitwits like Rush

Limbaugh notwithstanding: “[ W]e’ve already donated to Haiti. It’s called the

U.S. income tax.”[15]

Katrina victims, however, deserved more from a government fully capable of

providing “adequate evacuation plans … [and] transportation for people

[lacking] money, cars, or help to get them out of the city.”[16]

The indifference of brain-dead megaphones like Bill O’Reilly notwithstanding:

“Many, many, many of the poor in New Orleans … weren’t going to leave no

matter what you did. They were drug-addicted. They weren’t going to get turned

off from their source. They were thugs.”[17]

Haitians, it is true, need all the help

they can get, but, as Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, warns, “crises are often used now as the

pretext for pushing through policies that you cannot push through under times

of stability. Countries in periods of extreme crisis are desperate for any kind

of aid, any kind of money, and are not in a position to negotiate fairly the

terms of that exchange.”[18]

Desperation ought not to be abused by

oligarchic governments to drown Haiti into more debt or hold that sovereign

nation economically hostage. Desperation

ought not to be abused to enforce even more draconian mandates that only

promote further instability. Desperation

ought not to be abused to enhance specific political policies that only service

imperialistic ambitions. Unless one still believes in fairy tales, it’s almost

unthinkable to assume many foreign governments, who’ve already come bearing

gifts, don’t see this as an opportunity to accomplish all three.  

Katrina should serve a sobering

reminder.

While human beings were hanging from

rooftops and stranded in water-packed houses, Republican leaders were promoting

“relief measures … to achieve a broad range of conservative economic and social

policies.”[19]

If Haitians are to lead lives of dignity, devoid of foreign intrusion, allies

would have to do more than just donate money or relief resources in the coming

months and years. Though the earthquake as a natural disaster was almost

unpreventable, it also stands true that, as was written post-Katrina, “a

long-gathering storm of misguided policies and priorities preceded the

tragedy.”[20]

And this is where Harry Reid comes in.

Reid made news recently for comments underlying why Obama’s light skin and Ivy

League parlance—lack of “Negro dialect”—helped endear him to a mainstream

(white) majority. Flip that and the implications are obvious: Haitians, like

many New Orleans residents, are of dark skin and, most likely, speak in non-purified vernacular. Thus, their

concerns—indeed their humanities—were never of top priority in the hearts and

minds of those now rushing to shell out cash for these “poor” people. They aren’t “clean” and “nice-looking,” as

Vice President Biden might put it; thus, for decades and even centuries, their

plights were ignored—rendered inconsequential.[21]

But now that the earth has opened up to swallow a people long-neglected and

forgotten, we witness a stumbling-over of communities and countries, worldwide,

to “help” out at this most unfortunate of times.  

But this charade would only last a few

weeks—as always. In but a little while, the people of Haiti, like New Orleans

residents, would be left to fend for themselves and, most tragically, left to

defend themselves against neoliberal capitalists with insidious intents. And

the game has only just begun.  

Last week, House speaker Nancy Pelosi

expressed hope to see this “tragedy” transformed into a “new, fresh start” for

Haiti—an opportunity to build a “boom economy.” Pelosi drew from personal

history: “From my own experience with earthquakes, being from San Francisco, I

think that this can be an opportunity for a real boom economy in Haiti.”[22]

The same was said post-Katrina, and, within 2 years, permanent changes were

already instituted to reframe the city of New Orleans into a Disney-like

tourist attraction—wiped clean of its rich, Black history (and residents). None

of this was easy, of course. But it worked with a systematic plan including “criminally

contaminated trailers for Katrina-stuck families, hotel evictions, displacement

of communities [through] the demolition of public housing projects, rampant

homelessness, and forced evacuation [of] helpless families.”[23]

There are no reasons to believe Haiti

isn’t headed for the same fate. With George W. Bush and Bill Clinton

spearheading official relief efforts in Haiti, it seems, in fact, almost the

inevitable fate. Only a courageous countervailing movement that stands strong

for the dignities and humanities of Haitians—during the aftermath and beyond: when

TV channels have moved on to the next circus, when people have stopped giving

and relief organizations are running out of aid—would save Haiti from an even

greater earthquake already rattling the ground beneath.

Tolu Olorunda is a cultural critic whose

work regularly appears on TheDailyVoice.com

and other online journals. He can be reached at: Tolu.Olorunda@gmail.com.

[1] Chuck Creekmur,

“Haiti: Does Hip-Hop Care,” All Hip Hop

(January 15, 2010). Online:

http://allhiphop.com/stories/editorial/archive/2010/01/15/22097684.aspx

[2] Slavoj Žižek,

“Nobody has to be vile,” London Review of

Books (April 6, 2006). Online:

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n07/slavoj-zizek/nobody-has-to-be-vile

[3] Jim Roberts,

“Things to Remember While Helping Haiti,” The

Foundry (January 13, 2010). Online: http://blog.heritage.org/2010/01/13/things-to-remember-while-helping-haiti/

[4] Danny Shea,

“Bill Hemmer From Haiti: ‘This Is The Most Inaccessible Story I Have Ever

Covered’,” The Huffington Post

(January 14, 2010). Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/14/bill-hemmer-from-haiti-th_n_424094.html

[5] Danny Shea,

“Brian Williams In Haiti: ‘This Is Just A Colossal Calamity’,” The Huffington Post (January 14, 2010).

Online:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/14/brian-williams-in-haiti-t_n_423550.html

[6] Lenore Daniels,

“The U.S.’s ‘Fidelity to Our Values’ is Haiti’s ‘Tragedy’,” The Black Commentator (January 14,

2010). Online (Subscription Required): http://www.blackcommentator.com/358/358_ror_fidelity_to_values_haiti.php

[7] Earl Ofari

Hutchinson, “Where was the world when Haiti really needed it?” The Daily Voice (January 14, 2010).

Online: http://thedailyvoice.com/voice/2010/01/where-was-the-world-when-haiti-1-002493.php

[ 8] Garry

Pierre-Pierre, “As Haiti Embargo Tightens, Poor Children Get Hungrier,” The New York Times (July 3, 1994).

Online: http://www.nytimes.com/1994/07/03/world/as-haiti-embargo-tightens-poor-children-get-hungrier.html?pagewanted=1

[9] Aaron Kinney,

“‘Looting’ or ‘finding’? Bloggers are outraged over the different captions on

photos of blacks and whites in New Orleans,” Salon (September 1, 2005). Online:

http://dir.salon.com/story/news/feature/2005/09/01/photo_controversy/index.html

[10] Gary Younge,

“Murder and rape – fact or fiction?” The

Guardian (September 6, 2005). Online: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/sep/06/hurricanekatrina.usa3

[11] Daniela Crespo

and Jeremy Scahill, “Overkill in New Orleans,” Alternet (September 12, 2005). Online: http://www.alternet.org/katrina/25320/

[12] Photographic

report detailing questionable shootings of 10 civilians, following Katrina:

http://media.nola.com/law_and_disorder/other/NOPD-Katrina-Incidents2.pdf

[13] Amanda Terkel,

“Pat Robertson Cites Haiti’s Earthquake As What Happens When You ‘Swear A Pact

To The Devil’,” Think Progress

(January 13, 2010). Online: http://thinkprogress.org/2010/01/13/robertson-haiti/

[14] Matt Corley,

“Hagee Says Hurricane Katrina Struck New Orleans Because It Was ‘Planning A

Sinful’ ‘Homosexual Rally’,” Think

Progress (April 23, 2008). Online: http://thinkprogress.org/2008/04/23/hagee-katrina-mccain/

[15] Audio: http://mediamatters.org/mmtv/201001130022

[16] Henry A. Giroux,

Stormy Weather: Katrina and the Politics

of Disposability (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2006), p. 43.

[17] Audio and

Transcript: http://mediamatters.org/mmtv/200509150001

[18] “Naomi Klein

Issues Haiti Disaster Capitalism Alert: Stop Them Before They Shock Again,”

Democracy Now! (January 14, 2010). Online: http://www.democracynow.org/2010/1/14/naomi_klein_issues_haiti_disaster_capitalism

[19] Noam Chomsky, Interventions (San Francisco, CA: City

Lights Publishers, 2007), p. 149.

[20] Ibid., p. 147.

[21] Ibid., “The

U.S.’s ‘Fidelity to Our Values’ is Haiti’s ‘Tragedy’,” The Black Commentator.

[22] “Top US

lawmaker: Quake aid may give Haiti ‘new fresh start’,” AFP (January 16, 2010). Online: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jUdiiS9N1b_tKyvG6QWqj69grSqw

[23] Tolu Olorunda,

“Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of apathy,” The Daily Voice (August 28, 2009). Online: http://thedailyvoice.com/voice/2009/08/this-is-working-very-well-for-002230.php

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