Sunday, January 17, 2010

On Haiti and Hate

[image of a woman and baby is from here]
[Revised Monday, 18 January 2010 ECD]

Can you tell me this woman's name and the name of this sweet child? Do you really want to know? Do you know what she's saying to the baby? Just look in her eyes.

I've had that look on my face. (I've seen it in photos!) I know the exact gesture; that very specific instruction in her eyes. I've seen those pictures of me doing exactly what she's doing. I could be wrong, of course, but to me it's the sometimes unsuccessful attempt we make with all manner of encouragement and enthusiasm to get the dear preoccupied child with us to look directly at the lens. For me the verbal part of the routine goes something like this: "Look at that person taking the camera, honey! Look this way, over here. This way. Look at the camera, sweetheart. Show that photographer that beautiful smile of yours!" Anyone who has had a photo taken with your child knows this moment. In my case, I have been the primary babysitter, or the well-known uncle. And that adorable child often finds the color of the photographer's slacks to be infinitely more interesting! And so this is the image the photographer ends up with. Exactly this one. On the couch in the living room, or just outside one's home.

Class-privileged white people get to be "individuals" when disaster strikes. In the white Western media, people with some class privileges, people who are literate and white are approached as if they are a "we" or a "me". Not so with the poor. So I hear about the white man who is prioritised to be pulled from rubble. And he is interviewed and he thanks "God". And what does he think that "God" is: callous to the suffering of several hundred thousand people who aren't white and don't have his class privilege? How fucked up is that? How fucked up do you have to be to praise G-d while people all around you are enduring the pain of broken bones, loss of homes, with their loved ones bleeding, crushed, dying, dead. How dare any white man on that island "THANK G-D" for his survival. Because G-d has nothing to do with it. G-d is weeping, distraught, beyond consolation. It's only that white dude's privileges that cause him to live and the Black man not under the rubble of a fancy hotel to perish. And the Black women, each one with her own wishes and interests. And the Black children, each one with a name and a favorite game to play.

What we can know, those of us who live with such privileges, is that poor people, especially when of color are utterly dispensable beings, to dominant society. They exist (they "swarm" when food is dropped out of the sky) but they are not fully human like that white man praising his white heterosexual male supremacist sky-god for his life.

From  what I've seen this week, the dominant Western media doesn't get that Haitians are individual people who may not want their photos taken, or who may wish to speak for more than one second about what they are experiencing. The media pretends to care, but they don't. They haven't, in my experience, spoken much with anyone who is Haitian as if that Haitian person is as human as the interviewer. Instead, the media tells  "the story of Haitians". According to dominant white media, individual Haitian people, each with their own history, their own friends and family, their own particular story of suffering and survival amidst Western Imperialism and genocidal economic practices, and with a set of particular concerns at any given time, is rendered "the same" more or less, as any other Haitian person's story.

Most recently, part of the story being told involves the media telling us how things will get, well, out of control, at some point. Dangerous. Violent. As if being crushed or injured or bruised due to a horrible earthquake isn't violent, dangerous, and out of control. The dominant media story goes on to tell "us" it will be good to have a strong [white heterosexual male supremacist] military presence in a region of the world where whites are not the majority. The descendants of African slaves are. This story paves the way for that good thing to happen. We now have a Western military presence to help "stabilise the country". Because if whites are known for anything, we're known for creating stability in places where people of color live. (Not.)

The dominant media speaks nauseatingly often about the timing of when "it" is going to happen. When will those Haitians [read: "swarming" Black people] get violent? Note the collective media's question is not "Why would any person experiencing extreme trauma and unalleviated pain behave uncalmly?" The inference, which often enough is stated straight up without any disguise is this: When will they start behaving like the savages Columbus portrayed all people of color to be? Because you white folks know it's just a matter of time. Tick, tick, tick. Between 100,000-200,000 dead most likely, and whites are poised to judge people who live and die in conditions that few white-majority Western countries do. White people don't have their bodies scooped up and dumped into big holes. That's something that happens to "non-whites only": Jews in Nazi Germany, African Americans in the U.S. South, among other places, American Indians across the Americas, Indonesians after the tsunami, and now Haitian citizens. Or, with a military presence is the correct term "civilians"? On what shiny polished dark stone wall will their names be etched? Are their deaths less of a loss than those mostly working class and poor people from the U.S. sent overseas to rape and murder people of color in Korea, Vietnam, Central America, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan? Does the Vietnam War Memorial have the names on it of all the Vietnamese people we poisoned, burned, and killed in the 1960s and early '70s?

The media's job is to portray a "them" who are not so privileged (read: pitiful, helpless, while simultaneously always dangerous and potentially violent) to "us" who are privileged (read: good, moral, capable of heroism and "coming together" in times of need). As if the people in the region of Haiti hardest hit by the earthquake are not capable, heroic, and not in need of anyone's pity. But for "us" to "help them" the story has to be about how powerless they are, except when they're not, in which case they're dangerous. Whites may or may not feel some genuine sorrow or grief, but the masses of racially privileged people must never fully identify with "those poor, poor people", especially when they get violent.

It is precisely because the violence of white men is invisible that we can think of ourselves as good, as the media portrays us. And whatever violence there is in Haiti, you had better believe it will be front web page news. Because "they" are not "us" and they, however much they suffer, are, in some ways, bad. Pat Robertson said what many whites believe. He just happened to do it in an interview which was recorded. Most white folks have learned to keep thoughts like that to ourselves. To speak it out loud is crass. To think it privately is, well, white supremacist. The violence of debt and impoverishment caused by white men is not to be seen or spoken, anywhere. Or maybe it gets mentioned once, and then is put away. The media doesn't keep stories about the badness of being white in the media as such. There are some bad white men, but it's never their whiteness that makes them that way. So I ask the dominant media: when will white violence against Black people and other people of color be made visible to white people as such, as a whiteman-made atrocity? When will "sex tourism" be stopped? When will "white men working behind the scenes to keep genocide going" be seen for what it is, and who we are? When will that story find its way onto the front pages of allegedly uncensored news sites?

The dominant story is that "they" need our money. Because the WTO and the IMF want you to believe that they cannot live without us.

But throwing money at the dying is a bit cruel. Particularly if it doesn't reach those who most need it in the form of clean water, antibiotics, food, and other basic necessities. Do you really know where your donation is going, or is just sending it enough? If white people REALLY care about Haitian people, make sure NAFTA disappears. Challenge the IMF and the global banking and economic systems to get off the Third World's back. Challenge white people to get off stolen land. If you really care, that is. Because sending ten bucks doesn't do a goddamned thing and you ought to know it. It only makes you feel like you've done your part. You haven't. Give your time to making sure that Haiti's economy is once again not in any way dependent on white people and white male economic and political systems.

Doing your part would be making sure capitalism dies sooner than later. Doing "good" would look like making sure Western patriarchal societies ends sooner than later.

And to any and all white Christians:
Pray that white preachers (who speak about Haitians and all Black people, and gay men and lesbians, as if we do the Devil's work) are condemned to life in in a fiery hell, and stop your fucked up talk of "forgiving Pat Robertson" because you know damn well Jesus would have kicked his sorry racist white heterosexist patriarchal ass across town and back again, and would have smacked the mutherfucker in his blasphemous pasty face, causing Pat to turn the other cheek.


Clarissa said...

"savages Columbus portrayed all people of color to be"

-No, he didn't. As well as most other Europeans who first encoutered the inhabitants of the New World, Columbus tended to describe them as kind, peaceful, simple, and childish. He was paternalistic and condescending, not fearful and full of hatred.

Julian Real said...

Hi Clarissa,

I don't agree. He wrote diaries of his crimes against humanity. Welcoming European men to sexually enslave children, so they could be raped, is hardly "paternalistic", except in the most hideous sense of that term. Please read what follows and let me know what you think.

The Rapist Savage: Christopher Columbus, First Known White Man to Organise the Sexual Slavery of Girls and Women in the Americas

Mike said...

"stop your fucked up talk of "forgiving Pat Robertson" because you know damn well Jesus would have kicked his sorry racist white heterosexist patriarchal ass across town and back again, and would have smacked the mutherfucker in his blasphemous pasty face, causing Pat to turn the other cheek."
You get it Julian thanks. I posted this line on another blog.
Who's the real devil here? Might it not be the fact that Haiti is still paying off the IMF and Inter-American Development Bank? At present this represents about 20% of the Haitian GPD.Haiti will no doubt have to borrow some more to rebuild.This is how the economics behind white privilege can own a country without ever firing a shot.

Julian Real said...

Thank you, Mike. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. The IMF and the WTO are strangling impoverished nations to death. And fuck both those white male supremacist organisations and the I-ADB of gross exploitation, mass murder, and greed for doing so.

Black Butterfly said...

I love the image and, of course, your powerful analysis of the (ongoing and current) situation in Haiti.

Also, thanks for stopping by. I am good, actually. The purging of emotions through writing is always empowering! =)


Yes indeed the mainstream white male-dominated coverage of Haiti is patronising and promotes the claim Haitian women and men are supposedly powerless creatures in need of white mens' control and domination.

The 'story' being told is not a true one but is one from the white man's perspective and so Haitian women and men are dichtomised as being either 'powerless' or else 'uncontrollably violent if allowed to 'escape white men's control.'

The white male-dominated media certainly tells a story but it is one which pathologises Haitian women, men and children. One which exploits Haitians and promotes 'white male supremacy' because only white heterosexual powerful males have rights and are seen as 'individuals.' Everyone else is 'othered' or pathologised.

Media images such as the one showing a Haitian woman with her child are exploitative because it reduces her and her child to a 'sentimental thing' rather than two human beings.

Oh yes the media's focus is on the natural disaster in Haiti as though this alone is responsible for causing so many Haitans to lose their lives. No need to examine how white men's capitalism and corporate greed has exploited the Haitans and why so many Haitans remain poor. No, the earthquake alone is responsible for the destruction of Haiti and it is white men who will take charge and re-colonise Haiti yet again.

Julian Real said...

Hi Jennifer.

The only issue I have a question about, is a small one relative to the whole issue at hand. First, almost all images of people in Haiti can and will be appropriated into "the story" WHM supremacist media wish to tell about Haiti and Haitian people, collectively.

This SO makes the point, btw, that you and I have been making, about white straight men's privileges, to not be "a people" but instead be "individuals some of whom behave badly--but only ever if they are very sick or very deranged". The story by WHM supremacist media and people is that "Haitians are a 'people' who, unlike whites, don't know how to take care of themselves, who are effectively children, and who needs a nice big white military daddy to come in and make things ok." Obviously that's fucked up on EVERY level.

And yes, if "the children" get upset, they become "terrifying monsters". How utterly and normally perverse the WHM [lack-of-]imagination is, and it's press and other media.

I think, though, that the image that introduces this post is not a typical one at all. I think it is unusual to have images where the subject is looking back and pointing at the viewer. This necessarily subjectifies her and objectifies the viewer.

She's outside looking at us; we're in the zoo cage. She's the one commenting on US. She's speaking with her child about US. "Look at THEM (or, likely, "him"), this image is saying". "Look at those strange, strange people (or that funny, funny man), here to take our picture."

I think of the hundreds of images of people in Haiti, this one subjectifies the subject and objectifies the photographer and "his" audience more than most.

That's why I like the image very much.

Julian Real said...

And, yes, it is "yet another photograph of 'mother and her baby'", but that alone doesn't take away her personhood, nor that of the child. Because we can't forget that whites view Black women, if shown with children, as mammies to take care of white folks, and as (paradoxically) ill-equipped to take care of their own children. And Black mothers are historically portrayed as pathological when they DO take care of their own children and care about themselves and also uppity and rude when they DON'T take care of whites!! That child clearly has a will, as does she. She has a lot going on in her eyes and not a lot of what I see in her eyes says that she, in any way, is "for" white people.

Dominant white media prefer "the disaster images" where Black people have desperate pleading in their eyes. Followed by the ones, a week later, of Black people with desperate anger in their eyes, which whites always fear means "I'm angry at whites for how you abuse and neglect 'us'/'my people'" as opposed to, for example, "I'm angry for exactly the same reasons you'd be ripshit right about now!"

And, what would be best is for Haitian people to take the cameras from the dominant media, and turn it on the cameraperson, and tell the cameraperson and crew what is REALLY going on there, and watch as they white person feigns concern and shows fear.

What needs to be told is the degrees to which whites are being disproportionately rescued, given water and food, and are being attended to medically--often and as quickly as possible removed from the disaster site; how disproportionately the wealthy are being rescued, given water and food, and attended to medically, and removed from the disaster site, which is considered, in the WHM media to be "outside of Haiti"; how the dominant media would never, ever say, "We won't drop bundles of water and food from planes using parachutes because we're afraid the few whites who are in Haiti would kill Blacks to get to those packages first."

That's true--whites would do this; globally that is precisely what whites do; it's how our politcal economies run; it's how we have an abundance of non-local foods; but the media won't say it.

The media will only portray the Black people as "the 'uncivilised', the pitiful, the dangerous".

And that's why I wish the WHM supremacist media had the human decency to give their recording devices and cameras over to Haitian people to tell their own stories, in the language of their choice, with their own interpreters if the stories are told in French and Haitian Creole to be broadcast in English.

Mike said...

"Dominant white media prefer "the disaster images" where Black people have desperate pleading in their eyes."
Which is why your picture depicts the true haiti and doesn't exploit.
A healthy mother and happy child doesn't fit the sterotype their looking for.
"that's why I wish the WHM supremacist media had the human decency to give their recording devices and cameras over to Haitian people to tell their own stories."
If they did that they would loose control of the story...


Thanks Julian for pointing out the difference in respect of this photo. I'm so used to viewing photos, particularly those depicting women and girls as 'objects' rather than subjects.

Changing the focus as this child did - so that it becomes us the viewers who are the objects is correct. It is not often that such instances occur - but they do.

Reminds me of a painting I saw a while ago wherein whilst the image was of a young woman she rather the viewer was the subject. This picture was to me a rarity - wherein the artist did not portray the young woman as a sexualised commodity.