[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.