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The Haitian tragedy and mainstream media response

January 16, 2010

by Kiilu Nyasha

How can anyone look at this baby and not want to do all we can to help. – Photo: Roshin Rowjee
I cannot remain silent in the face of so much racism and disinformation streaming over the mainstream media regarding the ongoing Haitian tragedy.

This 7.0 major earthquake of Jan. 12 and its aftershocks have left in its wake a state of emergency unlike any of us has witnessed in our lifetime – just 700 miles from our East Coast shores.

Upwards of 50,000 people are already counted as deceased, and many more injured and dying for lack of water, food and basic medical care. Estimates are reaching a possible 100,000 deaths, not to mention the devastating destruction of homes and buildings, including the Presidential Palace.

Time is of the essence, yet the international response has been painfully, tragically slow. Would this pace of rescue – where every minute counts in digging people out of the wreckage – have been the case if the earthquake victims were European?

Blame the victims

Ignored by most commentators is the truth of Haiti’s historic and ongoing poverty – in classic “blame the victim” coverage. For example, it’s not mentioned that Haitians fought their way out of slavery, expelling the colonial powers of Britain, Spain and France. In fact, Haitians won their war of independence against Napoleon’s crack troops in 1804 and were celebrating their bicentennial when the U.S. kidnapped and exiled (for the second time) their popular President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who won two landslide victories in internationally monitored elections. The majority of Haitians have demanded his return ever since.

Mainstream reporters describe this U.S.-backed coup as Aristide being ousted by rebels, implying his own people ran him out of the country. They talk about Haitians living on a dollar a day but fail to mention that part of the reason Aristide was attacked involved his attempt to double the minimum wage to about $2.50 a day; or that American factories exploit Haitian workers – underpaid and overworked in sweatshops. An example of such American corporate greed is the case of Disney using Haitian labor to make their garments at 27 cents an hour. Haitians organized and demanded a raise to 50 cents. Disney threatened to move to China (where labor was even cheaper) – and they did.

On his re-election in 2000, Aristide built schools, hospitals and clinics, a medical school to train doctors with help from Cuba, and demanded restitution from France for the main reason Haiti is the poorest country in the West – France’s extortion of (in today’s currency) $21 billion, the total paid to the French between 1925 and 1946 as so-called reparations for the financial losses Frances suffered when slavery ended and their richest, sugar-producing colony was liberated. The guns of Britain, Canada and the U.S. backed France’s robbery. This same quartet continues to occupy Haiti through its U.N. Peacekeepers, a misnomer if ever there were one. Their brutality is well known among Haitians.

Media give undue credit to Bill Clinton in both his former role as president and his current position as U.N. special envoy, a first-time post. While it’s true that Clinton helped pave the way for Aristide’s return in 1994 following massive international pressure, it was not without preconditions that tied Aristide’s hands in solving Haiti’s enormous problems. After all, it was the U.S. that backed the 1991 military coup in the first place. The regime change installed Gen. Raul Cedras who unleashed the death squads on Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party and conducted a reign of terror resulting in some 10,000 Haitians dead and countless others maimed.  The U.S. arranged for the general’s asylum in Panama and his golden exile, with impunity for his massive crimes.

This was the scene outside the Port au Prince office of Doctors Without Borders the day after the earthquake. – Photo: © Stefano Zannini
More recently, Clinton has been busy setting up investment opportunities for Wall Street corporations to further exploit Haitian labor.

Racism in coverage

The slow response and the level of aid all point to the kind of racist attitudes we saw during the Katrina tragedy – the devaluing of Black lives.

About this same time of massive death and destruction – the worst quake in 250 years – mainstream media is having a fit about racist comments recorded in a new book about the presidential campaign of 2008. Let s/he who is without racism cast the first stone.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s statement that a “light-skinned” Black who doesn’t speak a “negro dialect” could win the presidency was simply the truth. Moreover, it helps if he’s male. History’s lessons testify to the preference of Black men over women of any hue. In fact, Sojourner Truth warned Frederick Douglass that if he didn’t stand up for universal suffrage instead of compromising to allow Black men to get the vote without women, it would be a long time before women would have equal voting rights. It took another 50 years, 1870 until 1920! So it was predictable that Hillary couldn’t win over Barack. But I digress.

Just how many dark-skinned Black people do you see in the media? It’s kind of comical to watch light-skinned Blacks along with lighter-skinned whites attacking Reid since they’d be unlikely to have their jobs were they darker skinned. Skin color in color-struck America is nearly always the elephant in the room.

When I was a young woman entering the employment offices of NYC in the late 1950s, early ‘60s, I knew after being hired that I was often breaking the color barrier – finding myself the only colored girl in the company (the spook who sat by the [elevator] door) or one of two or three light-skinned office workers. Those were the days when the generally lighter ethnic groups hadn’t yet replaced us as domestics. Now, as Blacks fill the prisons, we’re seeing a cradle to prison pipeline. And it was just reported this morning (Jan. 15) that African children in America have a 50 percent poverty rate.

So what has changed?

Not much. America and the world are still color struck and racist, refusing to recognize the latest genetic science proving that race is a fiction, a stupid construct. We are one human species that originated in sub-Saharan Africa; our differences are essentially cultural and often political.

If we were to recognize this, we would clearly see that Haitians are among the most vibrant, creatively artistic, socially conscious, courageous and resilient people on the planet Earth.

Obama’s pledge of assistance

President Obama has pledged $100 million in aide to Haiti days after its worst disaster ever with a climbing death toll of tens of thousands, severe and life-threatening injuries, incalculable suffering, no infrastructure, no food, water, electricity, shelters or even tents with some 3 million homeless.

True to form, mainstream pundits are praising Obama’s contribution. I was not impressed, so I decided to find out what $100 million will buy, with the help of my assistant, Nedzada.

We discovered that Obama threw a party that cost $50 million more than he’s sending to Haiti. Yup! He spent $150 million on his Inaugural Ball. We also learned the following:

Top U.S. firms are on pace to award $148.85 billion in payouts for 2009, according to a Wall Street Journal study. Billions with a B!

You can also buy a Beverly Hills mansion, a yacht or a painting for more than the relatively meager sum Obama is donating. Obviously, we cannot rely on this government to do the right thing by Haitians in their hour of need. It never has.

So I would implore you to give all you possibly can, making sure you’re getting your contribution to the best possible agents for direct assistance to the Haitian people. I know and have confidence that your money would be well spent with Partners in Health (Paul Farmer’s organization) and Doctors Without Borders, as well as the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund here in the Bay Area.

Finally, if you’re planning to go to Haiti, I hope you’re planning to wear jeans and carry a shovel. Haitians need real help trying to dig out victims who may still be alive, not opportunistic posturing and photo ops.

May the Haitian people turn grief into strength and keep their faith in the people, not governments.

All power to the people.

Kiilu Nyasha, Black Panther veteran, revolutionary journalist and Bay View columnist, blogs at The Official Website of Kiilu Nyasha, where episodes of her TV talk show, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle, along with her essays are posted. She can be reached at Kiilu2@sbcglobal.net.

13 thoughts on “The Haitian tragedy and mainstream media response

  1. Stephen

    Are you serious? Idiots are still calling racism? There are black people in the news, in congress, and the president is also black, there is plenty of equal opportunity here. The time has come to stop crying such things when they are nonexistant.

    The fact is more people are donating faster than ever to this cause, you can drop your idiocy over racism and shove it, the place is, after all in the middle of nowhere.

    Reply
  2. Hilary

    Stephen, what do you call it when the unemployment rate of black men is consistently 10% higher than the unemployment rate of white men? I call it the result of racism in our education system and racism in the distribution of economic opportunities. What if it were reversed and the unemployment rate of whites was always much higher? Would you blame white people/families? People like you see such realities as evidence of the personal/cultural failures of black people. That’s what racism is.

    Reply
  3. Dave

    When black babies are born we should automatically start sending them a check that way maybe it will give them more of an edge. We tried affirmative action and that wasn’t good enough, poured billions with a B into education but that didn’t help, elected one as President and that’s ruining the country. Cradle to Prison is an interesting theory. If you have 90% blacks in a geographical area and have 90% in prison that would seem to make sense or how about just more of them being criminals? Instead of bitching all of time because your black maybe try to live a more productive life would help.

    Reply
  4. Stephen

    Hilary, The reason for the 10% unemployment rate is because ghetto-ized african americans are prominent in our culture, but in order to be able to live correctly, you must be able to actually speak english well and correlate words, and you must be able to dress correctly for the position, you have no idea how many black males, AND females show up to a job interview wearing a hoodie and jeans, it makes no sense. It is NOT a hand out, it is a job interview.

    Also you have no idea wheither I am white or black, you are simply guessing. Perhaps I am black but am tired of my people promoting their own stereotypes and bringing me down with them. But that wouldn’t make a difference to you would it? You would just say I’m brainwashed. If I happen to be white, Are you going to label me racist as well? Like you do with the rest of the world? Expecting a handout and an apology? This is not racism, It’s a sad fact about a race.

    If you respond, don’t respond with your rhetoric and propaganda, I do not wish to hear it. Nor does anyone, except those looking for an easy way to make money through handouts. People like you.

    Reply
  5. Don

    It seems Hilary has struck a nerve and has Dave and Stephen up in arms about whether racism still exist. Ever the lying and manipulative imagination of ignorant whites( and yes Stephen we know you’re white and ignorant)to question the veracity of facts and history, is beyond reprehensible,it is indeed an affront to real and productive racial discourse. If you don’t understand something ask for help, but to make spurious claims and bolster racist sterotypes like your your last post,tells us all how morally and intellectually depraved you really are. You should go look for a clue.

    Reply
  6. Stephen

    Another post with rhetoric, I see you are being your racist calling us ignorant whites, you have no idea about wheither either of us are of any color. Dave could be middle eastern for all you know. It’s too bad you couldn’t have responded logically I was interested in hearing some opinions or facts without such things.

    Perhaps if Dave had a white only newspaper he would be a “white devil” or a “white demon” This whole website is racist, it is non informative and seems to keep african americans bogged down with hate and despair.

    You assume I am white from the way I speak, my name and my comments. You are the racist one here, not I.

    Perhaps you should go look for a clue. Yes, racism exists, but this whole site is blown out of proportion, look at the comments on other articles. Their all saying the same thing.

    This dramatic melodrama has to stop.

    I will not say I am black again, I will not worship a website, nor an idealogy merely because of my color.

    Reply
  7. Don

    I’m only pointing out the obvious Stephen. You put your ignorance on display when you assumed that Americans of color are denied employment because of how they present themselves during an interview. It appears that your fragile mental state can’t deal with processing the sins of your father. But I digress.

    Reply
  8. Stephen

    It appears that you cannot comprehend the racial divide among our people, The extreme views such as yours are on one side, on the other side are those of us that don’t care anymore.

    You stay on your side, I’ll stay on mine, I guess you are bitter about being black and being unable to adapt into society, enjoy your time when you get jailed for a hate crime.

    As for me, I don’t care about the whites skin color, I adapt fine into society with mostly whites and am successful in business.

    What shames me is when “our people” act like you, we seperate ourselves when we are all humans, and do not get over the past.

    If I wanted a black society, I would gladly move to anywhere filled with people of my color.

    Getting revenge by enslaving whites is useless, they are already so scared of most of us because they goto jail for looking at us the wrong way because its a hate crime. you need to get over your ideas. This will only cause more hate.

    MANY OF US ARE FINE IN SOCIETY.

    The ones that are not, are mostly the 18-26 year old young black male crowd that cannot act like a citizen, obviously this is not all of them, but there is a fair amount, look anywhere and you will see it. They walk with their pants hanging down and intimidate people, because it makes them feel good, and because of it they can’t fit into this society and are unemployed.

    Reply
  9. Don

    Now you’re pretending to be an American of color. I told you you had a lying and manipulative imagination didn’t I? I can only associate your collective posts (especially the last one) with those whose oversized bodies, long arms and slopeing foreheads, inhibits them the ability of processing rational and resonable thought. I live in the new Black Mecca Atlanta, and I’m wealthier beyond anything you could ever imagine…and yes I even employ people like you too. Bitter, angry, dirty, mangy and disappointed with how Americans of color have divested you of what you would like to claim as your country and your’s alone. I see how my white employess look at me when I arrive at my place of business. They’re beet red with shame, but I’m a compassionate man so I smile and wave to them anyway. I truly understand and have no sympathy for your plight….but its been 150 years so you can see why I’m not losing any sleep over it…you understand me? Anyway, I’m not going to respond any further to your silly and childish comments, the facts in the article speak for themselves and there is no argument with facts right? Right?

    Reply
  10. Stephen

    Racist fool, you are just like them but worse.

    Obviously your thick head can’t comprehend an opinion or a fact.

    Yes run away from the discussion, like you run away from everything in life, you shame our people with your voice and false wisdom.

    Reply
  11. marie

    if indeed he built so many schools , clinics and all, where are they- not one not even one can be found- did he built them only in port au prince or did he help the provinces- what is a fact – port au prince according to expersts can inhabit no more than 200,000- under aristide, the population grew at a rate of 3 milllion in port au prince- people on top of each other living in slums with no drinking water, no garbage facilites, nothing- he encouraged this phenomenon by telling them every day they are in a democracy- about shitcracy! people living like dogs among pigs, garbage, smell, no sense of civics, dumping everything whereever, whenever, building as they pleased with no codes- no please stop with the popular leader… this man did damage to that country and he know what he did and why he had to go- and for all of u who have such support for him – if u were in the haitians shoes who lived under his reign would u accept him as a leader- after all the qualifications in the us are demanding – we demand from our leaders so much to represent us- this one was fit because why- he was a priest who came from the people? well today the world sees the disaster that it haiti- and what is surprising, not one haitian on tv calls his name- they turn to God their real and only savior-

    Reply
  12. Maria

    I THINK THAT ALL YALL DICK IN THE BOOTY ASS CRACKERS NEED TO KILL YOUR SELF AND THATS WHATS WRONG WITH OUR GENERATION TODAY MOTHERFUCKERS LIKE STEPHEN GOING AGAINST YOUR RACE AND TO THE REST OF THE DUMBS ASS FOLKS ON HERE THAT IS NOT BLACK NOR WHITE YOU ARE STUPID ASS HELL BECAUSE THESE WHITE FOLKS DONT GIVE A FUCK ABOUT YOU THEY LOOK AT YOU AS IF YOU WERE A BLACK PERSON TOO ALL YALL RACIST ASS PEOPLE NEED TO BAG THE FUCK UP OFF US BECAUSE WE GON BE AIGHT YEA I SAID IT IN THE BLACK FOLKS LANGUAGE MY PRESIDENT IS BLACK SO DAMN WHAT A CRACKER THANK WE DO SHIT LIKE THAT!!!!!

    Reply

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