Friday, January 22, 2010
Reporting on Haiti
The ignorance and over-simplification (from wealthy white people in the US) over Haiti's tumultuous 10 days is well-chronicled by The Nation's Amy Wilentz and True/Slant's Matt Taibbi. They both respond to David Brooks' NY Times piece that calls out Haiti's apparently inferior culture and worldview. Take 20 minutes and read Brooks' article first...then Wilentz'...then Taibbi's scalding Cliff's Notes version.
In the aftermath of this brutal earthquake, bantering from Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh have caught headlines for their absolute absurdity. Most Americans (except for Limbaugh's 14-30 million weekly white male listeners) brush them off, but Brooks has an establishment voice that subtly revs up American exceptionalism. Wilentz and Taibbi are offering a badly needed alternative (and more complex and nuanced) to the norm.
Speaking of Haiti, I've been surprised by a number of students in my American Government and Economics classes who keep asking, "Why is Obama giving $100 million to Haiti when we have millions who are jobless and homeless in the United States?" They are echoing their parents, other influential adults in their lives, and favored media outlets. What's behind this question? First, I suspect that it is just a back-handed attempt to criticize Obama on any issue possible, considering if he didn't act he would then be criticized for that (similiar questions I've heard over the past year: "Why is Obama traveling all over the world when we have problems right here in the US?" and "Why is Obama afraid to use the word 'terrorism?'" which the DailyKos revealed is just patently false. Second, I'd like to ask these inquirers, "What exactly would you propose that Obama should do to help those who are jobless and homeless?" Third, I'd propose they digest what exactly a 6-figure death count must feel like to a country with a population of only 10 million. Fourth, I'd like to remind them of the outpouring of financial donations (from all over the world) that 'flooded' (no pun intended) into New Orleans in 2005 after Katrina. Ultimately, this question is linked to the ethos embedded in Brooks' article. American exceptionalism feeds a worldview that falsely believes that the US is a country that always leads the world in helping other countries out of their messes and that American policies are just and fair.