January 25, 2010
Haiti, 100 Stars, and a Political Conscience
So I’m watching the tragedy unfold in a Denver hotel room on CNN and the networks, button-pushing on the remote. After my shock starts to wear off, I can’t help but notice the reports have not mentioned how Haitians could be so poor in the first place, living as close as they do to the great power, the USA. No mention of our support of the Duvalier family, or of Clinton’s management of the coup of President Aristide. These would be embarrassing details to the one hundred fully emoting celebrities. That’s when I go to the computer for Democracy Now and Al Jazeera. I look back at the TV. We have our close up as Julia Roberts asks a housewife in Kansas, “How many children do you have? Three? That’s fantastic!”
I’m taken in. I have a weakness for Julia Roberts. I admit that. Oh no! For that moment I am definitely inside of the claustrophobic little hothouse of the Hollywood liberals. The one hundred stars have us inside and they lock that door shut, because they are doing the inarguable thing, the beautiful and correct and loving thing. Meanwhile I’m sure that Blackwater, with its new name “Xe,” which cannot be remembered or pronounced, is walking through Haiti fully armed, ready to confront some native hoo doo with an accidental shooting.
I can hear the “Lighten UP!” No I won’t, because what is happening now is so like 9/11 and I won’t do that again. It is said repeatedly that Haiti is an exceptional tragedy, and so politics must be post-poned and replaced by the gestures of a loving heart. This is wrong because it is not complete. Just as 9/11 was instantly politicized by neo-cons, turned into a long, dark night of shopping and bombing, this earthquake leaves Haitians as well as citizens of their big brother to the north hugely vulnerable. Corporations’ approach to Haiti is methodical and strategical – not exceptional.
Rev. Billy’s moral of the story: It is a good thing that famous people do good things. They are also escapist by nature. It is easy to forget our predatory history with Haiti when the faces of our favorite entertainers alternate with horrific suffering. Our best help will come when we change ourselves first, so that in time of emergency we are willing to have a clear memory of the past. That way we can demand respectful relations with the people of Haiti - even when there is no tragedy anymore and the celebs have vanished.