Saturday, January 28, 2012

Reflections on Oprah, Kim and Rory in Haiti


by Paul W. Miller

The conditions in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti should serve as an indictment of the inherent injustice that exists in a world where the haves have money beyond any possible use other than to mark the number of zeros behind their net worth and the have-nots are subject to the dreadful whims of nature because they are forced to live in the unsafe dregs of the material world.

It is ironic that some of the leading icons in the world of haves that should be most looking inward in this structural system that creates winners and losers are the ones newly offering their empathy to the poor, to be pitied children of the have and have not system where the aftermath of the earthquake is only the latest inhumanity served up to them.

So now we have Kim Kardshian, Oprah Winfrey and Rory McElroy tripping over each other to get involved in Haiti to show their humanity and to burnish their images with the backdrop of Haiti’s ongoing suffering.  Do they, for a moment, question their access to grotesque wealth by being on TV, on the PGA tour, and for starring in a sex movie leading to fame and fortune for being, well, famous?  Do they look inward to ask how it is they can earn millions and billions of dollars for trivial pursuits while people live and die for want of a drink of clean water?  I doubt it. 

It is an indictment that the world’s greatest super power could not lead the efforts to rescue trapped human beings in the critical days after the earthquake.  Medicine, water and rescue efforts could not be delivered, in the year 2010, as needed and many human beings died due to the politics of Haiti’s role in the world.

Haiti lies a scant 681 miles from the southern most state in the continental United States.  The country that produced “Shock and Awe” of the weapons variety produced shock and awe of a different sort in Haiti.  The shock and awe of a country left to its own resources for the better part of a week to recover from one of the most devastating natural and unnatural disasters of our lifetime.  The news announced that teams of 8 – 12 were sent out to rescue victims under the rubble that would claim upwards of 200,000 lives.  The indifference needed for the US to not be able to respond is its own “Shock and Awe”.

Where was Oprah when the US sponsored coup of 2004 created the weak infrastructure and poor governance that would be unable to respond to the earthquake?  Where was Rory when the US government was undermining the latest election in Haiti?  Where was Kim when US sanctions against Haiti killed water projects that would have minimized the impacts of the recent cholera epidemic?  And indeed where were we on those grave occasions?  We are all complicit in a system that allows centuries of suffering in a country that has contributed greatly to our own well being through the fruits of slavery, land acquisition and its citizens fighting in our wars.

Haiti deserves to have a place of dignity in the world community.  Pity from the iconic figureheads of our inhumanity will not provide Haiti with the rights that will create a just world.  Why would anyone who has benefited with wealth beyond their wildest imaginations challenge the structural injustice that created Haiti’s conditions?  Not helped to create those conditions, created those conditions.

To say that their efforts are well intentioned has no meaning in the bigger picture.  That may or may not be true.  Until we look inward to the grotesque injustice we live with everyday the conditions in Haiti will serve only the purpose of letting our leading citizens use Haiti to show, that despite their extreme wealth, they aren’t heartless, for God’s sake.

Haiti is an indictment.  Not of Haiti’s inability to govern itself, not of Haiti’s God forsaken place in the world, but an indictment of our choices as human beings to let people suffer in inhumane conditions while we feast at the table of excess in our land of indifference to the world’s great suffering.  Sean Penn says we need Haiti.  After all we have done and continue to do to create the conditions in Haiti, Haiti sure doesn’t need us.

About the author:
Paul W. Miller is the Director of the Haiti Justice Alliance