Damon Winter, New York Times
Nor can we label them the villains of their own disaster. Take, for example, this New York Times photo of a red-shirted boy running through the streets of Port-au-Prince clutching a plastic bag. The caption underneath attempts to be objective: “Haitians fled gunshots that rang out in downtown Port-au-Prince Saturday. Tons of relief supplies had arrived for delivery.” But the headline further down the page says: “Looting Flares Where Order Breaks Down.”
“So was the kid looting?” asks Natalie Hopkinson on The Root. Who are we to judge? She proceeds to describe media coverage from Hurricane Katrina where hungry, desperate white survivors were “finding” food, while hungry, desperate black survivors were “looting” for food. How long will our coverage continue to exploit and discriminate against people, simply because they are black and poor?
Dany Laferrière, a Canadian author with Haitian roots, survived the earthquake at a hotel in Port-au-Prince. He wanted out of the country immediately, not simply to escape disaster, but also to flee from the racist conversation embedded in it. He has grown weary of the language of a “Haitian curse,” a “pact with the devil,” “refugees” in their own country, and “pillaging” for survival.
“It would be better to speak of the incredible energy I saw,” Laferrière told Le Monde, “from women and men who, with courage and dignity, help each other. Even though their town is partially destroyed and their state is without leadership, the people remain, work and live.”
These people cling to the hope of survival in the most desperate times. Who are we to condemn?