Lessons From Dr. King on Haiti

By Elizabeth Enslin on January 18, 2010

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

It’s hard enough to comprehend the scale of disaster in Haiti. What’s harder is this: to stand by and watch hate, ignorance and greed breed on human suffering like maggots.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library of Congress (Prints and Photographs Collection).

I’m not surprised that racism is alive and well in the U.S.; I never believed it dead.  Nor am I surprised it’s found mouthpieces on Fox News, in Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and David Brooks.  Perhaps getting this old school racism out in the open is not a bad thing; it shows those who believed in “post-racial” America where racist ideas still lurk and how ugly they can be. It’s like smoking cockroaches out from hiding so you can squash them.

Here are some good cockroach stompers I’ve come across this past week (and by cockroaches, please understand I’m taking the high road today and referring to ideas, not individuals):

Chris Clarke at Coyote Crossing: Haiti in Context

Matt Taibbi’s brilliant deconstruction of David Brooks piece on Haiti.

“The Devil Writes Pat Robertson a Letter”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

But on Martin Luther King Day, I don’t want to dwell on sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity in the U.S. (which I hope comes from a small minority). I’m not sure I can go as far as Dr. King did in loving those who hate and dehumanize.  But I’ve tried to keep my focus on the stories that humanize.

For example:

A lot of mainstream news has emphasized the breakdown of the Haitian government, the difficulty of getting aid to people, security challenges, “looting,” etc. Meanwhile, people in Haiti have organized their own rescue efforts, relief, and protection.  This story from the Miami Herald provides some examples.

Those organizations already in Haiti also began immediate action, initially under the radar screen of foreign reporters. One example is Partners in Health.  Because they’ve worked with local doctors and nurses for years and because their headquarters outside of Port-au-Prince escaped earthquake damage, they were able to move quickly.  Their website Stand With Haiti provides behind the scenes look at the challenges and successes of the relief effort.  Here’s a post by Tracy Kidder on this work and another by founder Paul Farmer.

Writers and anthropologists invite us to deepen our understanding of Haitian culture.  I’ve been particularly moved by: Edwidge Danticat reading from one of her stories and anthropologist Gina Athena Ulysse discussing Vodou (just before the earthquake) and offering more reflections after.

“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”

Of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. pushed beyond holding hands and singing, “We Shall Overcome.” In many speeches, he traced the links between race and class, poverty and war.

We need that for Haiti too. It’s wonderful to see people throughout the world donating towards the relief effort.  Now if only that generosity could be matched by an effort to understand Haiti’s history. As many have pointed out this week, colonialism, and now the new world order of capitalism and debt, have long been transferring wealth from Haiti to the U.S. and Europe.  That’s what creates endemic poverty.

For more on this angle, check-out:

Democracy Now (daily news with strong political and historical analysis)

Anthropologist Barbara Miller’s blog post: Why is Haiti so Poor?

Reconciliation Ecology on understanding the ecological crisis in Haiti.

Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation


This is, of course, an incomplete round-up of insightful commentary on Haiti.  If you’ve come across something else, please considering sharing it here.

Note: all quotes are from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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