Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Racial bias on Haiti from the right and the left

Rush Limbaugh should be getting more grief over this comment telling people not to help Hait than anything else he's said:
There are people who have been trying to save Haiti, just as we're trying to save Africa. You just can't keep throwing money at it cause the dictatorships there just take it all.

Then there's Pat Robertson, who thinks a pact with Satan is how Haitian slaves overthrew French slave owners. Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice nails it:
Forget the religious disagreement—the “Curse of the Revolution” fantasy has been passed down from bigot to bigot for two hundred years and counting because it’s simply impossible for them to believe that a bunch of African savages and half-breeds could win an actual war against the majesty, however tattered, of the extremely white French nobility.
Only Satan can explain how blacks can win a war against whites, apparently. And btw, God supports Christian slaveowners when non-Christian slaves fight for freedom.

These blatant examples of bias aren't the end of the story. I should start by repeating what I've said before that racial bias is so widespread in society/the planet, that saying X statement is prejudiced doesn't mean the maker of X statement is any more biased than anyone else, just that the maker ought to consider the implications.

Anyway, here is the "We didn't break it, but we might own it" Haiti post coming from Talking Points Memo:
As of today, for all practical purposes, Haiti is an American Protectorate. Its own government, to the extent it ever functioned, has now collapsed....Other states and international institutions will contribute aid and resources. Perhaps the UN will expand its current mission in the nation, and assume formal responsibility. But the only nation capable of keeping Haiti from absolute collapse is the United States. Irrespective of the bodies through which we choose to work, the responsibility is ultimately ours.
How this response unfolds, how we structure our responsibilities, whether we choose to assume them alone or through international institutions, what sort of future we design for Haiti - these are vital questions. Ultimately, they are also political questions that will be decided by political actors. And the answers they provide will shape and constrain a wide array of seemingly unrelated policies.
(Emphasis added.)

Haiti is not Iraq - it had and it continues to have an elected government, and it's up to Haitians to design their future. We have a responsibility as fellow human beings to help, but we're not in charge.

I recognize that the government, fragile even before the quake and even more so now, can't provide the normal level of direction. But thinking we can or even should control things is the wrong approach.

More broadly, the sense that "these people weren't running things and need us to run it for them" that I get from the argument has some disturbing implications. I'm sure they're unintentional, but they need to be examined.

Bonus unrelated blogging: Ed Yong might be my favorite general science blogger for combining quality and quantity (with libertarian/conservative/atheist science blogger Razib Khan a close second). Yong's piece on metabolic rates of social insect colonies as superorganisms is a great example of his stuff. I'd known the general idea that bigger animals have slower metabolism, which I ascribed to surface to volume ratios. I can throw out that idea now - it must have something to do with ecological efficiency, and not just simple physiology. That's pretty interesting.

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