Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Haiti & Privilege

There's something bothering me. Bothering me a lot. So much so that even though I got into it some with someone and realized we would never see eye to eye and it wasn't worth continuing the conversation - I feel a need to say something here in this space. Because it is seriously bothering me. It deserves some energy.

My view of the USA in Haiti right now is this:

We are the conquering heroes. The world must marvel at our largess. We are here to help with our military, who are trained and shiny and have many guns to KEEP THINGS UNDER CONTROL. And OMG, these poor people; not a pot to piss in, not a phillips screwdriver to turn a screw. And we will not break out some empty bottles for people to piss in, and butter knives for people to use to screw, because our procedural mandate instructs pots and screw drivers. It also mandates backhoes not shovels. We cannot do anything innovative or outside the box. We cannot use back strength and gloves and rope to help dig people out. We cannot rumble through on our humvees since that would destabilize buildings, but neither can we send people out on foot to check things out, mark buildings, etc. And we will not listen to, or take comments from individual organizations and groups that are used to this environment and what can be done without our massive shiny technology that will save lives. Yay technology! We are America.

And the thing that gets me is how whenever anyone points out there is industrialized privilege in expecting and waiting for a backhoe, a screw driver, a humvee, etc... someone American says "Oh, you don't understand the logistics. You don't understand the US military doesn't use anything but these kinds of vehicles and this kind of equipment. And there's no room to use the weight of American technology in Haiti because they have no infrastructure!"

It reminds me very much of archaeologists going 'The Aztecs and Mayans had no metallurgy' and 'There is no way Nubians built Pyriamds'.

I do not understand how some people can say that things Haitians can do themselves, if they had rope and gloves and shovels and bottles of water and dettol and bandages - the US military can't do.

Why can't they do it?

It's not sufficiently first world? They'll lose cool points?

Is it really the best thing, to not dispatch aspirin in a packet when there are doctors there doing surgery on children with no anesthesia - because you, the US Military, state there's no place to keep more delicate pain killers and medicines?

Is it really the best thing to say that a liter of water is too small, and so is five liters, so it's perfectly ok for no water to be brought until it can be brought in the gallons?

Is it really the best thing to call people who are angry and upset; over emotional and irrational and unable to grasp logistics, because they're accustomed to 'making do' and America(ns) are not?

Is it really the best thing to tell people their expectations of what help looks like are all wrong?

It's all very well to point out that UN Peacekeepers are raping folk in various countries in Africa. But that doesn't change what the US is NOT doing in Haiti, how it is NOT acting and the privilege that is preventing it from doing some small help while planning out their big, majestic, this is what first world rescue looks like.

This is what is bothering me. First World/Developed Nation/Industrialized Nation Privilege. And how very, very much people do not want to look at what it encompasses.

At how certain actions are somehow beneath them, even though those same actions, small and rural and old fashioned as they might be, offer help and hope and the potential to save lives.