In the past four and a half years, terrible natural disasters have struck two of the most important places in the hemisphere for people of African descent. And the U.S. response to each of these tragedies? As former Democratic congresswoman Cynthia McKinney recently wrote, it was “more like an invasion than a humanitarian relief operation.”
Haiti was the first country in the Western hemisphere to overthrow colonialism and slavery. New Orleans, of course, is Africa in the United States—it would not have existed unless Toussaint L’ Ouverture had beaten Napoleon in 1803. Not surprisingly, then, the response from the people who actually suffered through these disasters was brave and unwavering.
The message from the water, from the steeples, from the elders, from the people floating on rafts after Hurricane Katrina was that Black people need to remember who they are and that they can’t afford to absorb the values of this country: materialism, militarism and racism. The elders who refused to leave their chairs in front of their modest homes in the Ninth Ward were saying, “We would rather die at home, on our own land, then be moved to places that are unfamiliar to us.” They were refusing to be absorbed any more, staying put on the land where they belonged.
From Haiti, we have read and seen countless reports about the 200,000 people who have died and the hundreds of thousands now living with so little. We hear that Haiti is the poorest country in the hemisphere. But we also see that Haitians, citizens of the first free Black country, refuse to bow down.
These disasters are wake-up calls. There is something terribly wrong with our priorities when Olympic officials can helicopter in hundreds of tons of snow to keep Whistler Mountain covered in white, but the U.S. sends the military to Haiti after the quake, not food. What would it have looked like for food to have been dropped from helicopters to all parts of Haiti with the same speed and precision used to drop snow in Vancouver?
Becky Thompson co-authored this blog, which is crossblogged on http://tonkathompson.wordpress.com