More on Haiti: Will Racism Hinder Relief?

There’s a lot of good news about relief efforts to Haiti.  As just one example, Haiti-born musician Wyclef Jean’s online and mass media efforts to help his home country have raised $400,000 in the first day.  Yet, at the same time, there is a strong current of racism directed toward Haitians that may hinder relief to this devastated Island nation.

In a conversation with Dr. Goddess on Twitter yesterday, she brought my attention to the casual racism of this individual (if her profile is to be believed, a young, white female who loves both beer and Jesus in equal measure):


But surely, I can hear the objections now, this is just the misguided rant of an uneducated person.  This young woman is surely an outlier, the exception, rather than the rule.   Perhaps.    About the same time, I heard the reports of Rev. Pat Robertson explaining what had happened in Haiti:

“…something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, Napoleon III, or whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said we will serve you if you get us free from the French. True story. So the devil said okay it’s a deal, so the Hatians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since then they have been cursed by one thing after another. Desperately poor, the island of Hispanola is one side, on the one side is Haiti, on the other side is the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts et cetera, Haiti is in desperate poverty. They need to have, and we need to pray for them, and out of this tragedy I’m optimistic something good may come, but right now we’re helping the suffering people and the suffering is unimaginable.”

So, rather than a proud history of resisting colonial oppression, Haitians are – in Robertson’s mind – aligned with the devil.   This seems rather stark racism, in my view, but certainly coat-and-tie racism.   While it’s easy to dismiss Robertson as a crank, his Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) has a global television audience.  CBN was at one time the largest supplier of 24-hour cable programming in the world, claiming to reach 66 foreign countries through 150 local stations, 2,500 satellite cable systems, and even through the U.S. Armed Forces Radio and Television Network.  Although the influence and reach of the network has declined in recent years, it would be a mistake to underestimate Robertson’s influence on his audience.    The Haitian Ambassador, Raymond Joseph, offered an eloquent rebuttal to Robertson’s nonsense on Maddow’s show last night, saying:

“I would like the whole world to know — America especially — that the independence of Haiti, when the slave rose up against the French and defeated the French army — powerful army — the U.S. was able to gain the Louisiana territory for $15 million. That’s 3 cents an acre. That’s 13 states west of the Mississippi that the Haitian slave revolt in Haiti provided.  Also the revolt of the rebels in Haiti allowed Latin America to be free.  So, what pact the Haitian made with the devil has helped the United States become what it is.”

Unfortunately, Maddow and the rest of MSNBC do not hold much of the audience share compared to conservative outlets, such as Fox. So, while this thumping by the Haitian Ambassador is getting lots of play by liberal and left-leaning bloggers, it’s not making much of a dent in the conservative reverberation chamber.

And, that brings me to the largest (ahem) conservative pundit of them all, Rush Limbaugh, sometimes referred to as the de facto chair of the Republican party.    Limbaugh seems to be the hands-down leader so far in efforts to use racism to hinder relief efforts to Haiti.  His recent remarks on the earthquake:

“In the Haiti earthquake, ladies and gentleman, in the words of Rahm Emanuel, ‘we have another crisis simply too good to waste,'” the conservative talk show host remarked. “This will play right into Obama’s hands, humanitarian, compassionate.”

“They’ll use this to burnish their, shall we say, credibility with the black community, in the light-skinned and black-skinned community in this country,” Limbaugh added. “It’s made to order for them. That’s why he could not wait to get out there. Could not wait to get out there.”

In fact, as Allen McDuffee points out at his blog, Governmentality, it’s right-wing organizations like the Heritage Foundation, that are eyeing the Haitian earthquake opportunistically.

Limbaugh also suggested falsely that the U.S. has “already donated” to Haiti through U.S. income.   Limbaugh, like Robertson, would be easy enough to dismiss were it not for the large audience his show commands and the rather remarkable political power he wields.

And, then there is the liberal racism of mainstream television shows that obsessively report about white, Western victims of the earthquake while spending comparatively less time on the majority of indigenous, Haitian residents, as if whiteness is the sine qua non for personhood and empathy.

Whether or not racism – from the crass Twitter comments, to the racist propaganda of Robertson and Limbaugh, to the white hegemony of television talk shows –  will hinder relief efforts to Haiti, only time will tell.   My hope is that this crisis will, in the words of Ferentz Lafargue, prompt us to think not only “about Haiti’s plight today, but to whatever extent possible two years and two decades from today” (h/t @dumilewis, @DavePurcell).


  1. Joe

    Great post, Jessie. We often forget just how many Haitian Americans there are too–at least 600,000. About 13,000 to 29,000 Haitians annually over recent years have immigrated on a permanent resident status.

  2. Anyway, as a former evangelical minister, I am compelled to reply to Robertson and the other white Christian conservatives offering racist takes on the earthquake in Haiti.

    My first reaction is that I really wish Robertson et al. would listen to themselves. From what I understand, the story about Haitians making a deal with the devil is completely false. But even if we accept this questionable premise, Robertson should be ashamed by its implications, not “vindicated” by them. As the story goes, whites were such cruel slave masters that Haitians collectively and universally believed 200 years of service to Satan himself was preferable!!!

    Hello!!! Christians out there will recognize the common practice among white evangelicals of equating slavery to God/Christ with American slavery. White evangelicals usually use this slavery analogy to simultaneously coerce obedience to their dogma while minimizing the seriousness of American racism. One of many despicable implications is that if slavery wasn’t all that bad, contemporary racism is hardly worth notice.

    The apocryphal story to which Robertson alludes puts the lie to white [Christian] collective forgetting/revisionism about slavery. It was horrifying. An entire nation of slaves truly believed Satan, whose entire life purpose is creating eternal suffering, was an easier task-master than white colonists. That these particular colonists were French is irrelevant. The African slave trade was unspeakably cruel everywhere.

    That point is damning enough, but Robertson and company are too blinded by whiteness to see it. So they go on, smugly presenting themselves as God’s righteous servants. In his statement, Robertson expresses “hope” that the Haitian people will turn to God, presumably from the voodoo practices they used to negotiate with the devil. Let me briefly say that Robertson’s belittling of a resistance-based faith is indicative of white Christian’s racial frame and status as oppressors. For now, however, I want to focus on the white Christian presumption that their wealth is evidence of God’s blessing.

    In their responses to the earthquake in Haiti and previous comments that Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 were God’s punishment for various categories of sinners, white evangelicals imply that God rewards the holy with wealth and takes that wealth as punishment. As Jesse pointed out, white evangelicals should take the opportunity to consider the legacies of colonialism and domestic racism. But even if we allow white evangelicals to remain in their doctrinal frame, their analysis is deeply problematic. Biblical passages on blessings and curses (e.g. Deut. 28) do often imply that national fortunes depend on collective religious choices. But the Bible does not imply that wealth, even sustained wealth, is necessarily indicative of rich people’s merit or God’s blessing. In fact, the Bible is clear that the wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous (e.g. Ecc. 2:26; Ps. 13:22). Without giving a full exegesis, my point is that Robertson has no biblical standing for assuming his self-righteous posturing. Perhaps he is the wicked one whose wealth is being stored up for the just. White evangelicals of his ilk derive their righteousness from whiteness, not the Bible. That Robertson and company are raising money and supplies for Haitian earthquake survivors is helpful, but by no means does it mean they are spiritually (or in any other way) innocent.

  3. No1KState

    Great post, Jessie.

    gatorglenn, where have you been all my life! (I’m assuming you’re a guy.) I’ve always found white Evangelical logic suspect. I mean, is God blessing the Wall St. bankers and punishing taxpayers?

    • No1KState,

      Where was I all your life…? Sadly, in evangelical churches learning the ways of Pat Robertson and company. I’m just trying to make amends now. 🙂

      Thanks for the compliment. I always enjoy reading your comments, too. (Btw, yes, I am a guy.)

  4. victorray

    Racism has hindered relief in Haiti since the conquest. U.S. policy towards the country has been relentlessly imperialistic and Haiti’s neighbor the Dominican Republic is not much better historically. Paul Farmer’s work is some of the best on this subject as he repeatedly shows how U.S. policy has led to underdevelopment and all manner of illness.

      • No1KState

        Well . . . I’m not opposed to the use of the military for security purposes. Security is needed and I don’t want it coming from Blackwater or Xe or whatever else they’re calling themselves these days.

        Though, it should be stressed, not just by me but in cable and network news, that since the earthquake, crime is down from level before the earthquake. (Which makes sense intuitively. Searching for food and water aside, it’s hard to break too many laws when you’re in need of food and water, searching for your family and friends, and just trying to survive. Which is why crime among blacks immediately after slavery was a near zero/)

        Hopefully, we want occupy Haiti the way we have in the past and are in Afghanistan and Iraq. But considering the past, the Louisiana Purchase, and reparations Haiti was forced to pay to previous slaveowners, some of whom moved to Louisina, we owe them doing this right. To me, that means offering all our resources, but taking their lead in everything. Even if they decide to go for communism or make the nation religion voudou. (LOL! Pat Robertson’s head might explode! That would be funny!) The US is in debt to Haiti in the billions of dollars.

        • jwbe

          I don’t think that the US is interested in what they owe to anybody, the US is only interested in remaining in power to remain an imperialistic nation with access to all resources. Why do you think that this time this would be any different?
          Watch the mainstream media and how they ‘prepare’ the common people to justify military intervention also in the long-term. Already how the MSM is reporting is quite disgusting.

          • No1KState

            I haven’t been watching the MSM. The disgusting reporting is why.

            Why do I think this time would be different?

            Well, Obama hasn’t done much I didn’t expect from him. The escalation in Afghanistan was a bit surprising, but I knew he wasn’t gonna pull out. So I hope I’m not misjudging his intentions.

            My fallback in case I am misjudging him is that we don’t have the personnel to occupy Haiti.

            In case that doesn’t work, if he starts signaling his intentions to occupy, conservatives would make a big stink and he’d end up backing off.

            Overall, I just got my fingers crossed, my eyes shut, and my hands clasped real, praying that he keep everything limited to aid.

            If all else fells, I know I can rely on Haitians, my brothers and sisters of Mother Africa, to fight till the very bitter end and demonstrate African strenth and resistance.


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