“The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier” (Amy Wilentz)
David Brooks recently penned a vicious “genteel racist” column about Haiti, Amy Wilentz responded in The Nation:
I’ve never seen victims so roundly blamed for their fate. David Brooks’s recent column in the New York Times–one of the paper’s most e-mailed articles the week it was published–blamed Haiti’s culture for the quake’s violence.
“It is time,” Brooks writes sententiously, “to put the thorny issue of culture at the center of efforts to tackle global poverty. Why is Haiti so poor? Well, it has a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism. But so does Barbados, and Barbados is doing pretty well.“
By all means, let’s turn to actual history, which Brooks has mangled. As has been mentioned repeatedly, the Haitian slaves rose up in 1791 and began what was to become the only successful slave revolution in modern history. That war ended, after much loss of life on both sides, with the establishment of the world’s first black republic, in 1804–just twenty-eight years after the American Declaration of Independence. The Haitians’ models were the American and French revolutions, and they based their ideas on the Declaration of the Rights of Man. But their revolution seems to have been a little premature for the tastes of the world in which they had to operate. Haiti was almost immediately saddled with a gargantuan and punitive reparations payment to France in exchange for recognition and the ability to engage in unhampered international trade. The wealthy, slaveholding United States did not recognize Haiti until 1862, after the Southern states seceded. Haiti has been a pariah nation for its entire history.
Barbados, on the other hand: the Barbadians made their bold stand for independence from Britain in… 1966. The British had already given up slavery more than a century earlier. It was an unbloody, negotiated independence, and Barbados is still a part of the British Commonwealth. In fact, its membership began on the date of independence, as did Jamaica’s, in 1962, when it shrugged off the very loose shackles of the remnant of British colonialism. The British were less brutal masters than the French, and in the eighteenth century it was probably wiser to remain a colony under them than, as the Haitians did, gain your freedom at the expense of your economic welfare.
Brooks goes on to discuss the Haitian family, seemingly basing his argument on a book by Lawrence Harrison, a conservative cultural critic who also knows nothing about Haiti. “Child-rearing practices” in Haiti, Brooks writes, “often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.” I don’t know where this assertion comes from, but it reminds me of nothing so much as Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s controversial and misguided report on the black family in the 1960s. I’ve never seen either of these child-rearing practices in my two decades of living in and covering Haiti. In fact, I see more parents carrying small children around in Haiti’s markets than I do at the farmers’ markets in Los Angeles. You can’t write these kinds of things about people whose culture and nation you respect. Nor would an editor permit you to say such things blithely about people who are considered our equals or are able to respond in equally august publications. Right now, the Haitians cannot–they’re too busy getting water for their neglected children.
[Click to continue reading The Haiti Haters]
Remember this next time someone quotes David Brooks to you: he is not an enlightened person, nor does he allow mere facts get in the way of his narrative.
Matt Taibbi eviscerates David Brooks, even more bluntly, translating Brooks-ese into language like:
TRANSLATION: Although it is true that Haiti was just like five minutes ago a victim of a random earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people, I’m going to skip right past the fake mourning period and point out that Haitians are a bunch of lazy niggers who can’t keep their dongs in their pants and probably wouldn’t be pancaked under fifty tons of rubble if they had spent a little more time over the years listening to the clarion call of white progress, and learning to use a freaking T-square, instead of singing and dancing and dabbling in not-entirely-Christian religions and making babies all the fucking time. I know I’m supposed to respect other cultures and keep my mouth shut about this stuff, but my penis is only four and a third inches long when fully engorged and so I’m kind of at the end of my patience just generally, especially when it comes to “progress-resistant” cultures.
In an afterword appended later, Taibbi expands his point so there is no mistaking it:
But you know what? Next time there’s an earthquake in Russia or Georgia, I’m probably going to wait at least until they’re finished pulling the bodies of dead children out of the rubble before I start writing articles blasting a foreign people for being corrupt, lazy drunks with an unsatisfactorily pervasive achievement culture whose child-rearing responsibilities might have to be yanked from them by with-it Whitey for their own good.
An earthquake is nobody’s fault. There’s nothing to do after a deadly earthquake but express remorse and feel sorry. It’s certainly not the time to scoff at all the victim country’s bastard children and put it out there on the Times editorial page that if these goddamned peasants don’t get their act together after a disaster this big, it might just be necessary to start swinging the big stick of Paternalism at them.
I mean, shit, that’s what Brooks is doing here — that last part of the piece is basically a threat, he’s saying that Haiti might have to be FORCED to adopt “middle-class assumptions” and an “achievement ethos” because they’re clearly incapable of Americanizing themselves at a high enough rate of speed to please Brooks. That’s this guy’s immediate reaction to 50,000 people crushed to death in an earthquake. Metaphorically speaking, he’s standing over the rubble and telling the people trapped under there that they need more of a “No Excuses” culture, which is insane on many different levels.
Brooks’s implication that the Haitians wouldn’t have died in such great numbers had they been Americans is the kind of thing that is going to come back to bite us the next time we have a nuclear accident or a hurricane disaster or a 9/11 and we’re looking to the rest of the world for sympathy and understanding. The notion that these deaths aren’t an accident but someone’s fault, among other things someone’s fault because they practice an unhelpful sort of religion, is beyond offensive.
p.p.p.s And yes, Brooks is Jewish. So let’s say he’s doing his Judeo-Christian best. Again, this guy is saying that Haitians got killed in an earthquake because their religion makes them planning-averse. Are we really to believe that Haitians don’t live in earthquake-proof homes because of their religious beliefs? We have millions of Americans who literally believe the rapture is imminent — would Brooks expect them to blow off flood insurance?
National jokes like Pat Robertson or Rush Limbaugh can be easily dismissed when they make over-the-top assertions about international events like the Haiti earthquakes, but David Brooks is respected in a way those two jokers are not, thus David Brooks needs to be corrected when he is wrong, as in this instance1.Footnotes:
- and many, many others, really, a large portion of this guy’s Op-Eds are factually challenged [↩]