A tiny ethnography of the earthquake

I want you to know that, before the earthquake, things in Haiti were normal. Outside Haiti, people only hear the worst -- tales that are cherry-picked, tales that are exaggerated, tales that are lies. I want you to understand that there was poverty and oppression and injustice in Port-au-Prince, but there was also banality.via Salon.com Mobile.

The writer of the above is Laura Wagner, an American PhD candidate in anthropology who was studying in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. She was injured in the quake, which killed at least one of her friends, and she still does not know what happened to the rest of them. Read the article. It gives a far more balanced account of what happened -- and what still is happening -- than most other writing, which focusses on the sensational, the (mostly foreign) heroics (because of course poor black people are incapable of their own heroism) and the predictable -- "looting" and "social breakdown".This is what anthropology is good for, which is something that I keep reminding myself as I teach it, and as I situate myself in this hybrid, postcolonial, complex society on the edge of the written world. It's good for getting inside places and people, for jettisoning the expected and the prejudiced, and for telling the story of individuals, the kinds of people who don't generally get stories told about them on any global level. That isn't to say that anthropologists and ethnographers are the "voices" of these people. They're (we're) not. But they/we do stand sometimes as interlocutors, challenging prejudice with actuality, and provide pieces of the puzzle of reality that are often overlooked, often missing.So go read the piece. And let it add just a little to whatever idea of "Haiti" and the "earthquake" you have in your minds. Let it make those ideas just a little more complicated. A little more real.

Now that the first journalistic burst has ended, now that the celebrity telethons have wrapped, the stories you hear are of “looters” and “criminals” set loose on a post-apocalyptic wasteland. This is the same story that has always been told about Haiti, for more than 200 years, since the slaves had the temerity to not want to be slaves anymore. This is the same trope of savagery that has been used to strip Haiti and Haitians of legitimacy since the Revolution. But at the moment of the quake, even as the city and, for all we knew, the government collapsed, Haitian society did not fall into Hobbesian anarchy. This stands in contradiction both to what is being shown on the news right now, and everything we assume about societies in moments of breakdown....Social scientists who study catastrophes say there are no natural disasters. In every calamity, it is inevitably the poor who suffer more, die more, and will continue to suffer and die after the cameras turn their gaze elsewhere. Do not be deceived by claims that everyone was affected equally -- fault lines are social as well as geological. After all, I am here, with my white skin and my U.S. citizenship, listening to birds outside the window in the gray-brown of a North Carolina winter, while the people who welcomed me into their lives are still in Port-au-Prince, within the wreckage, several of them still not accounted for.via Salon.com Mobile.

Follow-up to African Reading Challenge

The fate of migrants is the same - Mediterranean, Atlantic Ocean, does it matter?Laila Lalami linked to this photo-essay taken in Italy of North African migrants.The similarities between the essay and what we see here with Haitian migrants are striking.I've been carrying around Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits for days now, trying to make time for it.  I will keep you posted.

Can You See Us?

Thanks to Erica James at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, I was led to seek out this series on the statelessness of children of Haitian parentage growing up in The Bahamas.  You'll find it on YouTube.  I don't know who made the movies, but every Bahamian should watch them -- especially those Bahamians who view their society through the lenses of "Us" and "Them".

Can You See Us? Part I

Can You See Us? Part II

Can You See Us? Part III

I'll embed the videos later.

Edit: The video was made by the Bahamas Human Rights Network. Kudos.