David Brooks Blames the Victim in Haiti

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CommonDreams.org

David Brooks Blames the Victim in Haiti

Is David Brooks competing with Pat Robertson to make the most callous commentary on Haiti's earthquake?

As Lawrence E. Harrison explained in his book "The Central Liberal Truth," Haiti, like most of the world's poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.

We're all supposed to politely respect each other's cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them.

Yes, poverty is the underlying reason that Port-au-Prince now lies in ruins. But his claim that Haiti's poverty is rooted in its "progress-resistant" culture is otherwise known as blaming the victim. Like all poor people, Haitians are used to being blamed for their own poverty, but David Brooks picked a hell of a time to point his finger.

[I]t's time to promote locally led paternalism. In this country, we first tried to tackle poverty by throwing money at it, just as we did abroad. Then we tried microcommunity efforts, just as we did abroad. But the programs that really work involve intrusive paternalism.

Ironically, Brooks' prescription of "intrusive paternalism" to "fix the culture," aptly sums up US policy towards Haiti for the past 100 years: a brutal military occupation from 1915 to 1934; support for dictatorship from 1957 to 1986; and more recently, the imposition of trade policies that have further impoverished people. What the outside world needs to "fix" is not Haitian culture, but its own self-serving policies that have left thousands of Haitians literally buried alive.

Yifat Susskind

Yifat Susskind is the Executive Director of MADRE, an international women's human rights organization. She has worked with women’s human rights activists from Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Africa to create programs in their communities to address women's health, violence against women, economic and environmental justice and peace building. She has also written extensively on US foreign policy and women’s human rights and her critical analysis has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy in Focus and elsewehere.

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