The outpouring of global support and assistance for the people of Haiti following the devastating earthquake in that country has been heartening. The people of Haiti are historically, a very resilient people and they will pull through even this devastation.
But I have been struck by the shallowness of the global media reporting of the event. Virtually none of the media reporting of the tragedy has gone beyond the fixation with Haiti’s recent history to explore the long and complex sequence of historical events that have shaped what Haiti is today. This is, in many ways, typical of Western media reporting – a preoccupation with the here and now. An obstinate presentism that insists on draining today’s events of yesterday’s antecedents; an antipathy for historical contexts. Yet, a broader historical context is crucial to understanding the realities of poverty and political instability in that country today. The only analysis have I seen in the media so far that even attempts to provide such a historical context is Fareed Zakaria’s GPS on CNN (Below).
Beyond the media’s fixation with Haiti’s present history of corruption, poverty and political instability, is a long and brutal history of slavery, emancipation, exclusion, hostility, and foreign intervention. The legacies of these historical realities continue to shape the situation in that country today. We need to understand this past to be better able to help the people of Haiti move into a more promising future.
Sir Hilary Beckles, the pro-vice-chancellor and principal of the University of West Indies offers a historical perspective to the Haitian situation on in his article, “The Hate and the Quake”