Eight years later, Haiti is still taking hits.
In the heat of the moment, sometimes things get said that are regrettable. But we apologize. We try and learn something from the experience and then move on. Unfortunately, none of that has happened. As I sat in bed last night, rubbing my eyes, re-reading the Washington Post article quoting the US President, I was deeply saddened and hurt. Those are my friends he’s talking about. My colleagues. And in many respects, my family. The comment itself does not deserve repeating. And certainly doesn’t reflect the reality of the beautiful and proud countries undermined by it.
The comment was as harsh in content as it was in intent.
Although I do not often weigh in on political events, I felt compelled to do so here because the comment was hurtful on many levels. It was disrespectful to the American people, not worthy of the office of the President, and a slap in the face to all volunteers trying to improve the lives of those less fortunate. Mostly, it was a kick in the guts to my friends and colleagues in Haiti.
Once again hate and ignorance have been propelled to center stage. There is a danger of being lulled into a new sense of dull acceptance to some behaviors, but racially driven extreme comments about a low-income country like Haiti cannot be accepted with silence. Nor can it be accepted as simply a news story in another country.
The office of President of the United States, the office of Lincoln and Kennedy, used to represent a beacon of hope for people in trouble around the world. But elitist comments like that go against the very principles upon which America was born and built. This is not America. This is one person.
Today marks the 8th anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Port au Prince that killed over a quarter of a million people and left over one million people homeless. Devastation of epic proportions to a population of people already struggling to survive. During this time every year, my thoughts are with our Haitian colleagues and friends. I know they will be gathering as families in their homes and villages to remember and pay respect for those they lost. To remember that day in quiet respectful reflection.
There are so many in Haiti still that require so much, yet have so much to offer. Haitians are a beautiful, resilient and innovative people with a rich culture of hard work and sacrifice. The beauty of the people matched only by the beauty of the coastline and mountains. I’d challenge the President to go there and see it for himself. We all know that would never happen. Obama would have. Of course, Obama would never have been so nasty in the first place.
America was founded on a dream that all are created equal. That equality is balanced with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. People around the world, in the countries critiqued today deserve those same rights, that same pursuit so that they too can raise a family, contribute to society and make a meaningful difference in life. We all need to do our part to help them. Sometimes that requires a helping hand or the open arms of other nations.
I’ve heard the poem often quoted today, the one on the plaque near the Statue of Liberty that asks the world to “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” That golden door is opportunity, that lamp is hope.
We are all lucky to have been born where we were born and live where we live. Please do not take that for granted. Yes, we are privileged but that privilege should open our hearts, not close our minds. We must deepen our courage to resist sentiments like these so that we all may one day be able to breathe free.