Picture this: being a parent of two children and having your roof blown off with nowhere to go. You spend hours in the rain and confront 130 mph winds without any shelter until days later.
That was the experience of 35-year-old Tuman Saint-Plux, whose two-room house is now without a roof as he tends to his fever-stricken young daughter in a shelter. Saint-Plux represents one of countless Haitian families that have been devastated by Hurricane Matthew.
Reports are coming in that the death toll of Haitians impacted by the fatal natural disaster could be close to a thousand, with American numbers under 30. And while media outlets cling to disgusting stereotypes about Haitian culture and its people, the rest of the world has turned its back.
Last week when tragic stories were coming in, I took to social media to call out why none of these publications were doing anything about raising awareness.
I described this lapse in judgment as “racial bias” because for far too long companies like Facebook would create an optional filter to describe other major worldly tragedies, such as last year’s terror attacks in Paris, but not those impacting Black people. The largest social media platform has been criticized about this in the past, but the excuses tend to be blamed on their algorithm. And that algorithm just might be their lack of visible concern for Black lives faced with trauma.
The same can be said about how hashtags have come to erase the impact Hurricane Matthew had on international Black lives. The hashtag #PrayForFlorida surfaced on Twitter prior to the storm hitting the state and began trending — the shift of the conversation nearly dismissed the more pressing effects the storm had on Haiti.
It’s been disheartening to see Black people on my timeline basically have to download a Haitian flag image and make it their Facebook profile picture in order to show their solidarity. It feels as though the Black experience is always an afterthought in a tech industry that has very few of us in representation.
Outside of social media neglect, one would think a current major disaster would find its way in last Sunday’s presidential debate. It didn’t, except for talks of how it would impact their preparation and Americans. Listening to the debate, there was no conversation about how the candidates would find more sensible ways of aiding Haiti outside of recommending the problematic support from the American Red Cross.
Instead we got more talk of how Trump was going to enforce law and order for “the African-Americans,” and Clinton opting to side step the intersectionality of her views on Black Americans. In fact, there was no conversation that captured mainstream media’s attention this past weekend other than another example of Trump’s sexism. In other words, anything but Haiti mattered in America this week — and that’s a shame.
Overall, celebrities have not shown any strong outpouring of compassion for Haiti in the same way they did for such international tragedies such as Charlie Hebdo in 2015, the 2011 Japanese tsunami, and several others. And while the Haiti earthquake was one of the deadliest in recorded history, public attention shouldn’t switch now like it didn’t for Paris.
It’s become very obvious that Black lives are only worth the consideration of mattering when they are American, noteworthy, or respectable. Because most of us have never been to Haiti or haven’t seen it glamorized like tourist destinations that are more Euro-centric — our attention span and interest in the region falls flat.
At this point, no other excuse can be made for society’s lack of attention to Haiti, except that this is yet another sign of its refusal to acknowledge international Black trauma. As a community, Blacks should be lifting the voice and visibility of those around us. What’s happening right now to Haiti isn’t any different from the neglect faced during Hurricane Katrina. It’s our duty to be our brothers and sisters’ keeper when the rest of the world isn’t.
Pray for Haiti, Tuman Saint-Plux , and others like him, and don’t leave them behind.
Originally from Chicago, Ernest Owens is an award-winning multimedia journalist and editor for Philadelphia Magazine's G Philly. His work has been featured in USA Today, The Huffington Post, The Advocate, Metro US, and other media outlets. Later this year, the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists will be awarding Owens their prestigious Trailblazer Award for his innovative, barrier-breaking contributions to media. A graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, he is currently producing and starring in his own television talk show, ErnestlySpeaking!, at Philadelphia Community Access Media, where he is the youngest television host to have a talk show in Philadelphia.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
(Photo: AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)