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Does Haiti need Chelsea Clinton more than 100 surgeons?

Esther Armah | 4/12/2011, 5:32 p.m.

Does Haiti need Chelsea Clinton more than 100 surgeons?

By Esther Armah

I'm watching CNN; seeing images of traumatized children, dust-covered, eyes glazed and scared; from that to one where a white doctor handles a black patient. Cameras zoom in for close ups of gaping wounds, blood, gore, pain. Media images assault the senses with a barrage of black suffering, neither too graphic nor too horrifying for the intrusive, unapologetic lenses of CNN, NBC, ABC - the mainstream media list is long and relentless. I am exhausted, offended, outraged, but like you cannot turn away from these potent images. In 8 days, Haiti has been transformed into a whore, a media plantation, pimped by her own government, the media and that of the US. Haitian voices have been relegated to a supporting role, secondary to that of the hero anchor riding in, cameras at the ready, shutters clicking madly, as overflowing black suffering means news editors rubbing their hands with glee shouting that well known news media mantra: 'if it bleeds, it leads.'

How has the visual depiction of Haitians since this disaster shaped the average American's perspective is what I question and wonder? Are we watching a traumatized people become criminalized under our very gaze? Aren't we feeding the savior complex of the US courtesy of the cancer of cameras? This nation whose history is drenched in the blood of the defeated French after the Haitian revolution and a republic was founded carved by the hands of freed slaves in 1791. This unbowed, unbossed, unbroken people who paid a heavy price - literally - for their freedom. The French demanded and collected millions, and decades passed as underdevelopment of Haiti followed, a la Walter Rodney's 'How Europe Underdeveloped Africa'. A history unknown and untold by lenses and cameras trained on white doctors swooping in offering deliverance from black suffering.

I am a journalist who has worked in radio, television and print across continents. I am a daughter of the Diaspora who has done reportage in South Africa, covered political unrest in Kenya, filmed on the streets of Nigeria and I've always been struck by the white cameramen's lens trained only on black suffering, no matter the alternative images that are right in front of them. With Haiti, I am glued to the small screen, it swallows my sleep and my time with fresh new invasions on Haitians' dignity and another photo op with a white doctor prodding, poking black bodies. It is not simply that a picture paints a 1000 words, it is that it rewrites an entire history, reduces a people's humanity to the rubble that is scattered far and wide where buildings stood. It beggars belief and more than once prompted extremes of emotion. I stand in tears and then find myself wanting to scream at the TV as Anderson Cooper plays out his savior complex and assists a boy hit by a brick, and then helps a man protect a building filled with food that could feed the increasingly hungry and hurt people who grab at crumbs seeking to soothe a ravaging hunger and an unquenched thirst due to stockpiles of aid guarded by gun wielding military, who wear dark glasses, stomp about in fatigues and talk security, control and containment. Enter Pat Robertson, a former reverend no less; perched omnipotent and deadly articulating that 'Haiti is cursed due to a pact with a devil', a quote picked up and repeated all across the media, untrue but unchallenged, so devastating as it lands in homes all across America.