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I have not read the comments in response to Tertia's previous post but I have to say that I think it is fair to ask why the US does not do more for famine relief, when the US spends billions on waging war. There are no other countries in the world spending anything like this much on destruction.

But the reason they cannot spend billions on famine relief, is because famine relief redirects resources to the poor, rather than to George Bush and friends' wealthy cronies and thier war machine manufacturing empires. In general, as an non-American who possibly reads too much Chomsky, I think that US is not just set up to help the poor as slow as possible - it is set up not to help them at all.

Cat

I am an American. And, yes, sadly. I totally agree. I don't know how to change it, or if it is inherent in human nature to care more about yourself (or anyone who is just like you) than anyone else.

On a smaller scale, it is similar to how you feel about your own family. If you hear about a person who has come down with some terrible disease, you think, "oh, how sad." Maybe you help in some way, but you easily move on. But if it is someone in your family, one of your friends, it suddenly seems more real. More dire. You want to shout from the rooftops, "someone help them, please!"

I had issues with the coverage Katrina got that some people might think were "un-american". Within days of the hurricane, other people were dying in Iraq during a pilgramage, China during a typhoon. People are starving EVERY DAY in India, Africa, and cities throughout the country. Where is the press for those things? Where is the outpouring of support?

I think in some ways, Africa seems isolated from "developed" countries. It's a large continent, with so many people. But the money isn't there. The public relations aren't there. There aren't the millions of dollars spent on press, on advertisements, constantly reminding people about the troubles. And sadly, seeing someone's home in a pile of rubble might make for a more "exciting" news story than seeing a black child starving in some far off country.

In a similar way, the american press coverage of the blond, blue-eyed white girl missing in Aruba trumped angered me. It was on ALL THE TIME. At the same time, thousands of black and hispanic women had been missing for ages. And there was no mention of them at all.

I don't think I'm making any sense... All I can say is, I agree with you. I think it's terrible. I think there is an inherent interest in your own needs first. Maybe we're born that way. I can't say for sure. Talking about it, making people think about it might help them change their behaviors. But I fear if it will never completely change until the power shifts from the hands of one social class to another.

Hi Tertia, I too think the heirarchy exists, but I also think that in the states, the media often focuses on the wrong stories - celebrity news is king here. I think in some ways we're sheltered from the harsh realities because we don't get the full picture. For me, the change truly occurred after I recently became a mother. That doesn't mean that people without kids in general don't fully "get it" - that was just the situation in my case. When I saw a news piece on CBS Sunday morning about the famine in West Africa, the sight of mothers trying to comfort their starving babies nearly tore the heart out of me. I looked at my plump healthy son, and thought of how I would feel if there were nothing I could do to stop him from suffering. That sent me scrambling to donate to the cause, and I now pay much closer attention to such situations regardless of where they occur and to whom. But yes, the heirarchy exists, and likely will continue to. I wish I knew the answer to change it...

I think a hierarchy exists, but in part because we are experience based creatures. We understand, on all levels, our experiences, and those of the people around us. The more abstract it is, the more difficult to really understand. Thus here in the US, we can relate to our situations, our "people", if you will...but not so well to those outside our experiences. And yes, I expect it is the same the world over.

I also agree that a hierarchy exists, and that the American governments appalling lack of attention to Africa and it's suffering is...tragic. I am an American living in America and I can only speak for my view, but a lot of what we see, images from Africa, are of a genocide with one person killing another another. We rarely see the suffering that comes from the AIDS epidemic, or the general level of extreme poverty. When I do see it, it propells me to donate, but at the same time I feel that unless more people work harder to try and solve some of the problems, it's just like putting a bandaid over a gaping wound. It won't heal, it will just help for a little while.

In regards to civil unrest, we don't understand it, or know how to stop it, just as we have trouble understanding our own civil wars. Should America have intervened in Africa the way they did in Iraq? If we had, would Africans been glad for our actions or would they have been angry the way the rest of the world is angry about our being in the middle east?

I think that the U.S. has given up on Africa. There's a perception that due to violence, corruption, civil wars, warlords, etc., aid doesn't get to the people who need it.

In order to address problems like famine -- even with abundant help from other countries -- a country must have a transparent political system, a free press, and a relatively stable power structure. Look at India: it has drought, high population density, and many rural areas with little infrastructure, but in the last few generations, India has not suffered a devastating famine on the order of what one sees in Africa because they have a stable democracy and a fee press.

Because of that political transparency, aid doesn't wind up in the hands of a few thugs with guns.

Without truly representative government and free speech, African countries cannot distribute aid to the people who need it the most.

Does that mean that the U.S. should just give up? I don't know. But I do know that it's not a simple straightforward route to giving assistance to folks who need it when the distribution systems within the country are fraught with instability and corruption.

I just recently read Philip Gourevitch's "We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families," about the Rwandan genocide. Gourevitch persuasively argues that the U.N. assistance to Hutu refugees made things much worse. He also reviews Rwandan history and concludes that every western intervention, no matter how well-intentioned, tended to increase violence within the country.

This is not an excuse for American apathy. It's just that, I'm no longer confident that foreign intervention works in Africa. Gourevitch concludes that African countries must develop African solutions to their problems.

"In order to address problems like famine -- even with abundant help from other countries -- a country must have a transparent political system, a free press, and a relatively stable power structure."


Well Said Victoria.

I think it's more about money.
My husband is from the Philippines, where if you get sick you better hope you have some family overseas to help you pay for your medical bills.
And if you're starving, you better hope you are one of the lucky ones who finds a job..or, again, has generous family overseas.
Otherwise you die. And nobody cares. Because you don't have money.

No question there is a hierarchy. Much of it is just human nature.

I do more for my family than for acquaintances, more for neighbors than strangers, more for someone whose problems I identify with and understand than someone else whose problems confuse me.

I am more likely to help when I believe my money will actually change things. I am less likely to give when I suspect the money isn't going to be used effectively. Send money for Rose for her surgery? I know where it will go - cool! Send money to a charitable group where 90 cents on the dollar will pay administrative costs so they can do more fundraising or pad some fat cat's wallet? Nope.

Foreign aid is a tricky thing. People are becoming more wary about sending money to needy countries with cultures we don't understand and political regimes we can't control. We've seen it create more problems than it solves.

When people make choices about where to give, they are aware that the money for Africa may end up in some corrupt official's pocket. (I like the Heifer project, because it's somewhat graft-resistant) On a larger scale, if we knew that massive aid to Africa would relieve suffering and build a functional educational system, there would be more pressure on Western governments to act. Instead, people suspect that it might end up like Afghanistan - our resources used to arm corrupt officials, leaving the people we want to help worse off than before. No matter how rich and powerful the U.S. and other countries seem, they can't really take out a corrupt government in a foreign country and replace it with a fair and honest one. (We can't even seem to do that in our own government!)

I think those of us who "accept" the suffering of starving Africans do so from a sense of futility. I've followed the situation in Zimbabwe for the past few years and it makes me ill. And yet Mugabe is still in power. People are starving and impoverished when they don't need to be all for the sake of one man's ego.


I don't think it's just about money. It's skin color too. Mete is right -- the stories about the girl in Aruba, or Elizabeth Smart, really highlight this. And it makes me sad that when a girl of color goes missing, nobody seems to care. When thousands of black people in Louisiana and Missippi are flooded out, the government doesn't care. My husband and I ponder whether to adopt an African-American child if we want another, but I worry I'm too sensitive -- I don't know if I could take feeling like he or she was being dismissed -- or worse -- on account of skin color.

I didn't mean to be "that guy" seeming selfish, I was just wanting to say that it's a far cry from all roses and champagne in the USA.

This comment isn´t very focused I´m afraid, but hopefully a few of my points are understandable.

I hate to be a cynic...but of course heirarchy exists.
Despite all of our wonderful intentions, humans, it appears, are not wonderful creatures. We are selfish. And one of the first ways that evidences itself is in treating those who are like us well and those that are different badly. It comes out not just in skin colour. Villages 2 km apart here have different accents: they know then who´s foreign and who´s not and treat them differently. Children in school are horrific: much as I´m sure the children of every person who reads this is perfect, chances are they are either the aggressor or the "aggressed" on the playground, and we know how horrid girls can be to other girls without the right clothes, the right boyfriend.
We will always stamp other people down to push ourselves that little bit higher. THAT, I´m afraid, is humanity. Not niceness, not equality. If it was then communism would´ve worked.

Our modern enlightment is actually the reverse of it. Media, telling us it is portraying "the world" for our informed benefit, doesn´t. It gives a limited, biased view of the politics of its few owners. American media, and I´m afraid Australian now, shows virtually nothing outside its own borders, and then only the most American-positive (and Australian-positive) views. Case in point: The UN announced that Australia had the worst asylum-seeker conditions from a western country. This appeared in a small article on an inside page while the following day the front page was "Melbourne: the Multicultural City (aren´t we great!)". The public is being dumbed down, but are still thinking they can make an informed view of the world and it´s politics. That leads to morons being put in charge of powerful countries, and foreign policies being dictated by the few media and industry magnates that puppet these morons.

Someone once told me: 1000 deaths in a foreign country = 100 deaths in your country = 10 deaths in your city = 1 death in your street. Sadly, it appears to be true.

I agree with you T, and it was really hard to admit that to myself. In the last few weeks I've heard from quite a few people "well, people die everyday around the world and nobody pays attention", things like that. At first I'd get so angry and defensive, but I realize it's true. I don't know what to do about it, but it makes me sad.

It's icredibly simplistic to think that Africa's problems are caused merely by lack of money. Climate, political and economic instability, disease, cultural factors, small country size, ethnic/religious/tribal diversity, lack of natural resources, poor government and planning, sheer distance and other factors all conspire to render Africa a "black hole" of need - however much money is poured in the situation never seems to improve. Giving money to Katrina victims, I am confident that the situation will improve, NO will be rebuilt in some form, life will improve. I am yet to be convinced that giving money to Africa actually acheives any long term benefit. So, since it seems futile, constantly looking at it and worrying about it and bashing heads against proverbial brick walls is hard. It's a lot easier to dismiss it as a lost cause and move on - not because we're heartless, but because human nature doesn't like to constantly be failing - eventually we give up. That's not to say that it's right of course.

I can only speak for myself. I do not value one life over another. I value all lives. Do certain factions of society value certain lives other others? Absolutely and history supports this fact. It was true in Nazi Germany and it was true in Iraq when Hussein was in power.

I do not believe, though, that because some people value certain lives over others that it played a part in the response time to help victims of the hurricane. I believe that lack of leadership at the local and state level led to chaos and crime. Additionally, the Federal government was slow to respond when it became obvious that the state was unable to deal with the magnitude of the disaster.

Every American I have spoken to about the disaster in the Gulf states felt great sadness, disbelief, anger at the amount of suffering people had to go through and compassion for the victims. We were not intent on being politically correct when we discussed what was happening. We discussed the race issue. We discussed the poverty issue.

While I would love to see the problem of world hunger solved, I also have a mother that lives just below the poverty line in the U.S. I must help her before I help others. Funds are limited for most people - even in the U.S.

Tertia - I'm not sure that really answers your question. I hate to see anyone suffering. I have never looked at any person and thought, oh well, they are poor or of a different race and therefore deserve less.

Tertia, your post was 100% on-point. To me, the genocide in Darfur is the single worst thing going on in the world today, and what is America's government doing?

Now, mind you, I am an American--with family ties going back to Louisiana over six generations. And this hurricane, Darfur, *everything* just illustrates the same point to me: Black people are being ignored by the U.S. government. As an illustration, I know that when I say those things, my white skin will make this idea seem a lot more credible to a lot of people. And how sick is that?

Africa is not a developing continent. It is a continent that has been underdeveloped for centuries through the theft of natural resources and the exploitation of human beings. Have you read _How Europe Underdeveloped Africa_ by Walter Rodney? It explains the States' position relative to Africa better than anything else I've found. _Sankofa_, the idea of looking to the past to move forward, is something that's always on my mind here ... I don't think anyone can just look at what's going on today and say that it cropped up in a vacuum.

Anyone who wants to can go ahead and flame me. I've got my sticks and hot dogs and Fluffy Puff Marshmallows right here, and I ain't gonna do anything with those flames but roast some delicious weenies, lovah. Marshmallow? *chomp chomp*

I think people become deadend to need; ongoing hoplessness combined with on going controversy over misappropriation of funds that ARE being sent (google the current idi anan situation w/UN funding for africa, it will make your head swim w/accusations, clarifications and exonerations...)create a response of 'we can't fix this'.

and we are no better w/our own people.

katrina is heartbreaking and, unfortunately, i kinda hold that it was a race/economic thing.

hopelessness breeds hopelessness in response.

I unfortunately don't have time to read other's replies so I don't know if this has been brought up.

I generally have very little money to donate to anybody, but I do occasionally. And when I do, I would honestly rather donate to people like Rose than to a big charity. I do think it's awful that Africa and the problems there don't get enough press in the U.S., and I think that we should definitely be better educated about what's going on there. However, unfortunately from what I've heard in the news and from friends, donating aid to many countries over there can be a complete waste, as the aid is given by the charity not directly to the people, but some kind of government apparatus, which is corrupt, and very little food/medicine/aid actually reaches the hands of the people who need them. Many people who ARE "in the know" about what's going on in Africa are still against donations to these countries (not South Africa) because all it's doing is propping up these corrupt governments. I wish something could be done about that, but I don't believe in this whole seemingly "American" mentality of going into other countries and changing things we don't like, either.

What the people of Africa need immediately is aid, but long term there needs to be major changes in the way their communities are structured if there is ever to be successful emmancipation from the horrific poverty of their lives.

Im 36, and when I was a teenager, Africa had millions of people dying, I grew up with images of African children dying, and in Australia, African Aid has always been pushed on TV.

But what needs to happen is very complex. The governments need to give the people back their livelihoods. Cash crops DONT feed Families, they need to return to subsistance agriculture on a wide scale, in order to become free of the poverty that they are living.

What we can do for long term gain is make sure that we dont buy any of the cash crops that come from these countries.. for example, dont buy Lentils, Tea, etc that are grown in any African nation. In the short term it will probably be drastic, but in the long term it will destroy the major corporations who have bought out the African peoples lives and labour, and return them to a position where they are free to own their own villages, and grow many crops in order to feed their Families.. development of society and wealth can happen from this pooint.

I try to only buy Australian, it supports my country, and assured me that no people have been involved in modern slavery in order to produce what I eat.

There is an awesome show by Alexi Sale about this topic, about giving people back their lands so they can support their Families and communities, but I cant remember what its called.

I really believe in helping people help themselves, but the shackles of Western slavery HAVE to be broken.. we are consumers of the ugliest kind, destroying everything in our path, and its the little people like us who sit at the bottom of the chain and just accept it, thus perpetuating it and ensuring that it continues. We have to open our eyes to the depth of damage our consumeristic Western society is doing to this planet and its people. Its just so wrong.

(Sorry about spelling mistakes!.)

:)

Tertia, I think you are wonderful for wading so fearlessly into these things. You stir up some interesting conversations!

Sadly, I have to agree with you about the hierarchy thing. I wish it weren't so, but the evidence is overwhelming.

On the other hand, the outpouring in response to the tsunami - which affected mainly poor, brown people in the developing world - was just as huge as the response to Katrina.

Also I think one of the reasons Katrina touched such a chord is that it exposed the hierarchy of life right here in the US.

I totally agree with you that it seems like there is a complete lack of concern in the US about things that are going on in Africa. I don't claim to be the most worldly person, but I regularly watch the news and other news shows (i.e. 60 minutes, 48 hours, etc.) and there has been little to NO coverage of the suffering that is going on in Africa. Two weeks ago I saw a show about the people of Darfur and I was OUTRAGED!! There has been no coverage of it in the United States. We invaded Iraq when people still had homes and were not being raped, murdered and driven away because of their race. This is what is happening in Darfur and yet the US stands motionless. I just can not comprehend why these people seem so much less valuable that we would sit back and watch them live in tent cities as refugees rather than lift a finger to help them.

First, and we have only ourselves to blame for this, there is just so much ignorance in the US about the living and dieing conditions of others around the world. Honestly, how is it possible that the second or third news story on the local news is about a bit of celebrity? And the national news is not that much better. Most Americans are simply unaware of what is going on in the world, and fairly happy to be so. A sort of "ignorance is bliss". To find any information on global events (beyond those that directly effect us like "OIL PRICES RISING") you would have to actually put forth some effort and look for it...like, I don't know, reading a newspaper or something. I think that we are going to find very soon that we can't continue to live in the world this way, with our heads in the sand. For, unlike ostriches, we are aware that by our silence we are allowing this conditon to continue, that there is something, some people, some human beings, out there that we are missing, and it shames us daily (or it should) that we allow it to continue.
Second, as far as contributions go. I agree with what some others have said in that I have become extremely warry (sp?) and jaded about donating to big corporations or groups. There is a feeling that the money will not in fact go where it is meant to. I would much rather find a way to donate my time or in someway help more directly. For example, instead of donating money to the red cross we have decided to donate baby items directly to a family in need that we know of through a friend. I find I would rather send this family my $100 then to donate to a large organization. (not to speak ill of the red cross specifically, mind you). I want to help, I trust in others that thier desire to help thier fellow man is true, I just don't trust that it will always get there. It is the beuarcracy (wow I spelled that wrong) that I don't trust. Foreign aid send by other countries (or waiting to be sent) to help Katrina victims and because of red tape on our side it is not being unloaded? Come on! That kind of thing is not acceptable. In order for me to donate I need to know that it is going to do some good. I have faith in people, but I don't have much faith in the systems we have put in place.

Or, perhaps, believing that there is not a system in place for me to make change is just my own way of keeping my head burried? (Brought up by a friend of mine...good point.)

'How is it that we routinely accept a level of suffering and hopelessness in Africa that we would never accept in any other part of the world?'

Ah, I see your question now. But I have to say that I'm not sure we do "accept" it as I understand the word "accept". For example, I'm not sure the U.S. or any government organization can get aid to where it needs to go. I'm more sure that NGOs can get the aid to where it needs to go, so I'm personally more fired up about sending money to organizations I have researched and feel actually make a difference than I am fired up about lobbying my government to give more aid. Does that mean I "accept" the suffering? I don't think so. I do a part to try to help. I don't want thanks or begging--I see how bad it is for Africans.

Still, I won't bash my government in broad strokes and say I'm ashamed to be American. I'm not. Is the opposite of "accept" that we must talk badly of our government, moan about it, and try to vote people into power who will "give more aid"? Perhaps the REAL effective opposite of "accept" is that we do our personal part to raise more money and raise awareness in our own social circle, so that this money can be given to organizations that actually get the job done?

I have no answer for you, but I know what the answer I have come to in my head is.

You are absolutely right about people accepting suffering in Africa that wouldn't be accepted elsewhere. And there is most certainly a "that's not us, that's them" attitude surrounding it. I've talked about this with some people before...that it would take an alien invasion (bear with me here) to change that hierarchical way of thinking. That is, I'm afraid we'd need some kind of outside force to compel us to band together and really see ourselves as a human family, rather than groups separated by color/nationality/what have you. Or such is my (cynical) take on things.

What was appalling about Katrina for me was that we (in the U.S.) had the means to save so many more people, and didn't. Just as I believe that if something like that occurs somewhere else, it is our obligation to help out--and we should be angry if it doesn't happen. Count me in among those who say that those who have the means to help, should.

What I hope is that something like the Internet can help address some of these problems...that if people start turning toward alternative sources of news (rather than being dependent on big corporate media outlets to tell us what's important) there would be a level of awareness that's lacking at present. But that still means that you have to care enough to go out looking for info...so all we can do is try to teach our children/students/etc. to care what happens in the world, I guess.

(sorry so scattered!)

Have enjoyed reading all the comments. Very enlightening indeed.

Slightly off topic but sort of related is my response to the disaster in the Gulf. I am sickened that nothing was done BEFORE the tragic events. A country so rich and so willing to spend billions on WAR needs to get its priorities straight.

I am happy and very proud that Canada is helping and have personally made a small contribution to the fundraising effort but have to admit I did more for the unfortunate people in Asia after the Tsnumi.

In my humble opinion the government of the US needs to put away its guns and start taking better care of its own. Black, white, yellow or purple dammit.

T,

Yeah, unfortunately a bunch of the responses on your last post were knee-jerk reactions of people feeling defensive about their country. It happens, I guess, but you would hope that at least on the internet, where you have to TYPE out your replies, you would get more people thinking things through before they type them, rather than in actual conversation where often the first thing to mind is blurted right out without thought.

I did find your post intriguing, and sad in a good way. Thanks for making me think (as always!)

=)
~heather

It's not a hierarchy. The world loves accusing the US of being racist no one is more racist than the Africans themselves.

It's simply that we are used to seeing suffering in Africa, sadly enough. When there is a bomb in Israel we read it in the paper and say, "how sad" when there are bombs in London or Madrid we freak out that's the sad truth of human nature.

Perhaps two separate issues? If Katrina descended on places like NY or LA etc - would the government response have been the same? If yes, then the government was just slack, if no, you have to ask yourself why the discrepancy? (which is what Tertia rightly did)

As for Africa (being African myself) - one has to ask what the African leaders are doing for their own people...? They have not inspired confidence in the past. The question is, is it the G8's responsibility to 1) keep giving money (which we know doesn't quite work the way we hoped), 2) get rid of the dictators etc (which is a dangerous mandate to have) or rather 3) free up trade regulations - and offer expertise to these countries instead..?

Yes, there are people dying today, but is that due to wrong policy decisions in the past and lack of planning and vision? Are we/they reaping what we/they sowed?

As someone has already mentioned - Africa's problems are complex, but we have to start looking at the puzzle pieces one by one - and formulate a better assistance program (than just throwing money at the charities - which will desensitize us to the bigger problems.)

Don't have the answers - but I know guilt and knee-jerks are not solutions.

Hi, I liked your post. I think that like many people are saying that there isn't a hierarchy of humans about who is more valued, at least not consciously. I think it is hard to move people to action unless they can relate in some way. It may be a horrible tragic thing but people are just not moved unless they can touch and feel it themselves. I’m a missionary from America working in Asia (Taiwan, Cambodia, Thailand…) Part of being a missionary is fundraising for your support so you can have money not only to bless the countries that you are going into but so you yourself can eat and have a roof over yourself. I’m never ceased to be amazed at how hard it is to move people to action, even people that should be on the same page as you. I’ve found that the thing people can best relate to and better grasp is when you share specific stories about specific people. When that happens they can start to relate and be more willing to help. If all they hear is the vast story they can’t grasp it, its just too big, thus they turn apathetic.
For instance, infertility. Why are people not understanding, or just downright mean at times? Why aren’t they empathetic? Because it is foreign to them. They have never experienced it themselves so they just don’t understand.
I don’t know, these are just my ramblings and thoughts.

Just out of interest, how many black people read this blog? In the US or anywhere else? I'm just interested because I have yet to come across a blog written by a black person, and I don't know enough about the US to understand why that might be (I'm saying that because I know that the majority of Tertia's readers are US based, that's all). No real reason for asking, either, I'm just curious.

Of course there's a hierarchy. Look around.

If your mother (or brother or husband or child etc.)got very ill and needed medication they would die without, how far would you go to get it for them? Would you sell your house to pay for the medications? How much would you sacrifice? Now ask yourself, would you sacrifice these same things for a person you had never met or laid eyes on, living on the other side of the world? If your answer is no (and if it isn't no, list all your stuff on eBay and buy that plane ticket to Africa NOW) then...there's a hierarchy. I've illustrated it bluntly, but the larger truth applies: we humans prioritize suffering, and the ranking goes, roughly: ourselves/our children, our family, our friends, our neighbours, the people who live in our town, our country and only then people in other countries.

The challenge - for *every* human being, rich poor, black, white, is to face up to this unconscious hierarchy (I don't think people are being deliberately evil) and to make a moral decision. Will we help? Or will we make excuses?

Defensive Americans, calm down. Tertia specifically said she wasn't singling America out. Keep it up and we're gonna start thinking a certain country doth protest too much.

I am an Australian and I know very few people who have donated to Hurricane Katrina or really after September 11. I do know the donations everyone was racing to make after the Tsunami and know many who do the 40 hour famine, sponsor children, give money donations to the Red Cross aid programs etc. at Christmas.

I think there is an assumption here that we don't need to financially help out the Americans with donations, but are happy to support in other ways like defence, offering services or whatever.

I will admit I personally haven't donated after Hurricane Katrina but my heart goes out to them. It actually hadn't crossed my mind as I haven't seen a lot of appeals etc.

There is a hierarchy in everything, there is one here as well. I mean, even chicken an toddlers sort out pretty fast who is the worthiest, anyone who thinks otherwise is trying to live behind rosy glasses. Unerstandable perhaps, but not very connected to reality. Empathy isn't universal and it needs some common denominators to be activated. And sometimes, sadly, empathy is not the best-serving social tool and is therefore not employed. It can be a bloody pain to be so understanding so often. On a macro level, it's evolutionarily suicidal; on a micro one, it makes life harder to bear.

No one talks abt Darfur and yet... And I never really heard the world express his concerns re Wast Timor even though the Indonesians slaughtered 2/3 of the entire population, and that went on for decades. I don't often hear the world, period, and we have become desensitised and used to certain sorts of suffering. Black people suffering, so far below the poverty level you can barely see them? THERE'S a novelty, yes. Schocker. It's the suffering that is out of the box that jolts us the most and that's when we all jump up and wring our hands and say "No more!" And it lasts for a tiny bit. How many of your readers give blood on a regular basis? Anyone can do it, it's once every 3-4 months, no money needs to be spent, it doesn't last that long. Give me a big, juicy tragedy and there will be so much blood flowing doctors will start sending people back. Let some time elapse and blood banks will be depleted, as usual.

But also, there's nothing new abt corruption - and a lot of the things and money donated to poorer countries, and African countries unfortunately figure prominently here, is used for personal gain and loads of the stuff sometimes doesn't even make it to the people. The very countries we are trying to help are guilty to some extent - and poverty breeds corruption so it's bound to be a high one - of perpetuating their own misery.

Personally, I'd always dreamt of going to N. Orleans, it was even being considered for a honeymoon, it was a city w a magic that was clear even through the telly. So for me there is that sense of "Now I'll never." But do you know, what I find astonishing is that there were a lot of tragedies just now and what have we done to help the victims of all of them? Not a thing. Katrina seems to be the one thing that touched us collectively, make bcs it broke the mold - and it happened in America, of course. The world is not in an uproar to send more fire-fighting aeroplanes and the likes to help Portugal bfr we go up in flames entirely, bfr the whole country is wiped out from the map. See? We're small potatoes and even if publicised, we wouldn't receive a lot of help. Humans are picky, voyeuristic and like to have their psyches entertained. It takes the extra note of horror - get that and you get the extra money.

I think that the lack of interest has got a lot to do with complacency by both the public and the media. It's happening "over there" and not in my backyard and your commercial primetime news isn't showing it so it's not in your face. Here in Australia I have seen reporting of the situation in Darfur but mainly on the ABC and SBS which are not popular commercial stations.

Another issue is that the problems seem so huge and insurmountable. I remember reading about a charity who wanted to raise money for starving children in Africa. When they ran ads showing hundreds of dying children they didn't get a huge response but when they ran an ad saying "help this child" they got an enormous response. We have a sponsor child in Africa and one of the reasons is so that we can help a child and a village and it feels more personal.

What needs to be done in Africa to solve the problems? I almost hate to see our government put it's hands into another part of the world's affairs. I think the last time we SUCCESSFULLY did that was World War II. Look at Iraq, Vietnam, etc...

Tertia, this is the first time I've commented on your blog, and I think it is brave of you to point us all to ask these questions of ourselves. I read your post as an nudge to look inward and ask ourselves if each of us might be playing an individual role in the institutional hierarchy that absolutely, undoubtedly exists.

In the past week or so, I've been noticing things in myself that make me stop and think. For one - I have had fleeting thoughts of "why didn't people leave before the hurricane came?" and then shamed myself seconds later upon recalling the many reasons for why this happened.

I also noticed that my reaction to the tsunami versus Katrina were different. I happened to be in India when the tsunami struck and I was overwhelmed by the tragedy. I wanted to go help in any way I could. I wanted to load or unload trucks of supplies or anything that would be helpful. I donated money as soon as I found the first internet connection I could. I donated money at the church down the street that was collecting.

On the other hand, with Katrina, I noticed much less of a shock within myself, I felt more calloused. Why? I don't know. I don't like it. The people of New Orleans are my own countrymen, but in some ways I feel less connected to them than I did to the fishermen in India.

There *is* a deep divide in our country, and it is one that we are reticent to acknowledge. It makes me sad. People talk about how they are enraged at the lack of response to this tragedy and how it is so blatantly related to color and class (I myself can be counted in this category - I have railed on about it countless times in the last weeks). It is true and something must be done to change the hierarchy which exists in our society and across the world.

Yet what I appreciate so much about your post is the suggestion to look inside myself and to notice that I myself have some of the same biases and prejudices that I blame others for.

I don't know how to bridge the huge divide within our country and beyond - between colors, between classes, between nations; but somehow I do know that in order to begin, we each must examine our own selves and act to change within.

Thank you for the prompt.

When I was a very little girl, I remember being heartbroken, seeing the suffering children (in Ethopia) on TV. It was then that I decided I wanted to adopt at least one child when I grew up (simplistic, I know, and not really a "solution" to the problem at hand). I wished I could scoop the child(ren) off the TV, bring them into my home, and care for them properly. If each of us TRULY had that opportunity (or something similarly personal), don't you think we could offer more effective aid?

Now, I realize that REMOVING children/families from their country of origin has its own downfall - please don't berate me for the suggestion - I'm only trying to make a point.

I think that many of us feel so HELPLESS to offer CONCRETE aid to those suffering in other countries, because they are geographically so far removed. What I gleaned from other comments is a similar sentiment - it's not necessarily a racial/socioeconomic divide, as it is a physical (thus emotional) separation.

In part, I think cynicism comes into play. Let me illustrate. I am ALL OVER offering aid to folks displaced to our town from Hurricane Katrina. These people have a very real need, and I am able to offer very real assistance. Yet I regularly pass "homeless" people in town, holding up signs asking for money, without opening my wallet. Why? Because the cynic in me questions how the money will be used. I think that's part of the problem (well, MINE, at least) with offering aid to foreign countries. The only way I know to channel my cash is through organizations. And what "proof" do I have that it's really HELPING those who are suffering??

So, to me at least, it's not about a heirarchy based upon skin colour, or country of origin. If I thought there was a very real, very helpful way I could offer assistance to those suffering in other countries (i.e. 100% of my cash/goods being used for the INTENDED PURPOSE), I'd do it in a heartbeat. Doesn't matter one iota to me what the person looks like, etc.

Thought-provoking post(s), Tertia. DH and I were discussing the topic yesterday, thanks to your blog.

I don't know why everyone is so quick to discount charitable organizations. Firstly, its not that difficult to find out if they are legitimate or not. And we can always donate to the big ones, like Doctors without Borders, who do a lot of good work in Africa.

Also, charities can stretch your dollar (or other monetary unit) a lot farther than you could on your own. They don't pay taxes, they buy in bulk, etc. Plus, with combined donations, they can accomplish things no one person could alone.

This "Its out of our hands!" mentality is part of the problem.


Tertia - whatever your aim, the previous post appeared to request comments regarding why "America" does not do more for those less fortunate, along with other issues.

I do believe we have very serious race and class issues here. In fact, I sit on the executive board of a not-for- profit that works with these issues and I do anti-bias, anti-prejudice trainings in schools and workplaces. It is good to work with the good people of this country on these issues.

I have travelled alot and lived for brief periods in the Netherlands and in Israel-some people love us, some hate us, many mock us. I have been verbally attacked more than once by Europeans in bars for U.S. policy or actions that I too disagree with, and I knew many U.S. citizens who put Canadian maple leaves on their packs so they would not be accousted.

No, as a country, we do not pay enough attention to the world. We are very isolated over here. Unlike living in the Netherlands where you live just a few hours from French and German speakers-we live far from people of other countries. This does not mean we should not be aware of the world - we should be. It just means that it is harder for U.S. citizens then others to gain the knowledge of other cultures. We know more about Texas and California than about Africa - we probably have relatives in Texas or California-or have travelled there - most of us do not know people in Africa. Again, that does not mean we should not care about those people, it just means it is harder to relate to and understand the daily struggles of people there - because they are so different and far removed from our struggles here.

Also, most people in the U.S. cannot afford to travel abroad, or do the extensive traveling necessary to truly appreciate another culture.

And yes, my country, to my disdain, has a superiority complex - perhaps b/c we are the only super power left. Does that give us some moral obligations - I believe it certainly does, lots of them. Do I believe we do everything we should for other countries-not by a long shot.

Yes, countries like the Netherlands have higher taxes and more governmental benefits for all, however, the Netherlands is 1/3 the size of Indiana and much more homogeneous - I'd say it is a little easier to govern.

Finally, our system of government does not work well for helping other countries. I wish we could find a way to fix this. Our elected officials are elected to work for the states they are elected from - not to work for Africa. If they concentrate on Africa (or any other poor country) then they risk not spending time working for their constituency and not being re-elected.

This being said, I would never want my DD to lose her U.S. passport. As a Jew, I know that this is the country where, at the end of the day, we are most likely to be protected as a minority. Perhaps that is why the rest of the world either loves us or hates us - they want the protection of the U.S. and they wish they did not have to have it.

To the first comment by "cat" - Damn, you hit that right on. I can't say it any better.

The only change I might have made would be that it would redirect money from the pockets of the politicians who are constantly upping their ginormous salaries. It isn't just the Resident Shrub, it's his cronies and the rest of the politicians who don't care (I'm sure there are a few politicians who have managed to make it and still care, but I'm not holding my breath)

I think it is human nature to care more for those you see/relate to than those you can't. For instance, my husband and I have a charitable goal for each month. At the beginning of the year, we sit down and pick our charities for the year, and then we give to each of them or a relatively equal basis. We tend to choose charities with which we have some kind of connection : for instance, cancer/diabetes research because of my father-in-law, local museums because the arts are important to us, the local food bank because we want to feed those in our community. After you give to these organizations, there's only so much money left! We do give to the Red Cross since they are often the first responders to the world's disasters, but beyond that, what can we do? Do you take care of the world's problems before your own? After Katrina it is clear that poverty is still very much alive in America. Do we give to the African poor and ignore our own? I'm asking because I just don't know.

I think if each of us gave to the causes that had most relevance to us, then hopefully most of the world's needs would be taken care of. I know there's a great disparity between rich and poor in your country, but wouldn't the rich be giving to the poor of Africa? And so, shouldn't the rich (or VERY middle class in our case!) of America be giving to our own poor? If we stop and think about all the need in this world, then a lot of us would have to start feeling guilty for applying any money towards ART when there are so many needy children that require homes. Should we feel guilty about that? I don't think so.

This is a tough question, but as an anthropologist and an archaeologist I have to say it is NOT a new one! Even though there are starving people all over the world right this very minute, I can honestly say that there are fewer starving in the world today than there were 100 years ago, 500 years ago, or 5000 years ago (as a % of total population). Hopefully, over time, our world will become much more equal and unnecessary suffering will become a thing of the past.

Africa doesn't care about Africa. It is that simple.

$ directed to help the starving is diverted to the pockets of corrupt gov. officials. I hear time and again about murders, genocide, starvation, AIDS and a host of other terrible things done to the people of your beautiful country.

It sickens me, It breaks my heart to see a woman sitting under a thorn tree nursing her own baby AND her sisters baby, pleading to someone to help her because she doesn't have enough milk to feed them both, so one of them will have to do without. Sohia's Choice

I belong to a group of women -- we meet monthly and decide on a given area of interest, and then narrow it down each month until we finally have a specific non-profit group. We each have donated a set amount to the pot each month, and by the time we are ready to donate (once a year) it's a nice chunk of change. It's nice to do it this way because you feel like you are making a bigger impact.
The point I wanted to make is that we have done this for 5 years now; and we always end up donating toward a charity that is close to home in some way (locally close, or emotionally close because of personal experiences). I think it is true what people have been commenting -- you tend first to think of those people near you -- it's human nature to do it. That doesn't make it any sadder when you see the tragedies happening all over Africa.
I have individually donated to charities that are specific to Africa in the past, and will continue to do so, but I do get discouraged sometimes and feel like it's an exercise in futility, because of doubts about how much of my money ends up directly helping the affected people, and how much change I feel is going to happen where they live, in order to get rid of the root cause of their suffering.
So to answer the question -- 'How is it that we routinely accept a level of suffering and hopelessness in Africa that we would never accept in any other part of the world?' I think it has to do with how far away we are from the suffering, and how much we feel our donation will do good, in the end.

Good lord -- so many interesting comments. I agree with everybody, oddly enough. I think there's truth in everything that's been said so far. Thanks for bringing this up, Tertia, and getting me thinking.

I have nothing to add except this: One commenter said, "No matter how rich and powerful the U.S. and other countries seem, they can't really take out a corrupt government in a foreign country and replace it with a fair and honest one." In sum, I think this is absolutely true. I think the US gov't thinks it CAN do this job, though. We've got a long, long history of botched "nation-building." (I'm thinking particularly of Latin America in the 70s and 80s, but there are plenty of other examples, too.) Yet we never seem to learn a thing from our failures.

Lol - you were tempted to tell Americans to keep their money if it pains us, but you won't? Terita, I think you did!

What occurs inside me when I hear about such tragedies? Personally, my instinct is just to go down there and help, race doesn't even come to mind - I just want to help. I picture my own sweet little boy who could be one of the kids who was separated from their parents and my heart just goes out to them. It becomes overwhelming if I think about it too much.

Sorry, I hit 'post' by accident and did not finish my comment.

.....Sophies Choice....but it isnt a movie. It made the front page of our tiny towns newspaper, and the photo of that woman and those babies haunts me. I cried across the breakfast table to my husband as I nursed my child, "Let's find her. I have milk for the baby." But the enormity of it all, what can I say, it was not possible.

I don't think anyone "routinely accepts a level of suffering and hopelessness in Africa that we would never accept in any other part of the world". I think the problem in Africa is so darn big, that anything we do to help is never going to be enough, especially when the funds are not used to help the people, but to line the pockets of government officials and such. It is a never ending and continuous problem that money is not going to fix. It is a governmental, policy issue in Africa itself.

And as for people not caring enough. hmm. How about Rotary International? This is a group who has helped erradicate polio from the western hemishere. They are trying to do the same in Africa, except, you know what? The African GOVERNMENT spread a rumor that the white men were using the vacine to sterilize black African men. So guess what, no one got immunized and polio is RAGING there.

We are trying, Tertia. Trying so hard. But it is like pouring water on a giant sponge. But we wont give up, and we have not forgotten about your beautiful people.

I know that I STILL think about that woman and those babies. I can't get the image out of my head. So I do my best. I donate to Lutheran World relief and the Rotary. And I cry. Because, dammitall, we do care. We are not heartless bigots. Americans on the most part are loving, thoughtful people, and that love goes beyond ethnic or racial walls that others may build up.

And one more thing, I stood up and applauded when apartheid was abolished. I remember it well. South Africans oppressed their own people and it was the pressure from outside nations, including the US that helped lead your country to an end to segregation at its worst.

"Despite public demonstrations, UN resolutions, and opposition from international religious societies, apartheid was applied with increased rigor in the 1960s. In 1961 South Africa withdrew from the Commonwealth of Nations rather than yield to pressure over its racial policies, and in the same year the three South African denominations of the Dutch Reformed Church left the World Council of Churches rather than abandon apartheid. Although the policy of apartheid was continued under Prime Minister John Vorster, there was some relaxation of its pettier aspects, and this accelerated under his successor, P. W. Botha.

Probably the most forceful pressures, both internal and external, eroding the barriers of apartheid were economic. International sanctions severely affected the South African economy, raising the cost of necessities, cutting investment, even forcing many American corporations to disinvest, for example, or, under the Sullivan Rules, to employ without discrimination. In addition, the severe shortage of skilled labor led to lifting limits on African wages, and granting Africans the right to strike and organize unions. Unions, churches, and students organized protests throughout the 1970s and 80s. Moreover, political, economic, and military pressures were exerted by the independent countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

As a result of these pressures, many lesser apartheid laws–such as those banning interracial marriage and segregating facilities–were repealed or fell into disuse by 1990. In 1991 President de Klerk obtained the repeal of the remaining apartheid laws and called for the drafting of a new constitution. In 1993 a multiracial, multiparty transitional government was approved, and fully free elections were held in 1994, which gave majority representation to the African National Congress."

Sorry for being so long winded.

I HATE it that Americans always play the race card and blame that for our problems... What a load of B.S.!!!
The reason Natalie Holloway was on t.v. so much was b/c the son of a judge was linked to her mysterious disapperance and that is the type of news that gets people's attention... just like Elizabeth Smart being taken right in front of her sister from her very own bedroom in a very nice, safe suburb... just doesn't normally happen, so, again, it was interesting, and unusual the way it happened.
These stories had nothing to do with the color of skin. If both of these situations had happened to black girls they too would have been plastered all over the t.v.
When will Americans stop playing the race card and using it as an excuse?????
Yes, of course, there is a hierarchy, but, we create it ourselves by feeling more compelled to help those we know and love than strangers. There is not a hierarcy merely b/c of color of skin.
George Bush helps his buddies and Al Sharpton helps his... Lest we forget Tawana Brawley...

" I don’t know. In my uneducated, inexperienced opinion, it just feels as if, somehow, there is a hierarchy attached to the value of life. And that at the bottom of the pile are people that are either / or poorer, blacker, Non-American, developing world, African."

To me, this statement shows me that you were singling out Americans.

I have to admit that I felt guilty after I posted my last comment because I thought to myself that maybe I wasn't answering the question, and I probably wasn't.

In answer to your real question (albeit a few days late) I think two issues are a defeatist attitude and politics. Regarding the first, well, harsh as it may sound, people wonder why aid has be given continually and on a higher level as time goes by. Perhaps this is a western and/or American point of view, but I think it's a psychological barrier. In the Western world, if you have a plan and implement that plan, the plan is supposed to work and the problem is supposed to be solved. There is not a mindset that your plan may be a drop in the bucket of what is needed for a long-term solution.

Second, hunger is a political issue. Someone mentioned Sudan and why hasn't the US done more there. I was just watching a program on CNN or BBC where they mentioned that China blocked US efforts at the UN to sanction Sudan. A few years ago Europe exhorted African countries not to accept US grains that had been biologically enhanced (I don't like Frankenfood, so ok, but that means people starve). Look at Zimbabwe. Look at Somalia. I realize the most immediate crisis right now is in Niger. I heard a report this morning on BBC where they admitted that getting food to people is a problem because of transportation. Not that they didn't have food, but getting it to people was an issue. They didn't elaborate. In short, the issue does not really seem to be obtaining enough money to get food, but implementing the delivery in a timely manner.

In your last post someone mentioned all the US and European meddling in Africa over the last several hundred years. All that is true of course, but what do we do now in countries where dictatorships prevail and bribery is a way of life?

I don't think people accept suffering in Africa as much as they don't know how to really ensure help reaches the needy. And I don't think it's fair to let the higher classes in the countries where people are starving off the hook. In the midst of the coverage in Niger there have been countless reports of vendors selling plenty of food in the major marketplaces while people starved next to them. That tells me that hunger in Africa is not a problem that can be solved by donations alone.

I have a thought..could it be that this is not about hierarchy? Katrina decimated a part of a nation always considered to be in pretty good shape (let's not go into too much detail here, we all know there is poverty everywhere, I am generalizing) So when there was a natural disaster, this brought attention and public empathy to this part of the world. With Africa, there is such overwhelming poverty, but it is stagnent, and continuous. The edge of the immediacy in the drama has been blunted. I am not saying people don't care, but the sensationalism is what whips people into a helping frenzy. Do you think that in a few months people will be as interested in the hurricane victims? This is not my emotion, but a stark look at humanitarianism that I have objectively noticed.


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