The above chart, courtesy of GOOD (http://www.good.is/post/transparency-pakistan-vs-haiti-which-disaster-got-more-aid/) shows the disparities between donations following the disasters in Haiti and Pakistan. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti came first, in January of 2010, while Pakistan’s floods followed in July, so you might be able to chalk it up to a “first come first served, supplies are limited” kinda thing. Or it may have more to do with the fact that, while ~2,000 people died in Pakistan, upwards of 250,000 people died in Haiti’s earthquake. Still, the economic destruction visited upon Pakistan was great, and 21 million people were displaced. In all, a greater number of people were affected by the floods in Pakistan than by the earthquake in Haiti.
Some might attribute the differences in America’s response to religion, and the fact that Islam is probably one of the less popular faiths these days. Another reason might have to do with the pivotal role Pakistan in playing in Afghanistan, in sustaining the insurgency and providing a haven for extremists. However, I’d like to throw another possibility out there.
For much of U.S. history our nation has overlooked the active role many members of oppressed groups have taken in resisting their oppression. Ignoring and even erasing the efforts of many slaves and free blacks to better their political, economic and social standing has been a hallmark of American historians*. Even today we see this trend in the lack of acknowledgment for the Georgia prisoners who coordinated a nonviolent strike in December 2010.
This is a truly cynical theory, and I don’t necessarily believe it, but I wonder if we are subconsciously continuing this tradition. Perhaps, in an effort to bury the foundational slave revolt that took place in Haiti, Americans eagerly donated and clothed themselves as the saviors to a helpless nation. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have given, or that there aren’t other factors, but I think some in our nation delight in the sense of nobility that is attained when the strong stoop to help the weak. Throughout our history those who have sympathized with the oppressed have painted themselves as benevolent and their “allies” as feeble and in need of guidance and direction. So when the first nation born of a slave revolt looked to the world for help, America was ready to give.
*The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom by Steven Hahn is a great exploration of this issue.