It’s Not About You: A Response to Haiti Apathy

It's Not About You: A Response to Haiti Apathy

Jaime Coyne

I was proud to see the Colgate community’s collective reaction to the crisis in Haiti. With the school year barely begun, a benefit concert was put together. Groups from all over campus seemed to be involved – at least, I received an e-mail from practically every organization I am involved in encouraging its members to go to the concert. And even though the temperature was well below zero that day, people did. Forty acts volunteered to perform. It was amazing to see everyone from the staple Colgate bands to young prodigy piano players participate. There was about an hour-long damper in which an apparently famous Iroquois woman name-dropped, promoted her failed blockbuster and offered to sign autographs, but that was the only excruciatingly long moment in which it felt like someone’s motives were out of place.

I’ll admit, I was proud of our community, but I was surprised. I don’t generally envision our campus rising to action. Last year’s protests against racism at Colgate were only instigated because of the racist graffiti on a bathroom wall, and they were short-lived. We had racism before and we still have it now, but it takes a hate crime to move us into action. As was brought up at the time of the graffiti, a similar crime against homosexual students was committed shortly before that, and no one did anything. Obviously raising money is an easier goal than working toward fixing a societal problem. But with either objective in mind, it takes someone stepping up and doing something to accomplish anything. So it gave me greater faith in our community to watch the benefit concert come together.

And then I sat down to copy edit the Commentary section of the Maroon-News. Reading Kelsey Harbord’s article, “Helping Haiti: Do I Have to?” I was disgusted. Her article complains that fundraising techniques for disasters such as Haiti ruin the peace and quiet of her life, forcing her to feel guilty when she doesn’t want to. She says, “These days, you can’t even sit through an entire episode of anything on TV without being forced to witness Haitian children die under broken buildings and fallen concrete.”

How a person can complain that the deaths of children are ruining her enjoyment of Jersey Shore is beyond me. No, it isn’t fun to see those commercials, but they are run as an effort to save lives. We have the privilege of being able to sit in our houses with the heat blasting while we watch TV for hours so, yeah, the Red Cross and all those other naggers are hoping we’ll help the people dying of exposure in Haiti instead of sighing and changing the channel (but we still have the ability to change the channel, fyi).

Harbord also fears that once those pesky “Help Haiti Now!” Facebook notifications are on her wall, she’s “never going to forget that ashen face.” I can only imagine that it would be slightly more traumatizing if, instead of clicking “ignore” on these notifications between accepting Farmville gifts, a person were actually standing over the dead bodies of loved ones. But I hope that suggestion doesn’t upset anyone. She goes on to say, “why send the trauma further around the world? Raise awareness, and maybe show the public a couple of pictures, but eventually everyone will already be somewhat aware.” But this is where Harbord goes beyond selfishness to the root of our problem with helping the less fortunate. We may not always be “aware” of everything, but we’re also apathetic and find it easier to do nothing and focus on our own lives. Awareness can only get you so far. It’s vital to these fundraising efforts that you make people care, get them emotional, do whatever you can – because otherwise a majority of them will do nothing. These organizations always need far more support than they have, so why would they sit quietly and wait for the few, most aware and caring donors to step forward?

As much as Harbord may not like the sadness and guilt of advertisements for Haiti – and I can’t stress this enough – it’s not about you. It’s about saving lives. And it should make you uncomfortable. It’s a dire situation, and yes, you’re absolutely right, we have an obligation as a better-off society to help. Harbord condemns these fundraising organizations because, “in the end, that’s all [they] want: your money.” She argues that we should only be donating to them if we really want to, because otherwise we’re doing it for the wrong reasons. But I promise you, they don’t much care what your motives are if you are helping their cause. And that is not a bad thing. Rather, the condemnable thing here is suggesting that we, as privileged members of a privileged society, are above facing the realities of the world around us or taking any responsibility for them – unless we feel like it. I can only say that I hope the rest of the Colgate community will continue to pleasantly surprise me, and that we can all strive to be better than the Harbord-like moments of which we are all surely guilty.