Racism In The Time Of Cholera
How a racist stereotype reinforced the cholera crisis in HaitiBy Doreen St. Félix
In 1982, the Centers for Disease Control published a public health warning in response to AIDS, a then-little-understood pandemic that had recently reached American shores. The literature declared four categories of people “high-risk” for transmission: heroin users, hemophiliacs, homosexuals, and Haitians. In doing so, the CDC’s warning supported two dangerous, speculative trends in preventative medicine and the culture at large. The first was that diseases can be comfortably linked to marginalized people, and the second, consequently, that these people spread disease through their deviant behavior. Enthusiasm for human blame stuck, and spread like it was also communicable; thirty years later, public ideas about who gets HIV/AIDS originate from some of this initial guesswork. But when the Food and Drug Administration introduced a policy to ban blood donations from Haitians and Haitian-Americans in 1990, the community countered.
“This policy is on the basis that Haitian blood is dirty, that it is all infected with the HIV virus,” Doctor Jean Claude Compas, former president of the Haitian Coalition on AIDS, told the New York Times during the spate of protests responding to the FDA proposal. On April 20, 1990, an estimated 100,000 Haitians — almost a third of the Haitian population living in the New York metropolitan area at the time — barricaded themselves on the Brooklyn Bridge, blocking traffic for hours in an effort to raise awareness about the FDA’s decision. Four days later, the FDA announced it would reverse the proposition.
The cycle of racialized blame, Haitian-led accountability, and rhetorical reparation played out again this month. Haiti has been suffering from a cholera epidemic since October of 2010 — the same year thousands of U.N. soldiers entered the country, responding to the January earthquake that had decimated it. In the six years since, a reported 700,000 cases of cholera infection have been documented. Over 9,000 people have died. (Many consider that estimate, like the 150,000 death toll of the earthquake, conservative.)
For years, arms of the Haitian community, both in the country and abroad, have argued that the actions of Nepalese U.N. peacekeeping soldiers were responsible for importing cholera into the country. In 2012, scientific research overwhelmingly proved this to be the case — yet the U.N. consistently denied the accusation. Until now: On August 17, the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on behalf of the world body, admitted responsibility for the outbreak. “Over the past year, the U.N. has become convinced that it needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak and the suffering of those affected by cholera,” his spokesman said in a statement released via email last week.
Cholera is a modern plague as racially charged as HIV/AIDS, but it will likely never become known and treated like a first world disease. That’s because it thrives in dense locales wracked by poverty, impoverished urban and public health infrastructures, and catastrophic natural disaster. The scientist who discovered modern cholera, John Snow, associated the illness with the miasma, or “bad air,” of lower-class, 19th-century industrial London. Today, the victims of cholera are mostly black and brown residents of “developing” countries...
Full article: http://www.mtv.com/news/2923120/racism-in-the-time-of-cholera/