In the wake of Hurricane Matthew’s landfall massive suffering has hit the country of Haiti. With a death toll of at least 800 people and the danger of a cholera outbreak, the country is in dire straits. This past week many of us sat and watched the coverage of the destruction from the comfort of our homes, some wondered where the Facebook filter is. The lack of response by Facebook, the empathy generator for most causes–except those that affect people of color–seems discouraging. Yet it seems like we, too, miss the mark by staying in the realm of praying and sharing stories and our discontent about the lack of filters, hashtags, and other social media symbols of empathy and solidarity.
Empathy is necessary but insufficient.
This is a message I received from a professor last week who, while talking about the way white people respond to the systemic oppression and violence against Black people, stated that she wasn’t interested in empathy but in policy and structural changes. For her, the expression of empathy and the corresponding affect is only a starting point, it can’t stop there. In the same way, as I watch people voice their concern about the lack of Facebook filters and hashtags or saying “Pray for ____.” I wonder if we’ve become comfortable in these type of responses to tragedy. “Pray for ‘X'” seems to serve as a kind of script that facilitates the performance of empathy and solidarity but does no actual work. It’s time to stop praying with words, sending our petitions out through social media and up to God and start praying with our feet. We’ve been praying for a longtime about a number of things and this isn’t to dismiss the efficacy of prayer or the power of God, but it isn’t sufficient of itself anymore either. God placed us here on earth to be actors in the world, to do more than throw our hopes for healing, restoration, and liberation back at God or project it onto to anyone else. It’s time to become actors who shift things more with deeds than words. We also need to move away from waiting from the great “them” to stand in solidarity for us.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
It is time to stop putting our hope in systems and people that aren’t interested in consistently supporting us. I think we do ourselves a great disservice by waiting for “them” to care about us when we already care about us. Self-determination and empowerment is important in this season and it’s time for us to stop looking outside of ourselves for recognition when we already recognize and know what is necessary. We have to move beyond chastising people for not coming through for us. We need to come through for us and spread the information about how we can wisely and tangibly help.
Our cries for hashtags may be affective for us but not effective for the people we are allegedly advocating for, and this is a problem. Those affected by Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, Cuba, and the Bahamas will not see our filters, they cannot eat our hashtags, there will experience no consolation from our efforts to gain them solidarity on social media all the while neglecting their immediate needs. They won’t care who didn’t see their struggle and how we fought to get people to recognize them, they will care about who took the time to respond, who moved on what they knew to be right, true, and just.
And with that, I conclude with a compilation of some of the sources I have shared through my social media pages:
Help Haitians, Not Disaster Capitalists (Includes a good list of Haitian-led and international NGOs)
Hurricane Matthew: How You Can Help the Victims (I recommend CARE as well as Catholic Relief Services)