Well ESPN have decided that they no longer need his services due to the nature of his latest piece, which covered the topic of donating to Haiti. Here are some highlights:
I've edited this a bit for length, but you can read the whole thing here. You get the picture anyway.I haven’t donated a cent to the Haitian relief effort. And I probably will not.
I haven’t donated to the Haitian relief effort for the same reason that I don’t give money to homeless men on the street. Based on past experiences, I don’t think the guy with the sign that reads “Need You’re Help” is going to do anything constructive with the dollar I might give him. If I use history as my guide, I don’t think the people of Haiti will do much with my money either.
My wariness has much to do with the fact that the sympathy deployed to Haiti has been done so unconditionally. Very few have said, written, or even intimated the slightest admonishment of Haiti, the country, for putting itself into a position where so many would be killed by an earthquake.
I can’t help but wonder why questions have not been raised in the face of this outpouring of support. Questions like this one:
Shouldn’t much of the responsibility for the disaster lie with the victims of that disaster?
Before the reader reaches for his or her blood pressure medication, he should allow me to explain. I don’t mean in any way that the Haitians deserved their collective fate. And I understand that it is difficult to plan for the aftermath of an earthquake. However, it is not outside the realm of imagination to think that the citizens of a country might be able to: A) avoid putting themselves into a situation that might result in such catastrophic loss of life. And B) provide for their own aid, in the event of such a catastrophe.
Shouldn’t there be some discourse on how the millions of dollars that are being poured into Haiti will be spent? And at least a slight reprimand for the conditions prior to the earthquake? Some kind of inquisition? Something like this?:
Dear Haitians –
First of all, kudos on developing the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Your commitment to human rights, infrastructure, and birth control should be applauded. As we prepare to assist you in this difficult time, a polite request: If it’s possible, could you not re-build your island home in the image of its predecessor? Could you not resort to the creation of flimsy shanty- and shack-towns? And could some of you maybe use a condom once in a while?
The Rest of the World
In the case of the Haitian earthquake, it’s heartening to see people caring about the fates of their fellow men. What is alarming, I think, is the sometimes illogical frenzy toward casting those affected by the earthquake as helpless, innocent souls who were placed on the island of Hispaniola by an invisible force. In the case of some, this analogy might well be accurate; children cannot very well control their destinies. And as far as sympathy goes, much of it should go to those children.
But children are brought into the world by their parents. Those parents have a responsibility – to themselves and to their kids – to provide. They have a responsibility to look around – before an earthquake happens – and say, “I need to improve this situation, because if a catastrophe were to happen, we’d be in bad shape.”
Now, Shirley is clearly a bit of a heartless prick, or at least he was feeling rather heartless prick-esque when he decided to write this. But I'm not saying I completely disagree with some of the ideas behind what he says. I do believe, to an extent, that people create their own luck. And I do agree that throwing money at Haiti without some serious structural change to that country is somewhat like patching up a severed limb with a band-aid.
But here's the thing - we are not just talking about a scenario on SimCity here. Haiti is a real place where people - actual people - are dying and starving. Giving aid might stop some people from dying and starving. It's as simple as that, really. If Paul Shirley doesn't wish to donate anything to Haiti, no problem there - it's his money and his decision. But to publish an article that effectively attempts to dissuade readers from donating? That, sir, is pretty f***ed up.
Like I said, I believe to an extent, you make your own luck, and everyone has it within their power to improve their situation to some degree. But you also need to get the right breaks.
Examining Shirley's apparent world-view, you come across a pretty common phenomenon. It's a complete unawareness of white privilege; the assumption that his set of circumstances as a white American male are the norm, as opposed to being in a position of relative power, status and social mobility.
It is a mindset that is dominant across the neo-conservative spectrum of politics, which exalts the so-called "level-playing field" of unchecked capitalism.
It is a world-view that assumes that everyone has the same opportunities to improve their lives.
Of course, taking someone like Paul Shirley as an example, it is clear that he has had some opportunities that not everyone has had. He was born into a white middle-class family in one of the world's wealthiest nations. Nothing wrong with that, obviously, but it makes him better off than at least 90% of the rest of the world. He's also 6 foot 10 inches tall. Now obviously he's worked hard to get where he is, but I have a hunch that if he were my height (5 foot 7), he wouldn't have got that chance to earn a professional basketballer's salary.
Shirley's world-view takes for granted the relatively easy life-choices available to him, but assumes that for a person of colour born into extreme poverty, becoming successful in life is as simple as deciding to be. In other words, "could some of you maybe use a condom once in a while?" What seems like a simple choice to make for Paul Shirley is a different proposition in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, a country in which even before the earthquake, the poorest of the poor were reduced to eating cakes of mud because there was so little food available. I'm not sure how easy it is for the average person to get hold of contraception in Haiti, but if you can't afford to eat anything but mud, my guess is that you can't afford to buy a condom either.
He might also wish to look at his own nation's historical role in perpetuating Haiti's desperate position. The USA was one of a coalition of nations that enacted a trade embargo on Haiti for much of the 19th century, because the Haitians had the nerve to overthrow their French masters. And it was the USA who propped up the dictatorships of Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier, who bled the country's wealth dry and whose paramilitary forces massacred anyone who dared dissent.
As I have previously, I would urge anyone to read the following two articles that outline the litany of sufferings that Haiti has endured over its history. Jared Diamond examines the environmental factors here , while Bob Corbett looks at social and political factors here.
This is not to absolve Haiti of responsibility for its own failings. The country is virtually a failed state and has deep-seated problems: massive inequality, lack of resources, poor education exacerbated by a massive brain drain during the Duvalier era, governments that seem to be inevitably corrupt and oppressive, and the kind of dangerous criminal underclass that is prone to develop out of such a situation. But if you ask why Haiti has these problems to begin with, you cannot provide the full answer without mentioning the culpability of France and the USA.
For another interesting article about white privilege (albeit a couple of years old), try here. The reaction from readers is worth reading as well.