I have missed living in South Florida more over the past week than I have at any other moment in the 18 months since my family moved to New Jersey. The contrast between life in South Florida and life here in these Northeast suburbs has been amplified by the earthquake in Haiti on Tuesday, January 12.
In the days immediately following the quake I went about expecting to hear discussions about the disaster in Haiti, about local relief efforts, about the need for volunteers to do something...anything. The silence was deafening. I looked around for signs at the local library, fire department, high school, and churches showing prayer and support for Haiti. There was a glaring absence of any. A whole community, it seemed, was some how collectively unaware, or collectively choosing to ignore the plight of a neighbor. I know things were different in Miami.
A week after the earthquake, some e-mailers and callers into the National Public Radio show Talk of the Nation made the apparent detachment of my neighborhood seem generous by comparison. One writer lamented everyone's political correctness, arguing that with more than a million Haitians already living in the United States we should not be letting in anymore. Others questioned how much aid should be given to a country which cannot seem to get its act together. Even people who seemed to want to say the right thing sounded patronizing: "I live near Little Haiti (in South Florida) and they are quiet, and smart, and creative."
Today the concept of a global economy is apparent from the moment we put on our underwear in the morning. Social networking websites make it possible to connect with people everywhere and anywhere around the globe. Travel, migration and the Travel Channel give everyone opportunities to expand their cultural references. Despite all that, ignorance, hatred, irrational fears and indifference are still evident in the idiotic spoutings of the likes of Pat Robertson, in the apathy of entire communities towards the distress of others, and in our unwillingness to let go of racial and cultural stereotypes.
Thankfully, as the world continues to shrink it will become increasingly difficult for those who see the world in terms of 'us and them', or who prefer to turn a blind eye, to maintain their view.