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Racism and development aid

My husband and I recently enjoyed the presentation by Jonathan M. Katz and after the talk, we have kept thinking about one of the comments (made by Randy Peters) about racism in aid and development. For those of you who were not in the meeting: the comment was specifically about racism playing a big role in how aid is applied, and that “whites” do not trust in the self-power of “blacks”. Instead of supporting existing structures, “whites” prefer to build up their own structures and organizations (NGO’s) to rescue and establish normal life after a catastrophe or for developing aid. Donors also prefer giving money to NGO’s rather than to supposedly corrupt government or local organizations and ironically support like this furthers the national growth of richer, donor countries than those needing aid.

Coming from a “developed” country (Germany) and my husband Ricardo from a “developing” country (Mexico), this comment was quite interesting to us; it helped us examine how society makes us believe in superiority and inferiority. Although I have been travelling a lot and have been living in Mexico for years I do not trust in the healthcare there, I doubt whether the information I receive is current and the standard of knowledge of the teachers in my Master program.


Because I grew up in a country where I was told directly and indirectly that we are a “developed”, “high quality country” and therefore superior to others. Ricardo, coming from a “developing” country, has all his life felt inferior to those “developed” giants that rule the world. Most Mexicans who travel or go abroad for an exchange, etc. go to the US or to Europe rather than to Central America, which would be closer, easier and cheaper. As such, they feel inferior to the US and Europe they feel superior to Central Americans.

This discrimination you can feel inside the country, too. Studies have shown that it is easier for a “white” to get a job in a higher position, rather than for a “tanned” or “black”, because “whites” are stereotypically credited with higher abilities, etc.” These types of stereotypes run deep and are part of our subconscious as a famous study about children and their reactions to dolls shows.

The same night that Jonathan Katz made his presentation, Ricardo and I watched the movie “Sex and the City 1″ and in the movie, there is a scene where one of the characters (Charlotte) is in a five star hotel in Mexico, and only eating flan she has brought with her from the US. When asked why she is not trying the delicious food from the five star hotel she says: ” You know…. anyway, it is still Mexico”.

This is exactly the point! How do we see countries and its citizens relative to the countries from which we originate?  And what do these perceptions mean when we are providing aid?

If we go to Haiti we should keep this unconscious concept of “inferiority and superiority” in mind. It is not enough just to try to get rid of it, we have to confront ourselves with those feelings and thoughts. First of all it is important to become conscious of our own cultural values and concepts: why do we act and think they way we do? and where does it come from? Only then we are ready for the next step to question our way of perception: how do I perceive differences – behaviors, skin colors, way of living? and how does this change my way of interacting with the person who has this differences, comparing to myself. If we want to interact with others, cooperate and learn from each other it is necessary to relate to the person and not to all the stereotypes we build upon our first impression.

To overcome the concept of inferiority and superiority we have to see each person on the same level and every human being equally. If we want this equity, then our concept of developing aid has to change completely: we don’t go to Haiti to teach, we go to Haiti to mutually learn from each other, to experience an intercultural dialogue. In my case, I have experience in team building and organization and I want to share my experience to support the people of Grand Boukan to mobilize their own forces. In return I am open to receive new input, get to know their way of living, their way of organizing themselves, their strong will to go forward.

The American author Richard Bach once said “Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. You are all learners, doers and teachers.” Let’s open our minds and hearts to make the Deep Dive a great learning experience.

Your Juli