The Millions

On the Imperialist ‘Charity’ of Rebuilding Caribbean Children’s Libraries with Eurocentric Books

1.
On Sept. 5, 2017, Hurricane Irma hit landfall in the Caribbean island of Barbuda, wreaking indescribable havoc. Half of the population was left homeless as 95 percent of the buildings were destroyed.

Two days later, I listened as Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Barbuda, was interviewed by the BBC. Speaking in the restrained, stoic voice expected of a good leader in such circumstances, he made the blunt allegation: “This disaster was not a result of any wrongdoing on our part. We are literally victims of climate change.”

What struck me was his tone of utter conviction. The prime minister, a man who had been educated in two of Europe’s top universities, dispassionately stated that industrial nations, like those of Europe, were responsible for the hurricane and its destruction. He cited the “obligation” of more powerful nations to help Barbuda rebuild. He was speaking to the BBC, which is to say, to an audience of Britons and the wider world. Not only that—he used the word “victim.” Such a squirm-inducing word in our age of self-empowerment where “positivity” is often evoked as the panacea for all ills. Not the kind of word you expect a representative of the people to use.

Focusing on victimhood often makes victims an easy target for scorn and blame. One of the noxious themes of the conversation America is having about sexual violence is that of victim-blaming; people who are

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