Silhouette of a person carrying a bag and some large birds - vultures.  They are on hills of garbabe, in a dump.

Photo credit: New York Times

I was enjoying an afternoon in the park and reading the New York Times on Sunday when I came across this doozy of an article.  The article is about a relatively small group of indigenous people in Venezuela who are living near and scavenging from a dump outside of a Ciudad Guagyana, and it’s so full of consdescending, racist bullshit that I just could not ignore it.  Let’s start with the following:

Reflecting Venezuela’s political complexity, most of the Warao interviewed here expressed loyalty to Mr. Chávez, even as they ate out of Ciudad Guayana’s garbage.

Now, those of you who know me and have talked to me about Hugo Chavez know I’m very conflicted and critical about his leadership, but his efforts to empower and recognize Venezuela’s indigenous community have been monumental compared to past leaders; the article even acknowledges this.  To wonder how an incredibly hard-pressed community supports current leadership when they are scavenging from a dump is a stupid and condescending question when you know – and I’m sure this reporter knows very well – the degree to which governments paid attention to them in the past (i.e., pretty much none).   Then, there’s this little gem:

Christian Sorhaug, a Norwegian anthropologist who has lived among the Warao, doing field work here during the past decade, said, “Cambalache is the worst place I have ever seen in my life.”

I don’t know who I dislike more – this dickwad anthropologist or the reporter who writes about him living with the Warao people as if he is living among chimpanzees, Jane Goodall-style.  Oh, I almost forgot! THESE ARE PEOPLE.  Humans.  With complex and dynamic lives, who love and celebrate and cry.  But if you go over the the slide show, you can see the obligatory picture of a child with a dirty face! Eating some gross shit from the dump! Fun! Internet slumming!

Look, I get it – people are living in really shitty conditions.  And the people living in this dump: they are not random.  They are indigenous people, and that’s no coincidence; white supremacy is firmly in place in Venezuela, with indigenous people suffering a great deal of injustice.  This is absolutely something worth reporting on, and the Chavez government’s hypocrisy in this situation must be called out.  But is it so hard to portray people with dignity?   To allow people to tell their own stories?  The voices of the Warao are barely heard in this article, and it really comes as no surprise considering the reporting and the photographs that accompany it.  It’s apparently much easier to write an article dripping with condescension instead.

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