Columns

2006.02.22 I want justice

on . Posted in Standard Deviant

By JEFF PICKELL

I’ve been thinking about the starving children in Africa a lot. I don’t know exactly where I picked up the phrase “starving children in Africa,” because it’s one of those sayings oft-used by mothers to get their children to eat their squash, but it’s one I constantly invoke. My own mother wasn’t a “starving children in Africa” person. She was more of a “eat your potatoes or I’ll knock you into next week” person.

Maybe it was the texture or the smell or the stupidity I’ve struggled with all my life, but potatoes were off-limits to my stomach my first 10 years of existence. Mom and I would wage horrific war at dinner time over my eating them, which usually resulted in me either feeling sick from having eaten the potatoes or feeling sick from having not eaten the potatoes—or anything else—after being  excused from the dinner table.

During these skirmishes, as I desperately sought out ways to avoid eating the potatoes, one half-turn around the world, there was doubtlessly a child my age desperately seeking out ways not to die of starvation, or AIDS, or malaria, or hippopotamus. Of course, I had no concept of this at the time, and still probably have only a vague idea of the problems the starving children face today.

But a conversation I had with Ted and Ivy Hutchison last month for a feature article reinvigorated the idea of the starving children in my mind. The Hutchisons had gone to Zambia for their daughter’s wedding and told me they were dumbstruck by the poverty they encountered. Their vivid descriptions left me dumbstruck, too—more so than usual.

Outrage followed. I interviewed the Hutchisons just as the “Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays” fervor was dying down after New Year’s. As you remember, the conservative contingent was claiming their religion, their very way of living, was under assault, and the heathen pedantic liberal contingent was rebuffing them with big words. Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch and Bill O’Reilly raked in bunches of money and chuckled for having incited a culture war over what amounts to nothing, as they do every Yuletide.

In the midst of the debate, nobody thought to ask the starving children in Africa for their take, which was “Help, we’re starving.”

Or inner-city American students at underfunded public schools for their take—“Help, we can’t read.”

Or Hurricane Katrina survivors for their take—“Help, we’re homeless.”

Or cancer patients who can’t afford treatment for their take—“Help, we’re dying.”

Or a 23-year-old smart aleck for his take—“Help, I can’t understand how a man in a $1000 suit can claim ‘Happy Holidays’ is an assault on our way of living when multitudes are suffering.”

Which translated into outrage. Outrage that oodles of money and oodles of time are dumped into these silly causes. Look at the cover of Time Magazine—there’s something’s wrong when the Third World has to rely on a dweeb—Bill Gates—and a rock singer—Bono—for relief.

Of course, it’s understandable, considering that most secular conservative institutions, like the Bush administration, are bought and paid for by tight-pocketed investor owned corporations.

And I won’t just harp on the conservatives. I thought that, on principle, the University of Michigan should’ve refused a $100 million donation they accepted last year to found a school of Judaic studies. I’m no anti-Semite, but I feel the $100 million could go to better causes, like making sure underprivileged kids have the opportunity to go to college in the first place.

I mean, there are more than a few impoverished school systems in the metro Detroit area that would benefit hugely from a slice of that $100 million. Heck, $100 million was enough to ensure every student in Kalamazoo the money for college tuition.

And just think what $100 million could do for the starving children in Africa.

Some might ask, “But Jeff, what are you doing for those poor kids?”

You have to remember that I’m not rich or smart, so I’m doing what I can—using the public forum to throw a fit about rich, smart people wasting their resources on frivolity.

After all, sometimes it’s not just the kids who need to be reminded that there are, indeed, starving children in Africa.

Ever the hypocrite, I will now eat Cheerios and read comics all afternoon.

– February 22, 2006

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