CNN columnist: Slow aid for Ebola because... racism

After noting that global donations of both money and supplies for the Ebola stricken nations of western Africa are not what they might be, CNN opinion writer John D. Sutter is prompted to ask, Where’s the empathy for Africa? After a few none too subtle comments and quotes from others, stating that there might be more resources on the way has the affliction struck in some other region, Sutter decides to stop beating about the bush entirely.

There’s evidence lighter skinned people have trouble “feeling” the pain of those with darker skin. Researchers at the University of Milano-Bicocca, in Italy, tested this in by showing a group of Caucasian people video clips of people of various races being pricked with a needle. They monitored the viewers to see how their bodies responded to the sight of another person being hurt. The white viewers reacted more strongly — or showed more physical empathy — when white people were hurt than Africans.

In another study, “researchers found that white participants, black participants, and nurses and nursing students assumed that blacks felt less pain than whites,” Slate writes.

Except for a handful of health workers, nearly all of Ebola’s 4,400 casualties have been black Africans — and these simmering biases are deeply troubling.

I’ll be the first to admit that there was more than a little gallows humor going around after Kent Brantly returned to the United States for treatment. After battling the disease since 1976 to little apparent effect and then seeing “the first white guy to get it” be cured in a matter of days, the comparisons were obvious. But Sutter’s “you must all be racists” theory leaves much to be desired, and that is demonstrated not only in who the United States – and European nations to a degree – help, but also who they don’t.

Who we give to should go without saying. When the tsunami hit Indonesia in 2004, the United States – through government funding and massive donations from private citizens – came up with nearly half a billion dollars in record time. (And this was not assistance going to a bunch of white people.) I could expand this list for pages on end. We are one of the most charitable nations in the history of the planet, and our help has gone everywhere across all barriers of race and religion.

There are also many times when people need help which we simply can’t manage. There are untold people bearing the burden of living in the former Soviet Union who I’m sure we would love to set free. The people of China – outside the metropolitan areas – labor under an oppressive regime. Most of the planet has sections of people in abject poverty. We free the ones we can and we feed huge numbers of the rest. But while the generosity in our hearts may appear infinite, our resources are not.

Sutter’s other none too hidden point is that we seem to be going all out for the Americans struck down by a disease which we’ve been battling for four decades. And he’s correct. Because while we do what we can around the world, in the end, we take care of our own. And that is precisely what every other civilized nation does. To think that there is something inherently awful about pulling out all the stops to care for our citizens and prevent the spread of the disease here is absurd. It is also worth noting that neither of the doctors who were returned here for care would have been sick in the first place had they not been working in Africa to provide relief to others.

But I suppose it’s just easier to call everyone a racist.