Haiti Made Me Do It

An American journalist's claim that her experiences in Haiti led her to seek out violent sex is the latest example of foreigners blaming the country for their personal problems.

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I'm betting that this self-promotion-as-therapy angle will get her a book deal in no time because, after all, there aren't enough books out there written by white journalists "undone by black people's tragedies," as one friend put it. McClelland complains about "the shocking lack of sympathy I got from some industry people I talked to about my breakdown ... " It's hard to feel sympathy for someone who seems so skilled at placing herself at the center of attention. She writes of covering the Gulf oil disaster: "I was having a weepy little fit because a white oil-spill worker threatened to lynch any black oil-spill worker who hit on me." 

I believe that McClelland has real problems; I'm just not convinced that they have to do with Haiti or other trouble spots she has covered, as much as they have to do with mental issues she brought with her to Haiti. She says of her agreeably violent, good sport of an ex-boyfriend, Isaac, who punched her during sex: "We'd done this sort of thing before." I'm betting the other times had nothing to do with Haiti.

She says that a Haitian man who propositioned her for sex 87 times (Really? Did she actually keep count?) finally got her attention when he suggested, "We can do this at gunpoint if that sells it for you." She writes: "And actually, it did, yeah." Alas, the gun had no safety lock, so she changed her mind. I wonder if this scenario occurred before, during or after the time she was in the throes of PTSD.

In more than two decades of witnessing and chronicling all manner of violence and sadness in Haiti, I've been outraged, frustrated, depressed, traumatized -- you name it. I never once felt the need to be the voluntary victim of violent sexual assault as a mental salve or the need to unload all my burdens at Haiti's feet. When I couldn't handle things, I went home to the States and decompressed, saw a psychologist. When I felt better, I went back and went about the business of covering Haiti.

McClelland writes that she cried on the plane on the way home to San Francisco, while checking her email, while at work in her office, while in the shower and through most of a 1.5-hour yoga class. I get that; I do.

Crying jags are a familiar response that I experienced, too. I hid out at home and let them flow, embarrassed that I could not control them, and guilt-ridden that I could return to my life of comfort while so many in Haiti suffered. Still, feeling depressed about the state of the country is entirely different from using its suffering to advance one's career.

Apparently the acute mental anguish that McClelland suffered is over, now that she has exorcised her Haiti demons via sexual beat-down and overly self-aware article. On the same day the article ran, she cheerily tweeted, "Happy National PTSD Awareness Day, everyone." And this: "Alright. I got a lot of valid warnings about writing this, but I did, so I'm going to go ahead and tweet it." And this: "In which post-traumatic stress disorder ruins my life, and my sex life, and I get punched in the face. su.pr/5EeWN0."

Haiti has broken the hearts of many reporters, but there have also been days when it made our hearts sing. For me this occurred last March when I saw three little girls in crisp starched school uniforms, ruffled white socks and patent leather shoes, holding hands and laughing and talking as they walked to school. They had just left the dusty, depressing encampment of tattered tents where they have lived since the earthquake.

I don't know why, but in that moment I was filled with a sense of hope for those girls and for Haiti. They seemed not to have a care in the world; they were simply happy children on their way to school, and seeing them made me feel happy, too.

Marjorie Valbrun, a native of Haiti, is a contributing writer for The Root who is based in Washington, D.C.