I think Haiti is a place that suffers so much from neglect that people only want to hear about it when It's at its extreme. And that's what they end up knowing about it. ~ Edwidge Danticat
My heart has many compartments, sacred
spaces for sacred people, and one of those spaces belongs to the people
of Haiti. I don't love Haiti because I pity her, let me be clear about
this so that there is no misunderstanding. Haiti suffers with more
pity and inaction intertwined than possibly any other place on this
planet and my revolutionary spirit does not care much for those types
My love for her sits beautifully, poised and majestic, eagerly recalling a freedom that somehow my heart knows more than two hundred years after she became free. Yes, I celebrate her sons Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Alexandre Petion, but also every slave, every overseer, every African spirit who decided that our people were not chattel and were destined for liberation. That spirit is still very much alive in her, despite and maybe because of all the hardship that she faces. When I ponder Haiti, I ponder her with these feelings of love, respect, and adoration.
I wish that each of us could see her in this way. But the truth is, the "first world" has never forgiven Haiti for daring to revolt and being successful at it. We've all heard the stories, Haiti is cursed because the "natives" practice "black magic", as if the speakers' religions don't celebrate the birth and death of their Messiah with jolly bearded white men, bunnies, and sparkling trees. I know all to well about the privilege of finger pointing and victim blaming. Vodun is the least of Haiti's problems and the last reason for her misery.
Let us not go back past the Revolution. If
you are reading this, I assume you know the horrors of colonialism, of
slavery, of the breaking of bodies and spirits, this I'm sure would be
an antiquated approach to our discussion- so I won't bother with it.
We can begin with the boycott of the free nation, internationally organized, that began when Haiti won her independence from France in 1804. And then there was that whole US occupation that you never read about, which lasted from about 1913 to about 1934 (also add in the US' dominance over the island after World War II). So yes, the humanitarian "aid" that you are told the US supplies to Haiti, if anything at all, is a quiet admission of wrong doing and a payment of reparations. We can speak truth here, it is a safe place to do so.
We must also take into account that Haiti's leadership, it's rich and elite, have been greedy, never allowing the capital that does flow into the country to trickle down to its poorest citizens. Education, also, is a very serious issue on the island with a reported literacy rate of around 53%. It is understood that literacy creates a process of questioning and questioning leads to change. Oppression and a lack of educational opportunities certainly hold hands,this is a familiar tool of the master.
However, Haiti has
bigger challenges than miseducation. I would dare say that at the
foundation of all of her problems is an insurmountable debt that began
with France demanding Haiti "repay" him for making her a colony (as if
France had not prospered enough from slave labor and stolen resources,
which, I suppose, is another blog to write). Additionally, during the
Duvalier dictatorship (from 1957-1986) untold monies were stolen from
the country, some estimate through audit that in the last few years of
occupation alone more than 500 million went missing. Imagine that
amount multiplied in years. The thought should make you gasp. And we
can not forget the ridiculous amount of debt owed to the Inter-American
Development Bank, whose offices sit in Washington DC, the headquarters
of your free world. Every penny that Haiti earns she owes, it is a
tragic game that produces the single story you are seeing unfold on
your local news stations- one of a poor, destitute, evil, and black
Haiti that simply is not worth your compassion and care.
Yet there are still more contributing factors. I would love to also discuss the impact of environmental factors like soil erosion, and more so the importing of products that stifle the efforts of local businesses in this post, but that is also a discussion for another time. Our time is short, Haiti needs us, and the "whys" are less important than the "what nows" in this moment.
Natural disasters are natural, thus the name. Does Haiti somehow have more than its share? Who am I to determine the yes or no of that? What I will say is that the world has made it so that Haiti can not recover. Hearing of the way that the buildings literally crumbled after yesterday's earthquake, speaks less of natural disasters and more of a failed infrastructure, simply to weak to withstand the pressure. Those buildings, in my mind, represent my people there, and subsequently my heart, because they are suffering as they are. Suffering is not new to the world, we see it all too often, but what constantly shocks and amazes me is the lack of compassion and empathy, the callousness that even other black people have towards Haiti. It turns my stomach.
We have to realize that we are Haiti, as we are Zimbabwe, as we are Chicago. We have to act now with vigor and earnestness, certainly, but we have to act again and again, because as Edwidge Danticat noted, we can not only consider Haiti and other places like Haiti in these extreme times. I humbly ask you to donate whatever you can to the nation that reminded you that you were once free and again could be. I donated last night to Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti organization, as I have in the past. It matters not to me how you take action, just that you take it. Let us put our hearts where our mouths are, and our money and our time and whatever other resources we may have to give. Please.
Text "YELE' to 501501 or visit http://www.yele.org/ to donate to Yele Haiti
Donate to http://www.americares.org/ as they specialize in earthquake relief...amp; medical response as a result.
Doctors without Borders is another organization taking direct action in Haiti, right this moment http://doctorswithoutborders.org/