For Ayiti (Haiti)

Featured, Haiti — By Jo Nubian on January 22, 2010 at 07:00

Originally published January 13, 2010

A powerful earthquake struck Haiti just before 5 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, 10 miles southwest from the capital of Port-au-Prince, causing widespread damage and panic in the impoverished country. View NYTimes Slideshow.

Text ‘YELE’ to 501501 to donate or visit to Yele Haiti
Donate to AmeriCares as they specialize in earthquake relief & medical response as a result.

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 of bandwagons.

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 too 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 cannot 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 cannot 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.

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Author: Jo Nubian (11 Articles)

Jo Nubian is a freelance writer whose writing focuses on human rights, especially issues of race and gender. She is currently based in Houston, Texas where she is completing her masters of arts in literature and writing for various journals, magazines, and other publications. Her thesis work discusses the theme of womanism in the life and works of Zora Neale Hurston.


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