Whosever shit it is, pick your shit up
Being Haitian-American often feels like what I imagine to be the existence of a child living in an abusive household. She witnesses one parent destroy the other, time and time again, creating pathologies that it would take lifetimes to understand, let alone heal from. But shelter is still provided, so is clothing, heat, food, an allowance, even. Thus the child must compute the competing feelings of condemnation for the abused parent for staying, the terror and sometimes hatred for the abusive parent, and the shame for her own complicity and dependence upon provided benefits.
I was born in Brooklyn, New York. Up until I was fifteen, I lived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Like many others, our parents thought it best to have us here, in the U.S., to give us what has often revealed itself to be the most insightful investment for days to come, American citizenship. Some desired to stay here, but others, like my own, chose to raise us at home. Eight years ago, many of us came back, here, our birthplace, but having intimately known the motherland, we understood things differently. We could understand the advantages offered by our citizenship status: continue school with virtually no interruption, being safe from Cholera, and a world of opportunities, they said was just within reach. I don’t know if I’ve ever been proud to be an American, but I’ve been grateful. But on days like today, the eighth anniversary of an event so significant for us, I’m mostly enraged.
In 2010, only a week after the earthquake, I was en route to the airport. American citizens were being evacuated from the island. All you needed was your passport. My sister, back home for the holidays was to return to New York that week. But my passport had expired. We were waiting until I turned sixteen to renew it so I wouldn’t need to do so for ten years. So when we arrived at the airport, she was able to leave but I was turned away. The Embassy, that’s where we needed to go. So there we went, my mother and I, armed of my bookbag and a blue and gray Reebok extra large duffel bag with wheels, that I still own. A few days and a long story later, I made landfall in Florida, alone, an anchor baby without her ship.
I am a “real American”
Before that day, being an American held not much meaning for me other than a shorter line than my mother through customs at airports on our summer vacations, leading to awkward conversations with the agents using whatever little English my sister and I remembered from our classes. We were mostly tourists, what made us American was mostly on paper. In the years after that day, I learned how to be an American, through the eyes of those Americans who look like me, and the stories of their lives and the conclusions they drew from them, eternalized in their written words. James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, and my contemporaries, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, Michelle Alexander. At school, History was fascinating as it was presented to us, full of holes. Learning about Civil Rights activists and the lives of those hyphenated Americans always put the narrative stuffed in our textbooks in perspective. As a Haitian, I was always prolonging their ideas from the point of view of an (also) American, who was distinctly something else, whose history directly clashed with America and Europe’s in ways that defined now global concepts such as Freedom and Black Republic. And an American, who also felt indirectly grateful for the benefits accorded, in large part from the pillage, exploitation, occupation, humiliation, and destruction that ensued after Haitians won one of the fights, still, the biggest one, against so many adversaries, in name and in blood.
On days like today, eight years after that day, after I left the place that formed me, the home that taught me how to a Moun, a human being, apparently one of the rarest notions to be required in our interactions with one another these days, I feel enraged. Because what those writers’ ideas taught me, and later my own experience as I studied and lived in this new society,was that being an American, who was also black, meant something different. And what History had taught me was to whom to give what was due. Yesterday, the American President called my motherland a shithole. And today I cried from anger.
More than a Shithole…?
It started brewing yesterday, when exiting the building, I was heading to my car after work. “Trump rails against immigrants from Shithole Africa and Haiti in angry Oval Office Rant,” the headline from RawStory read. At first, what struck me was that this did not only mean that Trump was racist, as the media once again, for the thousandth time, had “discovered,” but that his immigration policies were. This truly was him, openly admitting that his administration was operating a racist machine, purging America from immigrants of color in favor of the “good kind,” like from Norway. Later that night, I went into a frantic rant, cut short by the realization that many others, even Haitians, believe he had a point. This was confirmed this morning when my NewsFeed was inundated with the same ideas:
Trump still being alive was proof Haitians had no real magic,
This was the time to pageant the good Haitians for the approval of people woefully unable to place Haiti on a map, and
Most painful of all, the internalization of his comments, as some of us always did with any designation thrown at us by the West.
What also got me today, was that Trump was simply saying it like it is, it being the policy established by America since circa 1804 to pillage and exploit the country, and most of the region, effectively doing its part in turning them into the shitholes that this shithead perceives. We can blame him for being blunt, but every administration for over a century has treated Haiti with the same disdain and wickedness. This was simply yet another episode in the constant game of “Why are you hitting yourself?” Western powers play with descendants of slaves. I looked at the outrage of liberal media, citing the resilience and strength of Haitians. I sighed at their vain efforts at admonishing a man who had attained the highest office in the land by touting the very thing they now took turns at insulting him for, prompting the conversation-ending response “and?” by anyone who paid any attention since that day down that escalator.
As an American, I vastly enjoy some privileges. I will not be the personal victim of this administration’s attacks on populations of color across the country. Like that child in what I imagine an abusive household to be, I can understand why my NewsFeed was filled with so many Haitians who endorsed the “comma shithole”. Our politicians are worried about their pockets, the Elite is worried about their children’s inheritance and the lowest-key paradise-like life they’ve built, and the daily attacks on the vulnerable Haitian people, trying to survive, are endless. The chaos in Haiti has its own proper order. “How to fix Haiti?” inevitably ended in ramblings whenever one attempted to find solutions encompassing the shitload of problems and their causes Haitians face every day. While I could dwell on our very real shortcomings all day, I can’t ignore the weight of history and completely blame us for our own oppression.
In Good Company…
Trump is hardly first POTUS to think Haiti is a shithole. After all, his predecessors and their European counterparts had ensured it would be so. Starting with France, after the Independence, demanding 150 million francs (roughly estimated at $20 billion in today’s dollars) for the property lost by French plantation owners not only for lost plantation lands and crops, but also for the loss of Haitians themselves, yes, meaning for the right to be masters of their own bodies. The theft was completed in 1947, much later than the French should have realized that receiving money for having lost the right they never had to own people, was a no-no for a so-called civilized county. America itself had not recognized Haiti’s independence until 1862. Which occurs to me, to the people sharing the little-known historical fact that Haitian soldiers had fought in the Revolutionary war, what exactly are you trying to prove? I’m not sure that is the success story you are attempting to make it out to be.
Graham Greene wrote in The Comedians, his novel about Haiti in the 1960s: “It is astonishing how much money can be made out of the poorest of the poor with a little ingenuity.” In 1909, US financiers began to lay the groundwork for an American occupation of Haiti. It was around that time that the National City Bank, based in New York, acquired a stake in Haiti’s central bank and created a railway to support American exploitation of Haitian resources, especially cheap labor (a little more expensive than out-and-out slavery, but…) and a variety of agricultural products for American consumption, such as sugar (and, later, the industrial production of baseballs, America’s favorite pastime, and women’s undergarments). According to Amy Wilentz in her Alternet article, the occupation was simply a mechanism to control Haiti while American businesses sucked value out of the country and made sure nationals of other countries could not. A year after the occupation’s end, Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, the marine in charge of establishing and securing control, wrote: “I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism…. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in.”
under Bill Clinton, Haiti’s leaders were pressured to reduce the country’s longstanding tariffs on imported food (including rice) from 50 percent to about 3 percent. The United States then began dumping cheap, taxpayer-subsidized surplus rice on the Haitian market, ostensibly for humanitarian reasons, but actually so that it could dispose of an otherwise unsellable product. After the quake, Clinton—by then the UN special envoy to Haiti, helping to run the reconstruction effort—apologized to the Haitian people. “It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2010. “I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.” He has called the policy a “devil’s bargain.” Nonetheless, imports of subsidized American rice only increased after the earthquake. Haiti imports as much as 50 percent of its food now, mostly from the United States. Today, Haiti is the second-biggest importer of US rice in the world.
Let that sink in.
Be Human, it’s revolutionary now.
By my own existence History has taught me that many things can be true at one. This may be my current home, full of people I love, with a history of struggle I can associate with, people whose rights I want to fight for. It can be the place where I found refuge at a time when so much could have gone differently. It’s a place that has allowed me to be myself in a way I hadn’t thought possible before. And it has taught me so much, producing brilliant minds out of places where they’re not nurtured or sought after.
But it also is the same place with a government that has constructed entire policies out of exploiting and destroying different markets in my homeland, Haiti in favor of American ones, that has established liaisons with some Haitians on paper only, with no real understanding or respect for what that means, allowing them to do as they wish for some instant dollars. It is still a foreign state that has inserted itself in the democratic process of a free people’s government over and over again. The international community has concerted to facilitate Haiti’s descent in this current situation, that is incontestable.
Trump wants to talk about shitholes, and he’s right. The UN itself has admitted to shitting all over Haiti, quite literally. The Yale Law School and the Yale School of Public Health finally got the organization to acknowledge responsibility for the cholera outbreak in Haiti back in August 2016. So yeah, Trump’s a racist, xenophobic asshole, and his repulsiveness grows as each day passes. And while this long ass post was my long-winded way of saying that America, being the shittiest neighbor in the world constantly and directly contributed to Haiti’s current state, the bigger point is that once again, we’re focusing on the words that he’s uttered, more offended at that, than to recognize that policy is effective, by stripping us, all of us, of our humanity when we allow it to be enabled.
This will not be the last time that Trump makes headlines for some ridiculous thing he’s said. I’m pretty sure he’s already trending for something else. But it’s never too late or irrelevant to consider all the different realities that can exist at once. Today, doing that, while grieving for my friends and my compatriots lost, for the consequences still being felt to this day, eight years later, I cried from anger. The fact that I could not simply take the day to spend time pondering and writing positive things, looking at the future, as my personal way of commemorating this day, just because of that shithead frustrated me. That white lady at work who felt the need to personally tell me that she had kicked the little Trump-shaped doggie toy she’d purchased for her dog extra this morning, just for Hadassa, made me want to scream. The memories of that day, eight years ago, made me smile bitterly: we had come together in a time where the very thing representing whatever little stability still existed in Haiti had shaken under our very feet. And so I asked to leave early, and cried in my car, the whole way home, listening to K-Libr’s L’Apostat.
Today is a rough day for a lot of us. Music is helping a lot. Find a center, don’t internalize the same hate they keep showering us in. I’m angry too, but I refuse to turn it on ourselves. We know our worth, and for those of us who don’t, learn it now. There’s a reason to be hopeful because so many of us exist, those of us who understand how to be a Moun, a human being, from right here, as well as from all over the world, who understand why the notion needs to be preserved, and work tirelessly to do just that.
Neges Mawon, Copyrighted 2017.
Got some extra pikliz for my tasso so my tastebuds are enraged too today. Support local Haitian businesses if you’re really mad. Check out this place if you’re in the Orlando area.
Whosever shit it is, pick your shit up