Hello Educators! I send love and positivity to you and yours. When I started this blog I found myself getting anxious about one thing…what if I run out of content? Will I have something to write about every other week, and now…every week. What I have found is that if I choose to live life with intention and pay attention to myself, others, and the world around me, the content will always emerge. This week it appeared in the sadness I felt and still feel regarding the home country of my parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and so on. Ayiti...Haiti.
The assassination of President Jovenel Moise sent shockwaves across the world as many ponder…”How can the president of a country be murdered in his own residence? Did he not have a security detail?” And then the many statements or thoughts laced with judgment from years of inaccurate and incomplete information about Haiti. Questions and statements like…Why can’t they even protect their own president? Every time we turn around something is happening there. Why can’t they just get it together? What is the deal with Haiti anyway?” or “It’s bad that those people over there are always suffering. I wish they could just learn to live together with a sense of normalcy.”
This post is about filling in some blanks regarding Haiti not because I want anyone reading to have newfound compassion on a country that may mean very little to them. I am filling in some blanks because the way we paint incomplete pictures and utter single narratives about Haiti, is how we do it for every other country (including our own) and for every other person who is different from us. So here we are…
In 1791, the Haitian Revolution began when slaves, free blacks, and mulattoes launched an uprising that lasted 13 years and resulted in Haiti becoming...
the 1st Black Republic in the world, the 1st independent nation in the Caribbean, and the 2nd democracy in the Western Hemisphere.
Palatable fear of future slave uprisings that could destroy plantation systems and slaveholders were rampant and France used this sentiment to lobby England, Spain, and the United States to shun Haiti commercially and politically thereby weakening its ability to develop economically.
In addition, although Haiti was now independent, France required payment of a “freedom tax” which they called an indemnity to make up for the economic loss France experienced without the Haitian slave system. Although many refused this proposition, in 1825, facing almost 500 war cannons from France, Haiti agreed to pay 150 million francs in 5 equal installments. The amount was 10x Haiti’s annual budget and when unable to pay, they were forced to take out high-interest loans from Americans, Germans, and French. This cycle continued until 1947 when the last of the debt was paid off leaving in its wake, heavily taxed citizens, undeveloped education and healthcare systems, and minimal public infrastructure. This act has been called one of the greatest exploitations in history.
These two actions led to Haiti’s decline from one of the world’s wealthiest colonies to one of the most impoverished.
Yes, Haiti has been plagued by numerous natural disasters, massive deforestation, political unrest including several coup d’états, and self-seeking dictators that have added to the country's challenges. We cannot, however, dismiss the ongoing election meddling that occurs in Haiti by outside countries seeking to maintain instability, nor the 20 years of US occupation. We cannot overlook the many pledges for support after the numerous natural disasters by many governments and American foundations that collected funding but simply lined the pockets of the uberwealthy. We cannot act as though we did not hear about United Nations “peacekeepers” who stayed within the country to help but instead “helped themselves” and violated the women and families of Haiti.
Sympathy and pity are not what is needed here. Truth and understanding are what is required. It was difficult to listen to any news outlet this past week without hearing the exasperated tone and the wondering of, “Will this Black Republic will ever be okay without us coming to save them?” It was never said out loud, but it was felt. A country with infrastructure can recover when crisis hits. Those without flounder for generations. This is the context that does not always make the newsreel but is critically important.
When I went to Haiti in 2010, I found a country, although just recently hit by calamity, rich with hope, resources, and people in deep love with the land they call home. It is a place worth reviving, worth knowing, and worth celebrating. I am reminded that life is not simply as it appears on the surface. The idea of washing away history so that no one feels bad is impossible. One feeling bad has less to do with reality and more to do with one’s own internal understanding and acceptance.
History is messy and downright sickening at times and as a collective humanity we have engaged in gross atrocities against our fellow beings. It is through this truth telling that we can become awakened through awareness and choose a different path of care and connectivity.
The people of Haiti are strong, resilient, and capable to rebuild anew when the playing field is evened out just a little. I am reminded of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s quote, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks." For Haiti, despite independence, the proverbial foot to the neck has been in order for quite some time thereby limiting our expression of said freedom. This can change if the collective wants it to be so.
I am hopeful that in my lifetime, I will be able to contribute to a different narrative…one that cannot be denied and better reflects the truth of Ayiti.
In Solidarity and Love,