When I think of Haitians, I think of a powerful example of melanated brilliance.
A people who united intellectually, culturally, spiritually, and physically, and overcame extreme odds to overthrow their brutal, racist, and seemingly invincible French oppressors.
What they did in 1791 gives me hope for what we can do in 2018.
But what the world sees is different.
The world sees a poor nation, deservingly plagued by natural disasters like the devastating 2010 earthquake and most recently, Hurricane Matthew.
The world sees a nation of “hoodoo-practicing” black peasants who are incapable of running their own country. Too helpless to feed their children. Too inadequate to maintain a strong economy. Too immoral to seek mercy from God. Too black and too proud to be righteous.
But what the world does not feel is what I felt in the people of Anse-a-Pitres, Ayiti.
A revolutionary, unwavering spirit, one that is undoubtedly identical to the spirits possessed by their African emancipator ancestors.
And in the Dominican Republic, I felt, saw, and thought of something completely different. A confused, colonized nation of Africans who’d been watered down both mentally and genetically. Although my brown complexion blended it, I didn’t.
While there were exceptions, the masses—beautiful browns like the spectrum of shades representative of Black Americans—equated their platanos to Spanish culture, attempted to blow out and fry every kink and curl, and were vehemently disgusted by their brothers and sisters next door.
I was disgusted.
But I understood that they preferred a statue of Christopher Columbus to Jean-Jacques Dessalines like we prefer weaves to afros, white Jesus to Shango, and Black to African (American).
This humbled me.
And I decided not to look down upon them but to remember their indoctrination and reflect on the history of the island.
Hispaniola is the site of the first European invasion of the Americas—the island Christopher Columbus stole in 1492. In addition to the decimation of the Taino and other indigenous populations, the Spanish (Dominican Republic) and the French (Haiti) kidnapped and enslaved thousands of Africans on the island.
After the Haitians led by Dessalines overthrew the French in what was the world’s first successful slave revolt, the Spanish in the Dominican Republic became rightfully nervous that the African population in their own colony would soon do the same.
In order to prevent this, they went on campaigns to breed out the black in the enslaved population. But what was arguably even more devastating, was the indoctrination and colonization of these people’s minds. Dominicans of African heritage, a majority of the population, were forced to reject their Africanisms and to look down on the dark skin, kinky hair, heritage, religion, and language of their kinsmen in Haiti. Many Dominicans of African heritage eventually began whitewashing their Santeria orishas and identifying with Catholicism and their Spanish heritage instead of African, indigenous, or even mixed heritage.
White was right.
Although the Haitians helped the Dominicans achieve their independence, and both countries were for some time even united as one nation, the tension between the two countries grew.
One of the most notorious perpetrators was 20th-century Dictator Rafael Trujillo, of African descent himself, who authorized the massacre of over 20,000 Haitians. Under his ideology of hispanidad, the nation would identify solely with its Spanish heritage, no matter how brutal and repulsive a history it was. Thus, the story was rewritten and African influences were discredited and eliminated in history, culture, and identity. This system was implemented in other institutions like that of the Catholic Church, down to the music—even merengue was whitewashed by prohibiting the use of the drums.
On the other side of the island, Haiti’s problems originate not from the practice of African-based voodoo or the corruption of Haiti’s leaders, but instead from a vendetta.
The nation has been systematically punished and attacked by France, Spain, the Dominican Republic, and the United States since it gained its independence.
From trade embargos, exploitation of natural resources and indigenous crops, and puppet politicians, to slavery, racism, and sexual perverts disguised as missionaries, these countries have strategically worked to ruin Haiti.
Trump calling Haiti a “shithole” country was just the cherry on top.
My temporary home in the town of Anse-a-Pitres is now home to hundreds of Dominican-born Haitian refugees because the Dominican Republic is executing a mass deportation plan.
Leaders say Haitians are depleting their resources and taking Dominican jobs, but history shows that this is just another attempt to whitewash the country.
France and the United States owe Haiti billions of dollars in reparations.
The Dominican Republic owes Haiti its freedom.
We owe Haiti our freedom.
What Haitians did in 1791 sparked our own revolts in the United States and eventually led to our physical emancipation from slavery.
It’s up to us.
We must decolonize and emancipate our minds, and stand in solidarity with our Haitian and Dominican sisters and brothers. We must work to put an end to white supremacy and racial domination, stop the abuse and economic exploitation, and help to reunite the island.
Published in FoundMe Magazine.