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Disordered thoughts on Haiti

January 15, 2010

Jacob Lawrence (b. 1917), Deception, 1997, screenprint.

1. Historian Henry Adams: ‘The prejudice of race alone blinded the American people for the debt they owed to the desperate courage of 500,000 Haitian Negroes who would not be enslaved.’

2. The literal translation of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the ‘Negro patriot of Hayti’: ‘All souls rising.’

3. L’Ouverture’s last words to his son: ‘My boy, you will one day go back to St. Domingo; forget that France murdered your father.’

4. The sole piece of art I possess is a Haitian painting. When I bought it in Santo Domingo, some Dominicans asked in surprise or annoyance, Why don’t you buy our art instead? Their art is inferior.

5. When I was 16 I stood in line for an hour with my mother to meet Edwidge Danticat. When she saw me in tears, she signed the dedication page of her book, ‘Please write your story. Please.’

6. Peter Hallward: ‘The noble “international community” which is currently scrambling to send its “humanitarian aid” to Haiti is largely responsible for the extent of the suffering it now aims to reduce. Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti’s people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s phrase) “from absolute misery to a dignified poverty” has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies.’

7. Locally, while some Brazilians are wary about what they call Lula’s power-snatching in the Americas, perceptions of political response to major conflicts still matter a great deal. North Americans might be embarrassed by the quick promise of military surveillance and ‘assessment’ of damage while countries in the so-called Third World immediately pledged search and rescue teams, water and food and clothes, concrete aid package amounts.

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