Diaspora

A NYT Article About Haiti Is Further Proof That Black History Only Matters When White People Tell It – Yahoo News

Recently, I got a barrage of the same text message. The New York Times wrote about Haiti and it was important — because The New York Times wrote about it.
The Times published a lengthy article about the history of Haiti and its interaction (read: abuse) with the rest of the world on May 20, 2022. The article was long and interesting; It was well-researched. It was thoughtful, it was objective and it was careful.
It was also not new.
The article itself discusses the double debt and ransom placed upon post-colonial Haiti after their victory of freedom over the French. It covers Haiti’s dictators, the occupation by the United States and the democratic election of Jean Bertrand Aristide.
One of the authors, Catherine Porter, appeared on The Daily where she further explored the research and answered any questions that may have been lingering.
During her appearance on The Daily, one of the quotes that stood out the most is what she had to say about when you ask “people” about Haiti’s poverty.
“The answer you normally get when you ask people this deeper ‘why’ is corruption.” Porter asserts.
I wonder if the people Ms. Porter was referring to included Haitians. I’m almost certain it did not. Seemingly small, referring to the mainstream (read: white) as the normative is dangerous and it is violent. You seldom meet a Haitian person in the United States that does not know this. While anecdotal, I’ve heard several times from strangers, often when I point out Haitians’ contribution to the world, that you never meet a Haitian that won’t tell you about the history (and thereby present-day) of Haiti. It’s commonplace. Perhaps this was Ms. Porter’s experience, but to position it as the norm is to emphasize one’s own privilege and existence.
Suggesting they’ve broken a case in the “why” of Haiti’s poverty is excruciatingly oblivious and purposely naive.
It’s a fair point to make that many folks blame the poverty in Haiti on corruption amongst government officials. The reference in both the interview and the article requires more attention.
The thing about corruption is it seldom lives in a silo. There is an assumption that the corruption that exists in Haiti is shouldered by the Haitian government. It is. Though, it is encouraged and perpetuated by world powers, including the United States. The Times does mention the external participation in the ousting of Aristide. But it does not discuss the decades and decades of U.S. participation in Haitian politics, their support of the Duvalier dictatorship, their creation of puppet governments and the overall perpetuation of the idea that Haiti just can’t seem to get it together. The United States has groomed future “leaders” of Haiti and then wagged its finger at them once they’ve completed their bidding.
This superficial mention of corruption with little to no background, foundation and analysis leaves the reader believing that corruption is an open and closed case — that it is something that we can continue to blame.
I’m not a hater. I’m happy that the New York Times has presented this information to a different audience. I wrote my Master’s thesis about traditional and neo-colonial relationships with Haiti, much of which included the information shared in the article. I don’t believe many have two years to research and read about the history of Haiti, but I know that the information exists.
And this is the unfairness in their argument. The article perpetuates what people of color continue to fight against: white people saying something matters more than when Black people say it.
When it comes to international development work and its coverage, it’s an unfortunate commonplace. White privilege envelopes the researchers, writers and podcast hosts in a shroud of gold, their assertions are worthy of attention. And if they say it’s new information, then it must be.
The story is about access, white privilege and about the power to change a narrative when one feels like it. The article and the platform it appears on present a consistent, frightful juxtaposition: liberation can only be achieved should white people decide so. This information is deeply connected to liberation, as it can be monetized, celebrated and, in this case, believed. It disavows the homework assignments and the arguments over dinner and, what Haitians love the most, the political conversations over dominoes, fritay, at barbershops or during Sunday exchanges.
Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and Founder of The Haitian Times, Garry Pierre-Pierreresponded to the article thoughtfully, suggesting it doesn’t matter who gets the credit. I respectfully disagree. Though he did make me think twice.
The thing about The New York Times article is that it reinforces an uncomfortable truth: the only things that matter are the things that come out of the mouth of white people; Black history isn’t interesting or titillating or oppressive until white people say so. And when white people take credit for work that has already been done many times over, it continues this narrative that they are the intellect, the bringer of truths, the ones worthy of trust.
The New York Times says that this work hadn’t been done before, that the numbers were buried, that no one knows this history. The New York Times ignores the stories Haitians have been telling their children for generations; these sentences allude to an idea that the research hadn’t been done previously. It’s tacit erasure.
I wonder if the New York Times considered the Haitian academics. (A few contemporary ones were included in writing the article, while there were Haitians whose opinions were included.) Ms. Porter also made sure to point out that they used a number of Haitian and Haitian American translators on the ground in Haiti and Florida. The Haitian Times hosted the NYT authors on a panel on June 20, where I asked this question and another about the role of white privilege in their telling of Haiti’s story. Time ran out before it got to be answered.
The fact that one white woman, two white men and a woman from East Africa got to tell the story of Haiti as the experts is an indication of a racism that may never cease. Again, this is not hate. This is an observation of the systems that maintain oppression.
And that is my issue. White supremacy isn’t the authors’ fault, but they surely participate and benefit from it.
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