Guest Column: We honor our Haitian Ancestors and decry mistreatment of our people in Texas – The Florida Times-Union

Long before shameful footage of US border agents’ mistreatment of Haitian refugees in Texas, many among the Haitian diaspora, particularly those who chose America as our home, have wrestled with ambivalence towards America as a source of both pride and pain. This dualism is not uncommon among immigrant families given our insider and outsider perspectives about immigration issues. This is especially the case for us as Haitian-American scholars representing a swath of the idealized American dream in terms of our accomplishments and contributions to society. While we praise how Americanism benefitted our trajectory as children of immigrants, abuse of our people in Texas is a reminder of the double bind of our simultaneous identities as Haitian and American.
The shared, but oft-forgotten, history between America and Haiti during colonial rule is a point of pride among the Haitian diaspora in America. Free Haitian soldiers had a small, but not insignificant, role in helping American colonists win independence from Britain during the American Revolution. What pains us is the lack of appreciation for how closely tied Haiti’s history is to professed American ideals of equality, liberty, and justice for all. The incomplete history many of us are taught in US schools provides a detail-light account of Toussaint Louverture leading Haiti’s rebellion against France. Commonly understated is that Haiti was the Americas’ first successful revolt by enslaved Africans and the world’s first, Black, democratic republic.
Contrary to Haiti’s solidarity with American colonists’ quest for independence from Britain, Haiti’s support was not reciprocated for their fight for independence from European imperialists. Haiti’s successful revolt was problematic for Americans who feared reports of the new, Black republic would inspire rebellion among enslaved Africans under their rule and threaten an American economy reliant on slave labor. America only recognized Haiti’s sovereignty 60 years later in 1862. Some historians argue that anti-Black racist sentiments about Haiti’s triumph against White, European colonizers, resulted in centuries of problematic US interference in Haiti’s sovereignty that, perhaps, dissuaded other colonized Caribbean nations to quickly follow Haiti’s suit. Remarkably, the Haitian Revolution would still kindle subsequent anti-colonial movements.
Since Haiti’s independence, thinkers like Paul Farmer argue that US policies towards Haiti have been detrimental to its economic and political development. Thus, America has not always been a good neighbor with policies resulting in consequences ranging from economic embargoes, the 19-year US occupation (1915-1934), to controversial support of the totalitarian Duvalier regime (1957-1986) that sparked the first major wave of migration out of Haiti.
Witnessing what happened in Texas forces us to deconstruct the ‘bootstrap’ narrative often ascribed to immigrants in America. While we are proud of our accomplishments as recent arrivals, we are critical of the unearned, “Black immigrant privilege” imputed on us, especially when unnecessarily pitted against our Black American siblings who bear the brunt of generational, US anti-Black racism. Abhorrent behavior by US border agents reminds us of how deeply imprinted racism is on our experiences and how far we have left to go.
The blatant, anti-Black and Brown immigrant racism of Trump’s administration was expected given the hateful rhetoric that headlined his presidential candidacy. What was not expected is a continuance of Trump’s policy under Biden considering campaign promises made in districts such as Little Haiti in Miami. The mistreatment of Haitian migrants by Texas border agents, financed by the US government, can be read as part of anti-Black racism America has had to reckon with, as seen during 2020 racial protests. Visceral scenes of lasso whipping horsemen evoked US slave era imagery, further eroding illusions remaining of America as “home of the brave and the land of the free”.
We honor the legacy of our Haitian Ancestors and decry mistreatment of our people in Texas. We are disheartened, but not despondent about efforts to rebuild Haiti and Haiti-US relations. We believe America should acknowledge its history of exploitation and harmful interference that partially contributed to the present status of Haiti.
Recommended policies should be restorative, democratically inclusive, and respectful of Haiti’s self-determination. The Biden administration should earnestly reevaluate current policies impacting Haiti and work towards more efficient, systematic investment in Haiti’s societal foundations such as education, healthcare, infrastructure, reforestation, and agriculture. Such strategic investments can demonstrate reparative support so Haitian people will less likely choose migration out of their country as the best option for survival.
Sophie Filibert and Marie Larose, PhD are faculty members for the University of North Florida’s new Africana Studies program, and members of the growing, local Haitian-American diaspora in Jacksonville.  


What's your reaction?

In Love
Not Sure

You may also like

More in:Diaspora

Comments are closed.