Boston Globe, July 2021
I recently had the joy of attending my cousin’s beautiful wedding in Washington, D.C. Both bride and groom were born and raised in Haiti, as my parents were, and the entire event was a jubilant celebration of our culture, from the mix of languages to the music and dancing. When I returned from my trip, a friend asked, “How was the wedding?” I responded that it was amazing: “It felt like we were in Port-au-Prince.” Without skipping a beat, he asked: “Did anyone get assassinated?”
That stung, and I was completely at a loss for words.
I didn’t tell him that the United States owes a debt to Haiti because of the role the people of the island, then under French rule, played in supporting the American revolution. Or that the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse must also be processed in relation to all the deaths under his regime. I did not offer a lesson about Haitian history and politics explaining that activists in the popular uprising against Moïse were robbed of the opportunity to hold him responsible for his crimes and his rule by decree.
Instead, I said nothing. I just rolled my eyes.
My friend, who is African American, is not insensitive. I don’t think he realized that his comment fit into a long tradition of casual jokes made at the expense of Haitian people. In the 1980s Haitian immigrant children were taunted on school playgrounds and accused of having HBO (Haitian body odor). Today Haiti is still offhandedly referred to as a “banana republic” that is ungovernable or cursed. It’s accepted unquestioningly, as the scholar Michel-Rolph Trouillot once critiqued, that Haiti is exceptionally weird.