Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Haiti and the Dominican Republic: An Island Divided


Last night I sat down to watch Black in Latin America, a documentary created by Henry Louis Gates Jr (I hope Soledad watched and took notes).  The first segment was entitled: 
Haiti & the Dominican Republic: An Island Divided

In Haiti, The Root Editor-in-Chief Henry Louis Gates Jr. tells the story of the birth of the first-ever black republic, and finds out how the slaves' hard-fought liberation over Napoleon Bonaparte's French Empire became a double-edged sword. In the Dominican Republic, Gates explores how race has been socially constructed in a society whose people reflect centuries of intermarriage, and how the country's troubled history with Haiti informs notions about racial classification.
I have long been fascinated with the history of Haiti, because it was site of the first slave rebellion in the western world that led directly to emancipation.  Haiti was the first independent Black republic in the western world. It has not escaped my notice, that Haiti is still being punished for this fact today. I was not as familiar with the history of the Dominican Republic, and so I was fascinated by Gates suggestion, that they desire to disown their African heritage.

The unhusband and I made a point to sit down and watch this with Destruction.  As the parent of colour in my relationship, I have taken on the responsibility of ensuring that my children are racially aware and have a good understanding of the people of the African Diaspora.  This is not to say that the unhusband is not equally committed, but simply that there are certain issues that he will never be fluent on based on his Whiteness.

As long as we live in a racially divided world, parents of colour cannot count on the education system to ensure that their children receive an education that accurately reflects their history, as well as the various cultures of the children of the African Diaspora. Learning about Blackness should never be reduced simply to slavery, and the U.S. civil rights movement -- and yet this is normally what stands for teaching Black history in the western world, when the education system attempts to be inclusive.

This series presented an opportunity to help my child look beyond the White history that is aimed at him everyday in school, thus reducing the impression that only White people have ever accomplished anything significant in history. Blacks across the globe have distinct and powerful cultures, but if you internalize the myths that Whiteness has constructed about us, we are a teeming mass of uneducated, untalented, angry, thieving, ugly, violent, ungrateful, desperate lot of humanity, whose belief systems are homogenous. 

I am going to watch this entire series with my son.  I look forward to seeing him learn about the various ways that Blackness manifests outside of his extremely limited Canadian experience. I want him to see the richness that the children of the African Disaspora have created.  I want him to see Blackness in all of the various hues and see brotherhood and a shared history of triumph.  Yes I said triumph.  When we are not being treated to the usual Black pimp, drug dealer and prostitute in the media, we are offered up poverty porn involving Black children covered in flies.  This is not representative of Blackness; this is the denigration of Blackness. It is no accident that Tyler Perry has become a media mogul with his genderized minstrel show.

The greatest gift we can give Black children is racial pride and this is specifically why we must take opportunities like this PBS special to educate them.  They further need to understand that they are not alone in their struggles.  On the special last night, Ati Max Gesner Beauvoir, the Supreme Servitor of Haitian Vodou, when asked about the practice of Vodou said:
For sure, we're very proud. In fact we cannot even see ourselves differently.  In fact that is the only way we see ourselves. In fact, I must say that what characterizes the Haitian nation as a nation, is the pride they have for their forefathers and for their heritage.  When other people say, "come on you are poor," we know that we are rich in our own ways.
Rich because of a sureness that they are of value, and it is this that we must all strive to pass onto our children. This is specifically why as Black parents we have the responsibility to combat the lessons that Whiteness attempts to impart to our children everyday. Despite the various cultural differences, we are a strong beautiful people and the moment that we denigrate this fact by denying the validity of it, we hand over our history, present, and future to Whiteness.