Last Thursday, when President Donald Trump was outed for his racist
and xenophobic remarks about African countries and Haiti being "*hole" countries, we were reminded we do the work that we do. President Trump's words were racist--further evidenced by his longing for Norwegian, read white, immigrants instead of immigrants from Africa and Haiti. And much of the world was shocked. We should be shocked that the President of the United States holds such a position. Unfortunately, this perspective on formerly colonized places and spaces throughout the world is not new. In fact, it was the perspective that spaces such as the continent of Africa were merely savage jungles that was used to justify colonial invasion and occupation of the continent in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. U.S. occupation of Haiti and interference in economic development led to Haiti's dependency on global aid, and contemporary voluntourism efforts fail to recognize the imperialist and colonial attitudes that lead young Americans to feel that the work they are doing in black and brown countries is helpful.
The idea that Haiti is a "-hole" has long been a view held even by those who would not identify politically with the president. Those who wish to do "good" work abroad, especially in Haiti, often miss the mark on "helping" and in narratives about their experiences manage to paint the country and its residents as poor, dirty, helpless, suffering, despicable, and living in unbearable conditions. Haiti is often described in this way, as, to use the President's words, a "*-hole."
This is why we have work to do, especially those of us who want to be allies to the international POC community. We have work to do to decolonize our narratives about the spaces we feel we have a connection with. When I was working in Haiti in 2014 and 2015, I was consistently frustrated by my own inability to work around my own colonial perspective--by virtue of "working" in Haiti as a white American woman, I was always in the position of working on behalf a community that was decidedly not my own and about which I knew nothing. I was devastated when I realized that between the networks I circulated in and my own identity and perspective, I was not going to be able to suddenly rid myself of my U.S. white experience and be able to fully support the communities I had come to care about. At least not without some serious self-reflection and not without finding some honest, vulnerable, and raw partnerships with Haitians doing the work I wanted to be a part of.
When Fritz and I decided start Zanmitay Collective, it was after several years of working side-by-side on the ground in a number of environments. We knew the work we were doing could not be done without the honesty, accountability, and critical self-reflection that comes with the hard work of sifting through layers and layers of unidentified personal origin stories and socialization. It's lifelong work for us--finding the middle path and patching a shared understanding and shared story about how we can effect sustainable change in the world, and being willing to sit with our discomfort with ourselves and with each other when our cultural backgrounds and perspective bang up against each other.
We want to share what we've learned--and what we're still learning-- with anyone and everyone. We want to invite other U.S. Americans to take the step to decolonize your perspective, and your work, and to actively take a stand against the pervasive racism that is at the heart of American consciousness today. We cannot escape it. And it takes hard, heart-opening, critical self-reflection to do it. Come and join us.