Trump’s Fixation on Haiti, and the Abiding Fear of Black Self-Determination

Trump’s Fixation on Haiti, and the Abiding Fear of Black Self-Determination

Eight years ago today, at 4:53 P.M., an earthquake hit Haiti, killing an
estimated three hundred thousand people and displacing more than a
million. An ensuing cholera crisis, for which the United Nations has
admitted responsibility but has not given reparations, claimed tens of thousands
more lives. When, on Thursday, in a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers
about the status of the Dreamers, Trump referred to Haiti, El Salvador,
and several African nations as “shithole countries,” the timing
compounded his insults. The governments of Haiti and Botswana condemned
his remarks on Friday morning. Mia Love, the lone Haitian-American G.O.P.
congresswoman, also managed a statement of disapproval. “This behavior
is unacceptable from the leader of our nation,” Love said. This anger
felt familiar. Eight years ago, on the first Sunday after the
earthquake, I attended a church vigil in Brooklyn with my mother, who
immigrated to the United States from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in the late
nineteen-seventies. Telephone lines in Haiti were still down, and so we
had no way to know who in our family had survived the disaster. A
Haitian priest at the vigil insinuated that the earthquake was an act of
God—“a price for our freedom,” I remember him saying. A woman, her head
bent under a mantilla, stormed out of her pew. She knew that the priest
had forgotten his original idols, and had submitted to an American one.

Haiti declared its independence from France on January 1, 1804. The
American government refused to recognize the country until 1862. Thomas
Jefferson, in 1799, referred to the leaders of Haiti’s violent overthrow
of French colonial order as “cannibals of the terrible republic.”
Haitian sovereignty, and the nationalist insurrections it inspired in
the global South, was seen as an aberration from the Enlightenment’s
racial ideal, a framing that has persisted for two centuries. The
peculiar nineteenth-century physician Samuel Adolphus Cartwright, in his
description of “drapetomania”—which he defined as “the disease causing
Negroes to flee”—used the “insensibility” of Haitian free black society
as an example of why America’s enslaved population had to be
psychologically broken down. Haiti’s sin was black self-determination,
and its people the sinners. A day after the 2010 earthquake, the
evangelist Pat Robertson said on his TV show, “The 700 Club,” that the natural
catastrophe was the result of Haiti’s “pact to the
“You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But, ever
since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other.”

Considering his incuriosity and general historical illiteracy, one
doubts that Trump is consciously aware of this grotesque propaganda. But
he has nevertheless absorbed this bigotry whole—has become one with it.
According to the New York Times, Trump, at a White House meeting in June,
complained about the fifteen thousand visas that had been
issued to Haitians in 2017, saying that Haitians “all have

and that he wanted to “take them out.” The Haitian-American writer
Edwidge Danticat patiently
on the origins of this awful talk, which has its roots in public-health campaign from the nineteen-eighties
that spread the rumor that Haitians had brought the disease to America.
But Trump’s remarks yesterday sent me to Frederick Douglass, who, in
1893, gave his “Lecture on Haiti” in Chicago, the city founded by Jean
Baptiste Point du Sable, himself believed to have been born on the
portion of Hispaniola that would later declare itself Haiti. In his
talk, Douglass spoke of the ideological hazard that the world’s first
free black republic might pose to the U.S., saying, “But a deeper reason for
coolness between the countries is this: Haiti is black, and we have not
yet forgiven Haiti for being black or forgiven the Almighty for making
her black.”

Vulgarity like Trump’s inevitably incites an equal heat. On Thursday
night, a kind of delirium seemed to consume cable-news commentators on
CNN, as they, uncensored, repeated the word “shithole,” revelling in its
nastiness. I watched with my mother. We were made queasy by the whole
affair—not just by Trump’s audacity but by how, every time he does
something like this, a game follows of trying to prove the dignity of
black and brown people by associating them with accomplishment and
richesse. (The hashtag #ImFromAShitholeCountry is an attempt at
reclamation that fails to activate, for me, any sensation like pride.)
The reactions felt to us somehow both significant and banal: this is the
man who launched his campaign by calling Mexican men rapists. What new
thing were we learning about him? The strengthening of anti-immigration
policies and the stoking of a flamboyantly nationalist vernacular are, we
know, victories to him. As my colleague John Cassidy wrote today, it
would be “absurd,” by now, to deny that our President is a

We can know the contours of Trump’s racism, the smell of it. He said on
Thursday that he would prefer that people from Norway come to the United
States. Trump
believes that
his tribe is the greatest because they possessed of a superior
gene. In other words, his bigotry is flush with racial insecurity. It
makes sense, then, that Haiti would be a primal fixation. Trump
remembers the era in which Haiti’s largesse earned it the name “La Perle
des Antilles”; the decades in which Haitians flooded New York City; the
demonstration against racism that shook the Brooklyn Bridge. And now,
today, having recently revoked Temporary Protected Status for sixty
thousand Haitians
he savors the poverty of Haiti—sustained ruin brought on by
deforestation, neo-colonial intervention, and the funding of dictators,
and by American greed—and takes it as a sign of his race’s destiny.
During his campaign, Trump made a special
appearance for would-be
Haitian supporters in Miami; at Mar-a-Lago, the New Yorker has
the staff “tends to come from two countries, Haiti and Romania.” On
Friday, Trump tweeted that the language he used to talk about Haiti was
“rough,” but obliquely denied using the word “shithole.” (“Never said
anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a
very poor and troubled country,” he said, adding that his statements
were “made up by Dems.”) And yet the phrase sounds just like him.
Douglass observed in his 1893 speech that the American mistreatment of
Haiti demonstrated how “our boasted civilization is far behind all other
nations.” His judgment has not yet been disproven.


via Everything

January 13, 2018 at 12:00AM

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *