All throughout the drive through Haiti’s capitol of Port-au-Prince, and the long trek up the windy mountain road to the city of Hinche, the only white faces I saw were the other three women sitting inside the cage in the back of the pink jeep with me. In fact, the only other white faces I ever saw during my entire time in Haiti were those belonging to the other volunteers for Midwives for Haiti.
Seeing the World in Black and White
I realized while in Haiti that never in my life have I ever considered “white” as a go-to adjective I’d use to describe myself.
But driving around a country where I stood out in sharp contrast to those around me, white and black was all I could think about. And it occurred to me, why exactly are the poorest people in the world black? And what does my being white have to do with that?
Slaves No More
Haiti stands second in the triumvirate of important revolutions (In order: American, Haitian, and French) that changed colonialism forever. In 1804, Haiti became the first–and remains the only–successful slave revolt in the history of the world. (Sorry Spartacus, I know you gave it a good effort.)
While the American and French Revolutions were organized and orchestrated by highly literate, upper middle-class (white) men who knew a lot about the history of government, and had clear ideas about how they wanted their newly formed governments to work, the Haitian Revolution was carried out by primarily illiterate slaves who did not know how to establish a healthy, functioning government. All they knew was that they didn’t want to be slaves anymore under what is said to be one of the most egregiously brutal slave systems ever known to man.
The Road to Haiti is Paved with Good Intentions
As I passed by the hundreds of black faces lining the roads, pausing from their daily activities to watch our pink jeep filled with white women drive past, I wondered, “What do these people think of us white do-gooders? Are they glad we’re here? Or do they resent us–maybe even hate us–for our interference in their lives and wish we’d just go away and leave them alone?”
I couldn’t help but remember that scene from the Tick cartoon, The Tick vs Pineapple Pokopo, where three secret agents show up at The Tick’s front door and say, “We’re with the government.” and Tick responds with, “Well, no thanks, we’ve got all the government we need.”
Has Haiti had all the white do-gooders it needs?
I wondered, was I really even needed in Haiti, or was this simply a macabre sort of tourist trip engineered to assuage my previously unexplored sense of white guilt?
As we drove by, a few people smiled and waved at us, but mostly the people just stared. Some even scowled and looked downright angry. One memorable man even shouted and shook his fist as we passed by. Maybe they were just angry at the way the jeep kicked up dust and blew it into their faces. I don’t know. My creole isn’t too good.
Why had I come to Haiti? Did I fancy myself the great, white savior coming to help these poor, pitiful black people? Did my color or their color really have anything to do with anything? Isn’t suffering colorblind? Wasn’t I just a skilled healthcare worker here to help Haitians gain the skills necessary to take care of their own? Wasn’t I teaching a man to fish? Isn’t that good?
Even more troubling to me was my wondering whether or not suffering really is colorblind.
My Country, ‘Tis of Thee
After years of foreign control and interference in Haiti, and crazy embargoes imposed by my own government that resulted in the starvation and death of infants, were the Haitian people ultimately being punished by the entire white world for being black and having the audacity to say NO! to white domination?
I have no answers to these questions. I am afraid to even write them out loud. What I do believe is that my government likely sponsored the military coup d’etat that unseated and deported the only legitimate democratically-elected president of Haiti, Jean Bertrand Aristide. What’s up with that? Isn’t my country supposed to stand for freedom and democracy? Or am I supposed to just turn a blind eye and trust that my government knows best even if that means that its actions might be contributing to babies dying of starvation?
What is my complicity in the miserable situation in Haiti, and could I do anything about it?
Was my being in Haiti part of the solution, or was my presence contributing to the problem? I really just didn’t know as I pondered these questions on my way to Hinche.
About 20 minutes before we arrived at our destination, we were hit by a heavy rainstorm, and all my doubts and questions were washed away. What did it matter what color I was, or what skin color had to do with anything anyway? I was already in Haiti; it was too late for questions like that.