Music for a Sunday: Haiti

“Haiti is here. Haiti is not here.”

Full lyrics, and translation, here.

BTW, these lyrics, referring to racial injustice in Haiti and Brazil, are especially appropriate in light of a scandal concerning a Haitian diplomat in Brazil a couple of days ago:

The Haitian consul in São Paulo, George Samuel Antoine, not knowing that his microphone was open, commented before a journalistic interview that the earthquake “would be good for” his country, because thanks to it, “we are now more recognized”. The diplomat blamed the ills of his country on the fact that “every place where there are Africans is fucked”.

The consul also blamed the earthquake on macumba, the religion practiced by a majority of Haitians in spite of official Catholicism: “I believe that because of all this practice of macumba, we don’t know if it’s that. Africans are cursed in and of themselves.”

Upon learning that his words, spoken in confidentiality to an investigator, had been recorded, the diplomat became very nervous and excused himself, saying that he could not speak Portuguese very well, and had been misinterpreted. However, he has been living in Brazil for 35 years, since 1975.

By way of apology, Antoine also recalled that his grandfather, born in Africa, was president of Haiti in the late 19th century, and being so nervous as a result of the earthquake in his country, he managed to avoid getting into an argument.

Throughout the interview, Antoine fingered a rosary. “It’s to calm my nerves and receive positive energy,” he said.

In Brazil, it is hoped that the government of Haiti takes a firm position on the matter, seeing that this is an offence not only against that country, but against all Africans.

Translation mine.

The reason this is so scandalous should be obvious.

In Brazil, as in Haiti, black slavery, though abolished, still works its malign influence to the present day in the form of racism (and in some cases, de facto slavery still).

A great many Brazilians–some estimate a majority–are mulattoes, although the higher up the class order you go, the less African and more European faces you’ll see. It is possible for many a middle-class Brazilian to look white and still carry a lot of “black” blood, as Caetano Veloso does. But he is just as much a mulatto as his friend and collaborator in the song, Gilberto Gil, who looks more black.

In Haiti, as El Duderino reminds us, “black” is supposed to be a deracialized term (under the Haitian constitution), and even white-skinned permanent residents of the land are referred to as “blacks”, in a radical interracial solidarity and a vehement rejection of the old slave-order of things. When all are black, all are equal, goes the reasoning; no one gets to lord anything over his neighbor, no matter what color. And no one gets to own another person outright, as chattel. To be a Haitian “black” is to be free, or so it should be.

Yet the racism of colonial times persists in the mentality of many. It is an internalized racism, and even a man of known African heritage can and does let it slip from time to time, as Mr. Antoine has done. The fear and mistrust of macumba, or Voudou, plays into this mindset; it is both racist and superstitious, since Voudounsis (practitioners) are largely peaceful and in fact have maintained the religion as a direct tie back to Africa, as well as a means of gaining liberty for Haiti (and by extension, the rest of the Americas). The fact that Voudou is syncretic is also proof of its peaceful nature; it signals a reconciliation of Catholic saints (bequeathed by white colonists) with African spirits, ancestors and deities. Voudounsis pray to both in the same breath and in the same ceremonies; in fact, they recognize that the “two” are one. The power summoned in the practice of Voudou is personal and can also be political, giving the practitioner the strength that a long struggle for liberty demands.

And that’s why this internalized-racist statement of Africans being “cursed” and “fucked” by macumba is so offensive. It directly insults the entire Haitian (and Brazilian) struggle against slavery and racism–a struggle that still goes on to this day.

Haiti is here. Haiti is not here.

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2 Responses to Music for a Sunday: Haiti

  1. Slave Revolt says:

    Spot on analysis of a very, very multifaceted, slippery, and sometimes incongruous subject.
    Just as some folks in the working class have a slave mentality–where voting and acting for a better distribution of wealth is ´bad´, or ´communist´.
    The metaphors of light and dark, good and bad, etc. are mediated differently by different cultures.
    My own psychic economy categorized black with dirty, and I had to become aware of just how sick and off-base this framing really is.
    This Brazilian functionary really has revealed how steeped he is in the master´s racist inclinations. The sheer embarrassment of this incident will be a form of punishment, but he should also be demoted and rebuked for this twisted shit.
    I notice a huge amount of coverage of the quake on FOX news. In my view, the rightwing really believes that the Haitian people deserve this shit. They look at the immiserated condition of the Haitian people and their reptilian, racist core beliefs are affirmed. Then they hypocritically posture that they really care about these people.
    The comments by the propagandists of the right can´t be anything other than blatantly racist and condescending. This is a broad brush, but I think the dynamics are readily apparent in all of Western culture among the right.
    Saying that, the racism on the progressive liberal left is readily apparent on the degree that they-we don´t really engage in issues that effect Africans or people of African heritage around the globe. This racist shit is pretty deep, the point is to bring core beliefs to the surface and form bonds of love and solidarity in the face of imperialism and immiseration.

  2. The functionary was Haitian, living in Brazil. And there’s the awful irony of it–he pissed all over his own people and their native beliefs, internalizing fully the racist mentality that “anything from Africa is evil”.
    The other awful irony is that he did it in another country that owes a lot of its humanity and culture to Africa. Brazilians also have a “voodoo” religion, several branches of it–Candomblé is one. The whole carnival culture of samba schools is descended from it. The rhythms they play on their drums are African to the core, and they all have spiritual significance from an African standpoint–different deities had different drum “calls” used to invoke them during ceremonies.
    The Cuban “Babalu” is such a rhythm–it’s used for summoning Babalu-Ayé. Cuban Santería is also an Afro-syncretic religion, and very important for understanding such “folk dances” as the mambo. A mambo is actually an Afro-Cuban Santería priestess, and as such, a very venerable woman in her community. The dance was something she did to summon the spirits and encourage them to “ride” (that is, speak and act through) her.
    Dance and drumming as a means of entering trances is a very old and respected art the world over, but ever since white man’s imposed superstitions declared old religions evil, there’s been this internalized racism everywhere. The reason behind it is pretty obvious–declaring native beliefs a “dangerous dirty superstition” is the white colonist’s way of ensuring a monopoly and thus, an empire. The Romans did it to all of Europe, and Europeans in turn spread it to other lands, particularly through enslavement of natives and imported Africans. It’s tragic to see in those who should be proud, not ashamed, of their African and/or indigenous backgrounds.
    It is also part of the reason why I’m a pagan–I “reverted” to the old “superstitions” the church tried to root out, realizing intuitively that it was much more rational than believing in a sky-pixie who knocked up a girl in the Middle East somewhere and allowed the son of that union to be crucified and then resurrected. That didn’t really “take”, either–there are pagan customs still alive, in some form, all over Europe. They invariably make more sense, and are far more life-affirming, than the crazy cross-worship that Rome used to supplant them, and wherever the Romans couldn’t root those beliefs out, they ended up “sanctifying” them by declaring the gods of the old religion to be the “saints” of the new. And the fact that there is a growing, abiding interest in those old ways everywhere, shows that Rome has failed, just as all empires eventually do. The vassals invariably reclaim what is theirs. So it’s natural that I’d see commonalities with these supposedly “alien” peoples who were dragged over in chains from Africa. My ancestors were once vassals and slaves, too. It makes perfect sense for white-ass me to make common cause with the Africans–we all want to be free!

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