Thu | Oct 19, 2017

Hit Dom Rep racists in their pockets

Published:Wednesday | July 1, 2015 | 12:00 AMLisa Tomlinson, Contributor
Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat speaks as Dominican-American writer Junot Diaz stands by during a gathering of about 150 activists and community members in Miami on June 24. The group called for political pressure and travel boycotts against the Dominican Republic for its deportation policy affecting Haitian descendants.

The immediate response to the unjust treatment of Haitian-Dominicans by the government of the Dominican Republic should be a collective one. The opposition to the slated deportation or expulsion of more than 200,000 Haitian-Dominicans is a cause that needs to be taken up not only by Caribbean leaders, but also by the people living in the region and its diaspora.

Haiti has frequently been lauded for its historical revolution that led to the freedom of enslaved Africans in 1804. Haiti is also admired for its vigorous and principled support for the independence movement in South America. Historians, academics and even creative writers throughout the Caribbean have used the Haitian Revolution in their work as the backdrop to symbolise the emancipation of black people living in the diaspora.

Historically, the relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti has been smeared with brutality and war. In 1822, Haiti occupied the Dominican Republic, emancipated enslaved Africans, but brutally mistreated and suppressed the culture of her people. The October 1937 massacre of approximately 20,000 Haitians on the order of the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo (known as the Parsley Massacre) further worsened relations between both nations.

In his famous novel, Home to Harlem, Harlem Renaissance writer Claude McKay does not focus the reader's attention on the historical rift between the two countries. Instead, he intentionally uses his Haitian character, Ray, to dispel the negative stereotypes of Caribbean people as savages. More profoundly, McKay begins a conversation between his main characters to shed light on the significance of the Haitian Revolution.

In this way, Ray proudly reminds us of how Haiti became the first black nation to successfully fight against imperial powers to gain independence. McKay also takes the opportunity to reinsert the Haitian Revolution into history; a revolution that is often marginalised in the accounting of the Atlantic revolutions of the latter part of the 18th Century.

 

HUMANISING HAITIANS

 

Edwidge Danticat, a more contemp-orary writer, has consistently engaged Haiti into her fiction. For Danticat, locating Haiti in her work is not about valourising the revolution, but rather humanising the Haitian people. Danticat underscores the struggles of the Haitian people in the face of the aftermath of slavery, France's extraction of a ransom of 90 million gold francs, Dominicans' anti-Haitian racism, and economic and political instability that has made it virtually impossible for Haitians to live a decent life.

Not surprisingly, the work and theme of Caribbean creative writers on Haiti have always been in line with that of the region's scholars. Caribbean historian Hilary Beckles, in his article, 'The Hate and the Quake: A Long History of Stolen Wealth', written after the massive 2010 earthquake, retraces the exclusion and violence committed against Haitians and the price they have had to pay for gaining their freedom.

Beckles also reminds us that "Haiti was isolated at birth - ostracised and denied access to world trade, finance, and institutional development. It was the most vicious example of national strangulation recorded in modern history".

Unfortunately, history is repeating itself, as Haitians, Haitian-Dominicans in this case, are yet again being denied their legal rights as citizens, as was the case when colonial powers rejected their status as free or self-emancipated Africans. And Haitians continue to be removed from our social imagination.

Indeed, the Dominican Republic has resorted to its strategy of 'Blanquemiento', or whitening of the population, an old colonial immigration policy that was aimed at exterminating the black presence. Haitians carry a strong African cultural influence, which is reflected in their religious beliefs, language, carnival arts and many other cultural practices.

The preceding cultural reality is no doubt in contrast to the mainstream Spanish or Iberian Catholic culture that dominates the Dominican Republic despite having a large African-descended population. It is definitely the national image being used to push Dominican tourism.

As Dominica's tourism industry is a key tool used to support its false 'national identity', this economic sector is the perfect area to boycott since it is one of the island's main sources of national revenue. While circulating awareness of the treatment of Haitian-Dominicans via social media outlets has served its purpose, let's also include proactive measures such as lobbying governments and pressuring foreign companies to stop investing in the Dominican Republic.

In the case of the Caribbean, people living in the region need to put greater pressure on CARICOM to take swift and punitive action. There seems to be more talk taking place on the outrageous situation than stringent measures against the Dominican Republic's violation of the human rights of Haitian-Dominicans.

- Dr Lisa Tomlinson is an adjunct professor and community researcher in Toronto, Canada. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and Lisa_Tomlinson@edu.yorku.ca.