I’m not a hater. I’m happy that the New York Times has presented this information to a different audience. I wrote my Master’s thesis about traditional and neo-colonial relationships with Haiti, much of which included the information shared in the article. I don’t believe many have two years to research and read about the history of Haiti, but I know that the information exists.
And this is the unfairness in their argument. The article perpetuates what people of color continue to fight against: white people saying something matters more than when Black people say it.
When it comes to international development work and its coverage, it’s an unfortunate commonplace. White privilege envelopes the researchers, writers and podcast hosts in a shroud of gold, their assertions are worthy of attention. And if they say it’s new information, then it must be.
The story is about access, white privilege and about the power to change a narrative when one feels like it. The article and the platform it appears on present a consistent, frightful juxtaposition: liberation can only be achieved should white people decide so. This information is deeply connected to liberation, as it can be monetized, celebrated and, in this case, believed. It disavows the homework assignments and the arguments over dinner and, what Haitians love the most, the political conversations over dominoes, fritay, at barbershops or during Sunday exchanges.
Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and Founder of The Haitian Times, Garry Pierre-Pierre, responded to the article thoughtfully, suggesting it doesn’t matter who gets the credit. I respectfully disagree. Though he did make me think twice.
The thing about The New York Times article is that it reinforces an uncomfortable truth: the only things that matter are the things that come out of the mouth of white people; Black history isn’t interesting or titillating or oppressive until white people say so. And when white people take credit for work that has already been done many times over, it continues this narrative that they are the intellect, the bringer of truths, the ones worthy of trust.
The New York Times says that this work hadn’t been done before, that the numbers were buried, that no one knows this history. The New York Times ignores the stories Haitians have been telling their children for generations; these sentences allude to an idea that the research hadn’t been done previously. It’s tacit erasure.
I wonder if the New York Times considered the Haitian academics. (A few contemporary ones were included in writing the article, while there were Haitians whose opinions were included.) Ms. Porter also made sure to point out that they used a number of Haitian and Haitian American translators on the ground in Haiti and Florida. The Haitian Times hosted the NYT authors on a panel on June 20, where I asked this question and another about the role of white privilege in their telling of Haiti’s story. Time ran out before it got to be answered.
The fact that one white woman, two white men and a woman from East Africa got to tell the story of Haiti as the experts is an indication of a racism that may never cease. Again, this is not hate. This is an observation of the systems that maintain oppression.
And that is my issue. White supremacy isn’t the authors’ fault, but they surely participate and benefit from it.
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