The Problem of Our Shame: A Message to Haitian thinkers and Public intellectuals:

The Problem of Our Shame: A Message to Haitian thinkers and Public intellectuals:
The souls and resources of the Haitian people and peasants are not for sale. We would rather die in dignity and honor like our valiant African ancestors who sacrificed their lives, not their dignity, for our freedom and independence. If we must die today, let us die with grace like men and women of value. To be Haitian means to unashamedly proclaim our humanity and dignity in the face of aggressive imperialism, neocolonization, white supremacy,  and all forces of oppression and subjugation in the twenty-first century. 

We will not be shamed and disrespected. Our glory is our dignity and humanity. Our shame is the refusal to stand in solidarity with the Haitian masses and illiterate peasants and our reluctance to affirm unapologetically our common values and shared history of suffering and humiliation. Our shame is also our cowardness to resist the oppressors of our people and to say no to alienation, elitism, and disengagement.

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“The Problem of Our Shame:On the Crisis of Black and Haitian Professionals, Academics, and Intellectuals in Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora”

“The Problem of Our Shame:On the Crisis of Black and Haitian Professionals, Academics, and Intellectuals in Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora”

Black intellectuals both in the United States and Haiti are alienated from the people they claim to represent. They’re unable to relate to the black masses nor do they have the will to power to empathize with their pain and ameliorate the black condition in both societies.

There exists a wide gap between Black and Haitian professionals, academics, and public intellectuals and the Haitian people–the Haitian masses, the Black masses, the common people, the illiterate, those who work low-paying jobs, etc.–who live in the Haitian Diaspora in the United States of America and Haiti, correspondingly.

The wall of alienation is a psychological fence that separates the Haitian intellectual from the rest of the Haitian masses. The Haitian intellectual intentionally alienates himself or herself from the common people by reason, lifestyle, taste, intellectual pedigree, cultural pride, tradition, and other preferences in life. They’re also alienated from each other by class, color, and economic distinctions. Elitism–cultural, intellectual, and ideological– is equally an enduring mark of Haitian intellectualism and professionalism, resulting in a disengaged intellectual culture, disconnected intellectual class, and underrepresented peoples in the Haitian society–both in Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora. This separation and walls of prejudice and increasing alienation grow higher and disastrously affect every sphere of social dynamics and human interactions between the two groups.

There has to be a better or healthy way for Black and Haitian professionals, academics, and public intellectuals to engage the Haitian people and the black masses constructively without promoting a relationship of paternalism and dependence. What’s desperately needed in our society is the cultivation of a relationship that champions mutual reciprocity, respect, and interdependence.

What’s the meaning or use of your influential academic books and dazzling rhetoric, whose primary subject is black people and your Haitian people, if you’re distancing yourself from them and remain unmoved by their dehumanization, suffering, and pain. Such action will foster a politics of alienation and humiliation, and a relationship of superiority and inferiority–between “You” and “Them” (“The Other”).

Regrettably, the life of the black intellectual (i.e.Haitian intellectual) and black professional suffers from three great mischiefs or shortcomings: elitism, alienation, and disengagement.

* On a personal note: I always try to remember where I came from. I’m a son of two Haitian peasants whose parents and grandparents were also peasants. My father did not have a college degree. My mother did not graduate from high school. They worked the land in Haiti and in the U.S.A. all kinds of dirty jobs to put food on the table and send all of their seven children to school and college. I am one of their lucky sons who was the first one in the family to get a PhD. In fact, I graduated with 3 Masters degrees and 2 PhDs.

In 1979, my father came to the United States on a “boat” to seek for a better life for his family. He would spend almost twenty years of his life working two jobs–working as a construction worker, meat cutter at Publix, parking attendant, etc… in order to support and give us a better life than he had in Haiti. He was an honest and disciplined man who believed in the integrity of work and the dignity of every individual. Likewise, my mother is the most incredible person I’ve ever known. She worked her entire life to support us and provide for her children. She treats everyone with kindness, respect, care, and understanding. Both my father and mother never perceive themselves to be higher than their friends, neighbors, the people they meet in their everyday transactions or activities, or even those who were poorer than them.

What I learn from them is that no matter who I have become today, (1) I should always remember that my origins and roots are from the masses and the underclass, and that (2) I need to treat people with kindness, respect, care, and understanding. They have also taught me that (3) to neglect the masses, the poor, underprivileged families, and the least among us is to forget my origins and humble beginnings. (4) I have also learned from them that not to regard myself as a superior individual than anyone else around me– despite my successes and academic credentials. Finally, my parents have taught me that (5) knowledge comes with accountability; opportunity comes with sacrifice; and success leads to a life of giving and service.

The souls and resources of the Haitian people and peasants are not for sale. We would rather die in dignity and honor like our valiant African ancestors who sacrificed their lives, not their dignity, for our freedom and independence. If we must die today, let us die with grace like men and women of value. To be Haitian means to unashamedly proclaim our humanity and dignity in the face of aggressive imperialism, neocolonization, white supremacy,  and all forces of oppression and subjugation in the twenty-first century.

We will not be shamed and disrespected. Our glory is our dignity and humanity. Our shame is the refusal to stand in solidarity with the Haitian masses and illiterate peasants and our reluctance to affirm unapologetically our common values and shared history of suffering and humiliation. Our shame is also our cowardness to resist the oppressors of our people and to say no to alienation, elitism, and disengagement.

Pre-order my new book: “Thinking in Public”

This is perhaps the most important book I have written on Haitian intellectual history and Black Radical Tradition. It is the sequel of “From Toussaint to Price-Mars: Rhetoric, Race, and Religion in Haitian Thought.”
 
The third volume in the Haitian intellectual tradition series is on Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which I have entitled “Aristide: A Theological and Political Introduction to His Life and Thought” (under contract with Fortress Press, 2018). The fourth volume is a single-authored book on Jean Price-Mars (under contract with Wpft and Stock Publishers, 2018). Finally, the last volume in the series will be on Joseph Antenor Firmin.
To read my critical analysis and reflections on these thinkers, I invite you to read the following published peer-reviewed articles:
a) On Roumain
b) On Aristide
c) on Price-Mars
“The Religious Philosophy of Jean Price-Mars”, Journal of Black Studies 43(6) 620–645
d) On Firmin
“Anténor Firmin, the ‘Egyptian Question’ and Afrocentric Imagination,The Journal of Pan African Studies 7:2 (October 2014):1-53

The Missing Black Girls and Women in America!

It is not the sole responsibility of black feminists and black people to demand what has happened to the black girls and women who are missing in Washington D.C. and our country. We are all accountable to keep our girls and women safe and alive. Let’s not racialize and genderize life because of political correctness and racial, gender, or ethnic affiliation. To put it another way, we should never divide and categorize human life on the basis of race and gender distinctions.

The life of black girls and women have value and human dignity, as much as the life of women in other races do. The struggle for safeguarding or protecting life is and should be a human concern and national campaign.

Edwidge Danticat at IRSC on Monday, March 27 @ 1:00 PM

Edwidge Danticat at IRSC on Monday, March 27 @ 1:00 PM

Special Invitation (In English and Kreyol) from Dr. Celucien L. Joseph (“Docteur Lou”), Professor of English and Literature at Indian River State College, to the Public lecture by the award winning short story and novelist Edwidge Danticat

When: Monday, March 27 @ 1:00 PM
Room: V 110
Where: Indian River State College (Fort Pierce, Florida) #IRSC

#EDWIDGEDANTICATATIRSC
#BIGREAD
#IRSCREADSDANTICAT
#BROTHERIMDYING

Look forward to seeing you all next week!

Thank you

Docteur Lou

Vodou is not a Country, and Haiti is not a Religion: A Response to Reza Aslan and Others!

“Vodou is Haiti. Haiti is Vodou”–Reza Aslan

Vodou is not a Country, and Haiti is not a Religion: A Response to Reza Aslan and Others!

In his spiritual adventure series, sponsored by CNN, religious scholar Reza Aslan undertakes a series of ethnographic research based on his visits in various countries and interviews with religious adherents and religious leaders of different religious traditions. In his visit to Haiti, he visited some of the most sacred spaces of the Vodou religion such as the sacred waterfall Saut-d’Eau, a popular site for Vodou pilgrimage.  In Haiti, he interviewed Evangelical leaders of Protestant Christianity and Hougan and mambo of the Vodou religion to gain various perspectives of Haiti’s popular religion. Aslan’s underlying objective is to shed better understanding of the Vodou religion that has often been misrepresented as evil, paganism, cannibalism, sorcery, witchcraft, etc. in the writings of American and European missionaries and writers. Aslan is also interested in challenging those distortions of Vodou and resituate Vodou in its rightful place as a legitimate religion like any other religions of the world. In the conclusion of his documentary on Vodou, Professor Reza Aslan seems to rearticulate a commonly-held misconception about Haiti, a nation, and Vodou, a religious system, when he declares “Vodou is Haiti. Haiti is Vodou.”

It is like saying Christianity is America. America is Christianity. This is a false dichotomy that does not represent the religious and experience and diversity of the Haitian people.  Haiti is not a religion. Haiti is a country. Vodou is not a country, but a religion among other religious traditions practiced in Haiti. In fact, the ancestral faith of the Haitian people is not monolithic. It is African traditional religion (i.e. Vodoun), Christianity, and Islam. In the remaining part of this short analysis, I would like to communicate a few ideas about three important issues that are intertwined and closely related to each other: religion, religious affiliation, and the construction of self and collective national identity based on certain religious tradition or system. The emphasis of this brief reflection will be on Haitian Vodou and Haitian (national) identity. Here are my 13 propositions:

  1. Religious experience could be both personal and collective.
  1. Religious piety is not spirituality.
  1. Religious affiliation is a choice–at least in most Western societies and nation-states. (I understand it may not be a personal choice in certain countries where religious freedom is limited or not prized!) It is also observed that some countries in the Middle East, for example, have adopted a state religion such as Islam.
  1. While a person may be born into a particular religious tradition or system–such as Haitian Vodou, Christianity, Judaism, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.–genuine religious affiliation, however, should be a personal choice of the individual.

As we say in Kreyol, “Yo pa achte Lwa” (“One cannot buy a Lwa/Spirit) (Nonetheless, I do understand that Vodou is also a family religion, and the religious heritage can be passed on from one generation to the next. However, that in itself does not qualify a family member to automatically become a Vodouizan, a Hougan or Mambo. Allow me to share a personal example: my grandmother from my mother’s side was a mambo (Vodou priestess), and my grandfather from my mother’s side served many lwa, even married to several of them (Spiritual marriage in Vodou). Nonetheless, my mother never practiced Vodou nor has she inherited the tradition or passed it on to her children. My father’s parents (my grandparents) were not Vodou practitioners). From this vantage point, religious affiliation is certainly not an entitlement.

  1. Hence, to be born into a Haitian family does not automatically make one a Vodouizan or Vodouist.
  1. Haiti is a country. Haitian is a national identity. Vodouizan is a religious affiliation. These three things are not the same and certainly not synonymous or interchangeable.
  1. Haitians, both in Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora, have embraced various and competing religious affiliations. Haitians are Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Catholic practitioners, Protestants, Agnostics, Atheists, Secular humanists, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, etc. As a result, Haitians are free to embrace any religious worldview or system.
  1. Vodou is one among other religions practiced by Haitians both in Haiti and the Diaspora. Our ancestral faith is not monolithic; it is rather pluralistic. (In fact, Vodou itself is not a homogeneous religion.) Our African ancestors who were brought by force to the island of Saint Domingue brought with them various traditions, practices, customs, and competing religious practices and worldviews including Christianity, African Traditional religions, Islam, etc. While living on the island, they also adopted the religions of the Native Americans, and incorporated them into the religion of Vodou; they have also integrated Christian rituals and theology, and Masonic humanist morality and rituals into Vodou. While a large number of the enslaved population practiced what is now labelled as Haitian Vodou, not all of them were Vodou practitioners.
  1. To embrace another religion other than Vodou should not be construed as the devalorization of the Haitian culture—since religions and cultures are human inventions and part of the process and theory we call social constructionism. In a true democratic state, the individual is granted the right of religious freedom and preference.

*The ideology in contemporary Haitian scholarship is that to be Haitian is to be a Vodouizan. Many Haitianist scholars have “essentialized Vodou” as the religion of all Haitians, just like certain individuals have “essentialized” race and culture. This tendency among scholars, both in the Anglophone and Francophone worlds, does not do justice to the reality and the lived-experiences of the Haitian people–both in Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora. I would suggest that Vodou, Christianity, and Islam had played a pivotal role in the Haitian Revolution since Vodou itself is a syncretized faith which integrates Christian moral theology and ritual into its own brand of practice. Secondly, Francois Makandal, Dutty Boukman, and other important maroon leaders, and revolutionary leaders embraced Islam; they were also Vodouizan. Thirdly, the founding fathers Toussaint Louverture and Alexandre Petion were devout Roman Catholic by confession. In 1816, President Petion had invited Protestant Christianity in Haiti–what is now called today “Evangelical Christianity—only 12 yrs after the founding of the new nation of Haiti ( I do understand there is a great divide between Evangelical Christianity of the 19th century and that of the 21st century, as to their political affiliation and theological confessions). Fourthly, a large number of the enslaved Africans practiced Vodou as a religion; on the other hand, the enslaved Congolese who were brought to Saint-Domingue at the end of the 18th century were equally Catholic Christians as Catholicism became the state religion of Congo in early 15th century– even before Christopher Columbus visited the Americas. A large number of the enslaved Senegalese who were brought to the island were Muslims–an important point Jean Price-Mars affirms in Chapter 3 (L’Afrique, ses races et sa civilization”) in “Ainsi parla l’Oncle.”

In summary, in Haiti’s contemporary society, there are three major religious practices: Vodou, Protestant/Evangelical Christianity, Vodou, Roman Catholicism. (Islam is growing rapidly in Protestant Christianity is practiced by 45% of the Haitian population. It is probably more in 2016–giving the wide spread of Evangelical Christianity in post-earthquake Haitian society.). While Vodou is among the most practiced religions by Haitians in Haiti, Haiti doe not have “one single religious tradition.” Our ancestral faith is also Vodou, Christianity, and Islam.

Consequently, my argument in this piece is not based solely on what Reza Aslan has reported about the Vodou religion and Haiti. It is aimed to bring greater clarity to the overall religious experience of the Haitian people and to challenge common rhetoric and misconceptions about the intersections of Vodou, Haitian (national) identity, the Haitian experience, and Haiti as a country.

  1. To be a Haitian Muslim or Christian does not make one an inferior Haitian Patriot.
  1. In the same line of thought, the Vodouizan is not a superior Haitian than the Haitian atheist or agnostic.
  1. Freedom of religion means the opportunity one has to choose or reject a certain faith among others. Religious freedom means a person who is affiliated with a certain religious tradition is free to share his or faith with another individual of a different religious persuasion or to someone who has no religious affiliation.
  1. Since religion like culture is a social construction or human invention, no religion or culture has the monopoly.

In closing, Vodou is not a country, and Haiti is not a religion. The idea to link Haiti to Vodou is part of the Haitian exceptionalism narrative, which American and Western scholars, missionaries, and thinkers have constructed. The relationship between Haiti, a country, and Vodou, a religion, was never intended to showcase Haiti or the Vodou religion in a positive light. Like any other religious traditions, Vodou is not an “exceptional” religion.

#REZAASLAN

#VODOUISNOTACOUNTRY

#HAITIISNOTARELIGION