“The Problem of Decolonizing the field of Haitian Studies: An Internal Critique”

“The Problem of Decolonizing the field of Haitian Studies: An Internal Critique”

One of the speakers in the Town Hall meeting (that took place on 6/26/2021) on “Decolonizing Haitian Studies,” organized by the Haitian Studies Association, stated that the field of Haitian Studies is americancentric, that is, to learn about Haiti and the Haitian people, one has to access such knowledge via the United States, not Haiti. This is a matter of epistemology, language, and geopolitics.

In other words, academic knowledge about Haiti and the Haitian people, is centered on the scholarly production in the United States and in the English language.

In respect to the role of the English language in the production of knowledge about Haiti & the Haitian people & its rapport to decolonization, decolonization is a process that engages the history, education, language, politics, culture, identity, and psychology of a people.

Writing in the Haitian language, Kreyol, for example, does not mean the writer has experienced decolonization nor is he or she is producing decolonial works or knowledge via Kreyol. A lot of Haitian writers who write in Kreyol are still colonized mentally and ideologically in Haiti, leading to the enormous suffering and subjugation of the Haitian people. Some of those charlatan politicians do not speak a word of English, German, what have you? Yet they remain colonized in their own practices & continue the project of colonization in Haiti.

Haitians and Haitianist scholars who are actively engaged in the field of Haitian Studies need to see language—whether English, French, Kreyol, Spanish—as a tool, but more than a tool. Any of these languages could be used instrumentally to produce the work of decolonization.

The English language, for example, could still be used as a tool to decolonize the field of Haitian Studies and humanize the Haitian people. One does not need to write in Kreyol or speak Kreyol in order to perform decolonization, both as practice and action.
To insist that Haitians and Haitianists should write in the mother tongue of the Haitian people to produce effective work of decolonization is a myth. It does not deal with the reality of the academic pluralistic world, and the reality of the Haitian people in Haiti.

In respect to the idea that one has to pass through the United States to access knowledge about Haiti and the Haitian people, this issue of epistemology and geopolitics is a complex phenomenon and should not be taken lightly. Let me offer five reasons below:

A. Haiti does not have good research universities; this is important for knowledge production and ownership. It is only recently that UEH (State University of Haiti) began to offer its first PhD, and this doctoral program is less than five years old.

B. Because of Haiti’s poor infrastructures in education and academic resources, it is very difficult for Haitian writers and scholars residing in Haiti to have access to incredible resources that academics who work from the United States have in their disposal.

C. The question of academic freedom in Haiti’s higher learning and academia: Haitian scholars in Haiti do not have a sophisticated level of academic freedom Haitianists in the United States or elsewhere have or have enjoyed for many years.

Those in the United States do not have to worry that they will be attacked physically if they publish something provocative about, for example, Haitian politics and criticize the current administration in Haiti.

By contrast, those in Haiti have to be careful; the opposition could literally attack them and their family physically, even to the point of death.

D. The geopolitical question: to live in an empire such as the United States provides scholars and academics endless opportunities for writing, research, and publication. The U.S. is an aggressive empire wherein finance capitalism is intimately connected to higher learning and power.

E. To put it differently, Haiti, as a developing country, does not have a strong geopolitical position in the League of Nations; as a result, it is not the centre of knowledge production about Haiti and the Haitian people.

Finally, decolonization is a process that is both individual and collective. Decolonizing the field of Haitian Studies must begin with building strong epistemological and political infrastructures in Haiti. Haiti should be the departing point for decolonizing the field of Haitian Studies.

***Please do not misunderstand my underlying thesis here! I am not saying that Haitian scholars in Haiti do not produce good scholarship. In spite of poor infrastructures, friends like Jhon Byron , Sabine Lamour, Glodel Mezilas, Lewis Clormeus,  Nadeve Menard, Ketly Mars, Evelyne Trouillot, Gary Victor, and a host of others are producing good scholarship. (Think about guys Firmin, Price-Mars, Roumain, L. Manigat, etc. who produced their works in Haiti)I am actually saying that those who work from the US (because of US’ geopolitical power and finance capitalism linked to higher learning and power) have access to more academic and human resources (such as funding, 24/7 electricity, 24/7 internet service)  than those working in Haiti. My reflection was not to silence the work of Haitian scholars produced in Haiti, but to explain why the field of Haitian studies is americancentric.***Please do not misunderstand my underlying thesis here! I am not saying that Haitian scholars in Haiti do not produce good scholarship. In spite of poor infrastructures, friends like Jhon Byron , Sabine Lamour, Glodel Mezilas, Lewis Clormeus, Nadeve Menard, Evelyne Trouillot, Gary Victor, and a host of others are producing good scholarship. (Think about guys Firmin, Price-Mars, Roumain, L. Manigat, etc. who produced their works in Haiti)I am actually saying that those who work from the US (because of US’ geopolitical power and finance capitalism linked to higher learning and power) have access to more academic and human resources (such as funding, 24/7 electricity, 24/7 internet service)  than those working in Haiti. My reflection was not to silence the work of Haitian scholars produced in Haiti, but to explain why the field of Haitian studies is americancentric.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s