“The English Language DOES NOT Humanize the Haitian People”

“The English Language DOES NOT Humanize the Haitian People”

The American academic world produces some of the most arrogant and selfish academics and thinkers in the world. Because most American scholars and historians write and publish in the English language the same history or story that’s already been published by Haitian/African/Caribbean writers who write in French or Spanish, they give more intellectual value to their own work simply because it is written in English, and it is not because they are assessed as quality scholarship or good research. I call this attitude “intellectual imperialism” relating to the politics of the American Empire in the world to undermine the intellectual and literary productions of writers and historians in the Global South or developing world. Haiti, because of its complex history with the United States and the West, as well as with American and Western academics and writers, is a primary victim of this intellectual climate.

  1. Some of them (American academics) do not even bother to cite, for example, Haitian writers who have written on the same issue 50 years ago before they were even born or received an American doctoral (research) degree. C’mon, good people: you cannot just pretend that Haitian historians and writers did not exist in the 18th century, or nobody in Haiti wrote about Haitian national history or Haitian intellectual history from 18thto 20th century, for example.
  2. Haitian historians, writers, and scholars have been marginalized in their own discipline (s) of study, especially those who write in French about Haitian national history and Haitian political history.
  3. Not because one writes in English for an English-speaking (or American) audience means that individual has to deliberately disengage with a body of scholarship produced in a different language. It is intellectual dishonesty not to give credit or acknowledge intellectual predecessors. For example, you do not give Haitian studies legitimacy because it is done in the English language by American writers, nor do you humanize the Haitian people because you write in English about Haiti and the Haitian experience. Here, I am not referring to Haitian-born writers or those of Haitian descent who write or produce in English. This is not my point here!
  4. Unfortunately, in the American academia, producing academic works in the English language does come with academic entitlement or pedigree; nonetheless, I have to state that English as a language does not make one naturally more intelligent than others who write in a different language. I know this is a popular attitude among Americans, even among some American academics that speaking or writing in English is connected with high civilization or culture, intelligence, and fame. By contrast, I also understand writing in English comes with a great deal of academic privileges and reputation because the English language has now become more connected with the politics and expansion of the United States as the world’s most powerful country and empire today. Interestingly, this is a colonial practice in American academia. Such attitude needs to go, what we call decolonization or decolonial practice (See Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, “Decolonising the Mind,” 1986)
  5. Nobody expects American academics to be fluent (In fact, some of you are fluent in other languages) in French, Spanish, Kreyòl, Swahili, Swahili, Yoruba, Igbo, Fula, or another language than your native tongue: English. At least, if you are going to work or specialize on a non-English speaking country as a scholar or academic specialist, it is important to try to “read in translation” or even to “cite in translation.” Or you can seek the help of an expert. DO NOT JUST IGNORE THE NATIVE WRITERS and THEIR INTELLECUTAL PRODUCTIONS!
  6. Interestingly, American academics do not express this same attitude toward, for example, French, German, or English writers or historians. This is a rare tradition if they are writing about the history and experience of any of the countries in the West: Germany, France, Italy, England, Spain, Switzerland, etc. Haiti and Haitian writers, for example, continue to be victims of this tradition.
    How to move forward and change this BAD academic practice in America’s intellectual or academic landscape. I want to use Haiti, as an example. Haitian writers and historians have written prolifically and produced good works about some of the key issues in Haitian national history:
    · The Haitian Revolution
    · Haiti’s colonial history/Slavery and colonization in Haiti
    · Haitian resistance to slavery and Western imperialism
    · France’s economic exploitation of Haiti (the indemnity/the debt)
    · The 1843 revolution
    · American military occupation and invasion in Haiti (1915-1934)
    · The rise of Haitian radicalism and Marxism in the 20thcentury
    · The rise of Feminist movement in Haiti
    · Haiti’s popular culture
    · The foreign relations between Haiti, the United States, and the West
    · The Duvalier regime
    · The Aristide phenomenon and the 2nd American military invasion in Haiti
    · Haitian Vodou
    · Haitian anthropology and ethnology
    · The politics of NGOS in Haiti
    · Haiti’s economic development and dependency
    · Haiti’s public health system
    · Haiti’s education system
    · Haiti’s environmental issue
    Below, I highlight some of the major Haitian writers and thinkers to get acquainted with their writings, especially those published in the French language. For each historical period, I list 30 to 45 well-known writers and thinkers.

A. The 19th century

  1. Louis Félix Mathurin (“Boisrond-Tonnerre”
  2. Pompée Valentin Vastey (“Baron de Vastey”)
  3. Hérard Dumesle
  4. Joseph Saint Remy
  5. Anténor Firmin
  6. Beaubrun Ardouin
  7. Coriolan Ardouin
  8. Celigny Ardouin
  9. B. Lepinasse
  10. Antone Dupre
  11. Jean-Baptiste Romane
  12. J. Leger
  13. Démesvar Delorme
  14. Bénito Sylvain
  15. Louis-Joseph Janvier
  16. F.É. Dubois
  17. Thomas Madiou
  18. Frederic Marcelin
  19. Hannibal Price
  20. Pauléus Sannon
  21. Etzer Vilaire
  22. Justin Lhérisson
  23. Juste Chanlatte
  24. Jules Solime Milscent
  25. Massillon Coicou
  26. Ignace Nau
  27. Emeric Bergeaud
  28. P. Lochard
  29. Oswald Durand
  30. Antoine Innocent

B. The 20th century

  1. Marie Vieux-Chauvet
  2. Duracine Vaval
  3. Dantès Bellegarde
  4. François Duvalier
  5. Paulette Poujol-Oriol
  6. Marie-Thérèse Colimon-Hall
  7. Jean Price-Mars
  8. Jacques Roumain
  9. Jacques Stephen Alexis
  10. René Depestre
  11. Alfred Auguste Nemours
  12. Horace Pauleus Sannon
  13. Henock Trouillot
  14. Michel-Rolph Trouillot
  15. Ernst Trouillot
  16. Jean Fouchard
  17. Gérard Mentor Laurent
  18. Madeleine Sylvain-Bouchereau
  19. Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain
  20. Pradel Pompilus
  21. Laennec Hurbon
  22. Fernand Hibbert
  23. Jean-Baptiste Cineas
  24. Philippe Thoby-Marcalin
  25. Pierre Thoby-Marcalin
  26. J. C. Dorsainvil
  27. Leon Laleau
  28. Catts Pressoir
  29. Louis Borno
  30. Roger Gaillard
  31. Normil Sylvain
  32. Cleante Valcin
  33. Suzy Castor
  34. Roussan Camille
  35. Edris Saint-Amand
  36. Ida Salomon Faubert
  37. Jacques Stephen Alexis
  38. Franketienne
  39. Jean Cassimir
  40. Morisseau-Leroy
  41. Ghislain Gouraige
  42. Edwidge Danticat
  43. Dany Laferrière
  44. Jean F. Brière
  45. Carl Brouard
  46. Georges Sylvain
  47. Felix Morisseaux
  48. George Anglande
  49. Christophe Philippe-Charles
  50. Anthony Phelps
  51. René Philoctète
  52. Laroche Maximilien
  53. Enock Trouillot
  54. Georges Corvington
  55. Gergard Barthemy
  56. Roger Dorsainvil
  57. Leslie F. Manigat
  58. Catts Pressoir
  59. Roger Gaillard
  60. Timoléon C. Brutus
  61. Damase Pierre-Louis

C. Late 20th century and early 21st century

  1. Patrick Bellegarde-Smith
  2. Danny Laferriere
  3. Georges Castera
  4. Benoit Joachim
  5. Louis Philippe Dalenbert
  6. Evelyn Trouillot
  7. Josaphat Robert Large
  8. Marie-Celie Agnant
  9. Yanick Lahens
  10. Jessica Fievre
  11. Felix Morisseaux
  12. Kettly Mars
  13. Lyonel Trouillot
  14. Odette Roy Fombrun
  15. Roussan Camille
  16. Jean-Bertrand Aristide
  17. Lemete Zephyr
  18. Robert Fatton
  19. Alex Dupuy
  20. . Edwidge Danticat
  21. Michel S. Laguerre
  22. Myriam J. A. Chancy
  23. Patrick Bellegarde-Smith
  24. Laennec Hurbon
  25. Louis-Philippe Dalembert
  26. Gary Victor
  27. Michel Hector

*** Of course, I am missing other influential thinkers in my list and may have repeated some writers twice. I wrote this post in response to a series of important articles published in the New York Times (“The Ransom: 6 Takeaways About Haiti’s Reparations to France”; “The Ransom: A Look Under the Hood”; Investigating Haiti’s ‘Double Debt”; “The Root of Haiti’s Misery: Reparations to Enslavers”). Please do not misunderstand the intent of my post! As an academic, I clearly understand academic scholarship is a teamwork that engages the labor of other scholars, for which I am thankful. I also understand academics or scholars depend on previous works done by others to further their own contribution in the field of study or advance knowledge in a particular discipline–hopefully toward the common good and human flourishing in the world. In other words, no one works in isolation, and no one can claim intellectual monopoly when it comes to academic studies, research, and epistemology. Yet we must not ignore those who are writing on the margins and work predominantly from the context of a developing country in the Global South. Their work matters! Their ideas are worth citing (in English)! Their contribution is worth acknowledging in public.

There are actually existing “traditions,” a reference to the way of thinking, intellectual practices, and of perceiving and interpreting the Haitian world and other worlds in Haitian history, and those traditions encompass various worldviews, and fields of study and different areas in the human and Haitian experience, including literary, historical, political, philosophical, religious, and ideological traditions. It is my idea of the “Haitian canon.” In the same way, throughout the Haitian history, since its birth in 1804, there existed movements, such as labor, feminist, economic, human rights, political movements that have shaped the human experience in Haiti. Haitian writers and historians have documented their own histories and stories, experiences and living conditions, and such (literary) receipts could be traced to the country’s first piece of writing: Haiti’s Declaration of Independence (1 January 1804). In other words, Haitian writers have not been silenced about the Haitian experience in the world.


“Nou Vle Lapè”/”We Want Peace”

I appreciate the series of well-researched and provocative articles produced by the New York Times about France’s historic gross economic injustice done to Haiti. My questions are the following:

  1. What would this mean for more than 75% of Haitians who live in abject poverty today?
  2. How would the data help change the current inhumane political climate in Haiti, characterized by popular violence, street kidnapping, and popular fear ?
  3. How would this information help transform Haiti’s economic dependency on the developed world and the World Bank?

***I am just inviting public intellectuals and writers to connect scholarship with praxis, academic writing with activism–toward the common good and human flourishing in the Haitian society. After all, what the Haitian people need at this critical moment in Haitian history is the opportunity to live in safety, sleep in peace, and having not to worry that their school children will come back home safely without being kidnapped or shot in the streets.

4 thoughts on ““The English Language DOES NOT Humanize the Haitian People”

  1. This is very well reasoned. White American writers also have a tendency to also ignore anything not written by white American folks. In science, they often cite white scientists even if Black scientists had written about a subject way before white scientists. Racist imperialism exists throughout academia.


  2. Great job Dr. Joseph
    A well-deserved and timely reaction to the NY Time’s series on the misdeeds of the foreign policy of France and United States towards Haiti over more than two centuries. Refreshingly necessary but timely questionable in light of the current political instability and turmoil created by American racist policies. It would be equally relevant for the same research team to inquiry on the US mingling into Haiti’s politics especially for the past 3 decades.


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