The Spell of Caliban: The Works of Identity, Power, and Socioracial Hierarchies among Haitian Immigrants in a Transnational Margin.
Caliban, as you know it, is a Shakespearean
reading of the radical other
whose human degradation and irremediable bestiality had justified the
complex machine of slavery and colonization. For most Caribbean analysts,
the anagram ‘Caliban’ has turned into a cultural signifier that translates
the peculiar struggle, colonized voices, and socioracial identities experienced
by non-white people on the margin of mainstream post-colonial Americas.
In the Caribbean, the sociohistorical processes that gave rise to the
emergence of new and peculiar faces of Caliban are deeply shaped within
the Plantation system. The Plantation set up the ethos
of sociocultural violence that permeates these societies. It institutes
and embeds what Lee Drummond (1980:353) has identified as a ‘cultural
continuum’ of shared myths of intra-societal differences in terms of race,
ethnicity, color, class, language, and sociocultural values. In the Caribbean,
as in Latin America, social hierarchies based on colonial values that
privilege lightness of skin color, configured within the plantation societies,
pervade representations of social status and national identity. Haitian
society, despite its own specificity, is no exception.
The metaphor of Caliban epitomizes these societies in which peculiar conditions
resulted from a history of dependency, local and global oppression, as
well as resistance. Facing social suffering, misery, and structural violence,
Caribbean people are forced to negotiate their living through constant
migration within and beyond the regional setting. They live new dimensions
of geographic displacements and shifting identities. From the Caribbean
to the urban peripheries of the United States and Canada, they structure
new sociocultural space with permeable boundaries at the margins of the
nation-states: they constitute a transnational margin. Haitian immigrants,
subject of this paper, epitomize this process.
In this presentation, I explore the ways the
ideology of race and ‘race mixture’ is being defined, re-appropriated,
and used among Haitians to establish socioracial boundaries within their
transnational contexts from Haiti to South Florida to Haiti. I focus mainly
on the cultural variation of color-line stereotypes that underlies inter-group
relationships and its impact, on one hand, on the sociocultural marginalization
and subordination of working-class Haitians in Florida, and, on the other
hand, on the reconfiguration of social boundaries and political processes
in Haiti. I contend that, despite the transnational processes that currently
shape their experiences, Haitians still interact within the continuum
of constructions and expectations at home regarding differences that locate
a person within society. In other words, discourses on difference and
practices of color-line hierarchy operate among immigrant Haitians within
a similar hegemonic representations and take their significance from the
same shared myth and experience that underline social distinction in Haiti.
While this paper is based on more than three years of systematic and longue
durée observations, individual biographies, informal interviews of
Haitians, and active social involvement, both in Haiti and in South Florida,
it does constitute an exploratory assessment of significant questions
affecting the uses of color, race mixture, and social distinction within
a transnational setting. It is a case study, which does not invite to
empty generalization but instead solicits attention to new questions linked
to old problems within an ever-shifting contexts of transnationalism.
Haitians have been migrating to the United
States in significant numbers for almost a Century. Until the mid-70s,
the source of the great majority of this migration has been mostly from
the middle class and the elite. Cities such as New York, New Jersey, Chicago,
even Miami have had a relatively strong population of Haitians (Laguerre
1984; 1998). Between 1977 and 1981, however, Haitian migration underwent
a significant redefinition in its process, pattern, and destination. Because
of Haiti’s political repression and socioeconomic disaster, more than
80.000 people fled the country. Hundreds of little embarkations left the
coast of Haiti packing hundreds of people on every trip, charging them
the price of their land and the whole life savings, carrying them on a
long sea voyage, reminiscent to many of the African slaves’ Middle Passage.
Their destination: Miami. Borrowing a term applied to earlier transnational
migrants from Southeast Asia, these Haitians have been called ‘boat people’.
Portes and Stepick described the phenomenon like this:
More than numbers, it was the manner of their
arrivals that garnered attention, both locally and nationwide. Photographs
of shirtless black refugees huddled aboard barely seaworthy craft evoked
images buried deep in the American collective mind.
Like the slave ships of yore, these boats also brought a cargo
of black laborers, except that this time they came on their own initiative,
and this time nobody wanted them.
Still more pathetic were those black bodies washing ashore on Florida’s
pristine beaches when their craft did not make it. For native whites,
this new immigrant wave reinforced the state-of siege mentality created
The US and Caribbean sociopolitical contexts of the arriving of Haitian
boat people could not be more hostile: the region of Miami was just in
a process of recovering from its post-60s socioeconomic, racial and moral
crisis when the growth of Cuban immigrant population went well beyond
what was expected by the local establishment. Economic competition, the
redefinition of the social make-up of the local middle-class population
together with its social consequences led to discontents and the explosion
of riots in1980 among Miami’s Black population. Still, during the same
year, an immigration crisis exploded between the Cuban and US governments.
It was the arrival of the Cuban flotillas called ‘los
Marielitos.’ This time, the new Cuban immigrants arrived by boat and
they were mostly blacks and of mixed race. For the local establishment
and even for the predominantly white Cuban-Americans in Miami, the entrée
en scène of the Cuban boat people – los
Marielitos – was the most repulsive
spectacle that could have happened to Miami. According to a Cuban-American
official quoted in Portes: “Mariel destroyed the image of Cubans in the
United States and, in passing, destroyed the image of Miami itself for
tourism. The marielitos are
mostly Blacks and mulattoes of a color that I never saw or believed existed
And the worst spectacle was yet to come with the flood of Haitian boat
people on the shores of South Florida, washing up on the beaches, mostly
alive, but some tragically dead in front of the tourist hotels. During
the same period, as sociopolitical situation in Haiti worsened, countries
in the Caribbean, such as Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and
Bahamas initiated what they called ‘self protective measure against the
invasion of Haitian illegal immigrants’. Both in the United States and
the Caribbean rumors of Haitians as disease-ridden, ‘voodoo’ practitioners,
pathetic, black magicians, superstitious and barbaric were circulated
by the media. Even states and scientific institutions
have fostered stigmas against Haitian. The word ‘Haitian’ came to be understood
as plague, the essence of blackness and as a physical, social, and psychological
location from which everybody should stay away.
a city which has been established on clear principles of White superiority
(Allman 1987:143) – even exacerbated by the mimetic ideology of white
Cuban superiority -, the new Haitian immigrants have been relocated geographically
and sociologically within the socioracial order that characterizes Miami.
Their physical location has been spatially distributed mostly in the inner
city. While in Miami’s Metropolitan area the neighborhood ‘Little Haiti’
concentrates the major immigrant population, there are other important
and fast-growing agglomerations of Haitians in Immokalee, Belle Glade,
Palm Beach, Homestead, Florida City and all South Florida. They are essentially
unskilled seasonal farm workers, underpaid part-time employees, working
single mothers, etc.; all articulated within local familial or social
networks maintained by local structures and ideologies of domination.
They speak mostly Creole and their children speak mostly English; Vodoun
and Catholicism are part of their daily life, even though other evangelical
institutions are gathering them under new denominations. As a lot of them
are illegal aliens, they have very little access to public services. They
constitute the new deprived ghettos of South Florida (principally of Miami,
Dade County). Within these ghettos flourish every form of human degradation
and suffering such as prostitution, underground trafficking, local hyper-exploitation,
violence, police persecution, criminal gangs, sexual abuse, AIDS, and
other social conflicts and diseases compounding increasing marginalization
and exclusion. These ghettos are socially part of and culturally next
to traditional African American ghettos of Dade County.
view from above
A more discrete invasion of ‘Haitians’ in South
Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach) has been taking
place for years, without the same ‘public concern’ that the ‘boat people’
have stimulated. This discrete population is hard to find and, yet, easy
to identify. Its members are from the traditional hardcore Haitian elite,
and are mostly close-to-Western in physical feature. They can easily pass
for Whites. They conglomerate around wealthy upper middle-class Hispanic
and, sometimes middle-class white communities, they speak French and English,
of course, and are mostly entrepreneurs who own factories, big enterprises,
and industries in Haiti. They are also traders, landowners, and investors
in sensitive sectors in Haiti, such as communication and energy. Most
of them are acquainted with high level political parties in the US, they
are contributors, they hold US and sometimes even French passports along
with their Haitian passports. They are very well connected in Washington.
They channel and mediate international aid and cooperation with Haiti.
They tend not to be, however, by any means, associated with “Haitians.”
Close (but not assimilated) to this sub-group
are also other professionals and intellectuals from the Haitian middle
class. Most of them are physicians, lawyers, college professors, or former
Haitian politicians/statesmen who live mostly in predominantly white or
Hispanic middle-class neighborhoods. Most of them articulate ‘business
activities’ in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, even though they do not
have strong economic interests in Haiti. They are, phenotypically, black
and of ‘mixed race’, but their Black features are more pronounced. To
you, in the United States, because of the one-drop rule, my distinction
seems to be useless. As you shall see, however, we, in the Caribbean are
inheritors of another system of classification, which is based on color
rather than race. Because of the fact that this sub-group cannot pass
for White Hispanic, they tend to re-appropriate traditional mechanisms
of distinction they use to manipulate in Haiti. They over-emphasize the
use of the French language as an instrument of communication among them,
the Myth of European heritage, as well as their familial history. Of course,
because of the fact that they are ‘mixed’ to some degree, middle class
Haitians, whether in Haiti or in South Florida, tend to reinvent a family
history where they insist on their non-slave origin. Among this segment
of the population investigated in this ongoing research, the work of reinventing
identity is omnipresent. It is an obsession in middle class Haitian narrative
of family history. The main strategy here is to prove that, because of
some degree of mixture, some Haitians perceive themselves to be more human
than others, more civilized and thus, justify a full human treatment.
Reinventing the past is a central strategy that has the magical
virtue of erasing traditional vision on race. Since the idea of ‘Haitianness’
and of blackness within the American context encompass so many disputed
boundaries and stigmas, professionals Haitians in South Florida do whatever
they can to dissociate themselves from any visible sign that could associate
them with Haitian nationality and even blackness.
Several ideological features, however, define
the commonness of these sub-groups. Based on interviews and observation
in this sub-community, we can contend that those sub-groups share the
same vision of class distinction carried with them from Haiti. A vision
of ‘class’ distinction that encompasses beliefs in color line hierarchy.
As I shall explain later, the formation of Haitian society has been deeply
influenced by the ‘cultural continuum’ of race, class and color embodied
since the Slave Plantation. This continuum permeates every level of Haitian
society, if not the entire Caribbean, and to a large extent, Latin American
societies (Drummond 1980:352-374; Williams 1991;Benítez-Rojo 1996). No
study of the dynamics of race, race mixture and social processes that
involves the Caribbean people can factor out the importance of the Plantation
from these processes. While these sub-groups do not socially interact
– except in specific political or economic context – they both hold a
strategy orientated toward a mixture (in all senses) with non-blacks groups.
Finally, while they manipulate – as I will explain it later - contextually
and opportunistically their ‘Haitianness’, both hold the same vision of
‘the polluting danger’ of Haitians from the rural areas and the lower
class in Haiti than they share the dangers and pollution associated with
Haitian boat people in Miami and their neighborhoods. They share the same
prejudices of native White Americans on Blacks and blackness and on Haitian
Among other indicators that I took into account
in this research are those representations they hold on Haitians in inner
city Dade County. Besides the fact that for Haitians from these sub-groups,
the worst that could happen is not only to live too close to ‘Haitians’
or any ‘Black’ neighborhood, but also to be ‘associated’ with ‘them’ (meaning
with Haitian or Blacks) – as the informants usually say –, they inescapably
share the same ‘moral panic’ about Haitian criminality and their adaptability
to modern urban American world.
For example, in mid-1990s, a growing concern for Haitian juveniles’
involvement in drug use and gang activities had emerged in Miami. A variety
of reports pointed out a rise in violence, gangs, and drug use among Haitian
youths in Dade County (Miami Herald, August 10, 18, 1997; Weiser and Painter
1997). Among the Haitian communities in Miami, Little Haiti, for example,
has been distinguished for its high rate of crime, violence and drug use,
and the majority of the delinquent acts involves Haitians under 18 years
of age (no survey or research has ever been done among this community).
The Miami Herald (August 10, 1996) classified Little Haiti neighborhood
as one of the most dangerous and toughest neighborhoods in South Florida.
As a result of the spread of the growing public concern on Haitian youths'
violence, gang activity and drug use, middle-class Haitians living in
Miami (as well as the White establishment) fell into what Stuart calls
a moral panic and renewed their perceptions of “Haitian neighborhoods”
as places of chaos, prosmicuity and moral decay. When questioned on appropriate
measures to diminish the degree of marginalization of poor Haitians in
Dade County, almost all upper or middle class Haitians responded by an
absolute indifference, except their indignation of being associated with
“these barbarians, uncivilized people” or “the black underground.” We
cannot, however, evacuate history from these representations and practices
of differences. As we shall see later, to reintroduce history here means
to recalibrate our analysis of transnationalism and social processes.
Discourses on differences among light-skinned Haitians are formulated
with racist category. They are constitutive of a new racism. To the distant
observer, this socio-spatial division among Haitian immigrants might translate
into socioeconomic class cleavages, as it happens in any ethnic community.
But a more in-depth approach to the ideologies that permeate class distinction
among Haitians and ‘ethnic-building’ strategies reveals the pervasive
significance of race and color line hierarchy in structuring views
practices of differences among them.
view from below
For Haitians in the inner city, representations
on ‘Haitians’ are also dominated by the same shared myths on difference.
While for middle and upper class Haitians living in Miami the fundamental
activity in the identity-building consists of distinguishing themselves
from Haiti, Haitian and Blackness, by overemphasizing mixture – symbolic
or biological – with Western Europe (the French), inner city Haitians
build up their social identity by distinguishing themselves from their
fellow African-American, even though sharing the same social conditions.
True, they are at the very bottom of American society – as Blacks and
as immigrants. Also true, they are sharing similar and sometimes worst
conditions than their fellow ‘Americans’ (that is how Haitians identify
African-Americans). Nevertheless, they share a vision of themselves as
different from African Americans because of history. “We are Haitians,
no matter what,” is a common expression from the interviewees. While middle
and upper class Haitians, locate the inner city Haitians outside the confines
of ‘civilization’, the latter build the notion of otherness by placing
African Americans in the middle of barbarism. Needless to say that their
fellow poor African Americans hold a reciprocal view of Haitians as the
ones to be situated within the limits of nature and barbarism! Moreover,
while middle and upper class Haitians massively reject any association
with their ‘Haitianness’ or their blackness, Haitians in the inner cities
praise their ‘Haitianness’ and reject blackness as
they experience it in the United States. In fact, a decade ago, even
association with ‘Haitian’ was rejected by newcomer Haitians, because
of hostility experienced by Haitians (Laguerre 1984; Nachman 1993), the
patterns of Haitian immigration to South Florida, the patterns of discrimination
in housing - inherited from the traditional America regarding “Blacks”
Since possibility of mixture is fairly remote
among this socioethnic category and since the color of the skin is so
high a value among Haitians, thousands of Haitians, mostly women, are
using cosmetic artifacts – such as special soaps, cremes, and lotions
(event hair relaxers) to lighten the color of their skin. Among the population
studied in Little Haiti, Homestead, and Florida City and even among working
class Haitians in Haiti, it is now common to find, what ironically the
Haitians call ‘fo grimèl’ (fake
mulattos) or skin disease related to this sort of operation. It is not
yet clear to me whether or not ‘fake mulattos’ accompany social status.
It is, however, established in this ongoing research and other significant
previous research (Labelle 1986), that the power of the ideology of color
permeates every strata of Haitian society, in Haiti or abroad.
As I stated above, Haitians in South Florida
found themselves within a complex, but not
unified socioracial and ethnic hierarchies. In turn, the Haitian community
is subdivided by a combination of boundaries with ever-shifting limits
and contradictions. Some ‘contact zones’, however, do exist between these
groups. I call here contact zone, arbitrary or opportunistic spaces (mostly
private or state institutions willing to work with marginalized Haitians,
international organizations mediating international aid from outside)
that constitute natural space for ‘claim’ or ‘disclaim’ of Haitianness
whether in Haiti or in South Florida.
For most upper middle class Haitians, Miami
is the ideal place of first residence. It is a common assumption among
this group that “Haiti has no future.” According to this view, chronic
sociopolitical instability, and spectacles of misery and suffering undermine
any possibility for hope in Haiti. Haiti is a “war zone”, where no one
can be safe, principally “people who attract envy” from the mass of the
dispossessed. They relocate themselves in Miami to find a “safe zone” to
invest “in the future”. The idea of “safe zone” is very recurrent in conversations
among them. It can be understood here as a symbolic space more appropriated
for a new establishing process; where they can reinvent new forms of sociability,
create new alliances, whether political, economic or matrimonial. The
investment in Miami as a place where the future lies is in fact an investment
in new articulation of the network of power within and beyond the border
of Haiti. As one informant from this group confirms, “it is an intelligent
investment”. In fact, from their perspective, it is really an intelligent
investment, since it is protected from social turmoil, unpredictable riots
and political uprising.
I want to focus for a moment on the notion
of ‘alliance’ mentioned above. Alliance refers to here can be political,
matrimonial or economic. It is political because the destiny of Haiti
does not rely on Haiti itself. Miami
is a transnational city that has a tradition of political negotiation
not only for Haiti, but also for the whole of Latin America. The sociologists
Betty Morrow and Walter Peacock (1997) have insisted on the peculiarity
of Miami’s uniqueness as a city of contrasts, contradictions, and exclusions;
a place where presidential aspirations have begun, a place that had served
as military base for counter-revolutionary activities, a place were the
Contra war in Nicaragua was plotted; where anti Castro invasions continue
to be launched. Miami is also the paradise for the former grand chiefs
of the Duvalier regime and the traditional black and mulatto’s political
elite which decide on the socioeconomic destiny of Haiti. Miami is a safe
zone for tyrants, gangsters, and drugs traffickers in the Caribbean and
It is no mystery to understand why Miami is
an obsession for the upper and middle classes of Latin America and the
Caribbean (see Portes and Stepick 1993). But, in the case of the Haitians,
it is an obsession renegotiated with concession of some power position
within Miami, for a power confirmation in Haiti. It’s a political ‘safe
zone’ because US foreign policy toward Haiti had always been based upon
a transnational-class - socioculturally close to the Western canon - that
could mediate their relationship and the working of political power with
Haiti. For Haitians rulers, Miami is a safe zone for political alliances.
In this sense, regional imperialism power domination, despite transnationalism
or perhaps, because of transnationalism, confirm its position through
the dislocated transnational local elite.
When each family needs a visa “ permanent resident” or, even citizenship
in the US, residing in the US (and the US Visa itself) turns to be a valued
capital. Transnational forms of domination fit better when they can control
directly the location of people and the reproduction of property.
Another political aspect of the safe zone comes
from the fact that to policing black bodies local American establishment
need intermediaries capable of formulating policies for assistance, public
services and efficient state intervention among immigrants. When these
institutions want to intervene in the Haitian milieu, they need ‘qualified
or skilled Haitians’ to mediate and disseminate their intervention among
the concerned population. Surprisingly, the same mechanism that one can
encounter in Haiti – the mechanism that translates international aid from
paper to the real people – the same mechanism is activated in the context
of South Florida. The same Haitians who deny their “Haitianness” or “culture”,
even sometimes blackness, are the same looking for safe ‘status driven
jobs’ in US institutions, such as INS, doing translation for telecommunication
companies - AT & T or MCI - or working with the state apparatus of
Florida (department of health, HRS, etc). The claims for these professionals
are to obtain interesting positions under the basis of civil rights: they
are blacks, Haitians, and minority. Nevertheless, these professionals cannot articulate a political
movement among Haitians (from all classes) because they have never gotten
connected to “Haitians”; they have never crossed “Haitian neighborhoods”
- which is a place highly polluted as the African Americans’ are.
State apparatus, by formulating and modeling
its policy and intervention on the “natural” leadership that emerges within
the communities, sanctions positively and encourages socioracial hierarchies
and networks of local power and domination.
It creates – I would say a cynical context – within which people
choose and use socio-ethnic categories to reproduce or confirm power.
No neutral instance, until now, has been able to evaluate the efficiency
of some public services financed by the State (whether federal or local)
or by private organizations through “prominent Haitians,” in order to
assess to what extent policies formulated outside (foreign) the communities
have any effect at all on those settings. Likewise, no institution has
explored mechanisms that could help the community break its social isolation
and formulate alternative ways to combat diseases of marginalization,
such as: aids, violence, delinquency, gangs, drug use etc.
No mechanism has been put into place in order to generate researchers,
scholars from those communities who can help formulate questions familiar
to the community.
Haitians from the safe zone represent Haiti
and the “Haitians” at all institutional and state levels. Whether it is
UNESCO, UN, UNDP, OAS, WHO, or World Bank. They constitute – a contact
zone with Haitians in Haiti and abroad.
They enhance and foster the “double bind” of Haitian identity,
national ideology, a hierarchy of race and color.
To understand the meanings of alliances (political,
economic or matrimonial) among this sub-group, one should pay attention
to the following conversation transcribed verbatim.
(Informant) “Haitian” has become
a plague in the world. From the Dominicans to North-American, Haitian
is a disease. “ Matar a un haitiano
matar a un perro”,
say the Dominicans. I don’t see any reason to teach my children about
‘Haitian’, ‘blackness’ and all this shit. We shall see ourselves in a
way where we can be better off.
What better off means?
… better education, of course, better profession, better alliances.
What do you mean “better alliances”
Alliances that can be turned into capital. Here I am talking about
money but also about the betterment of the look – the nose, the hair,
and everything. My children, I will fight for my children to raise up
In Haiti or in the US?
Wherever they go. Wherever they are. … Haiti? Who owns the country? Who
sets the rules? Who smiles at me in my face but shit on me on my back?
alliance here is strategically orientated toward erasing stigmas of nationality
and condition of blackness. Mixture is a clear formulated strategy that
creates hope of betterment of life; of distinguishing oneself from the
mass of the stigmatized black bodies. Mixture is a project at work as
national identity and nationhood is. Transnational context of relationships
among Haitians does not necessarily erase memories, representations or
experiences of difference. Getting away (ASAP) dissociating oneself from
‘Haiti’ is carrying out a spell, the spell that marks the body, the spirit
and the imaginary of Caliban, product of the Plantation system. As it
has been traditionally, matrimonial alliances (strategy) among upper and
middle class Haitians (and even lower class Haitians, when they can afford
it) is deeply structured within class, color and status reproduction (Labelle
1979). Studies of the new transnational dimensions of matrimonial strategies
among the ever-dominant Haitian elite and the growing transnational middle
would shed light on reproduction of power in Haiti. Transnationalism does
not seem to threaten traditional power in Haiti.
In fact, the dynamic of transnational migration and globalization
process creates on extended extra-territorial elite that continues to
policing “their own people”. Important data should be collected in order
to reconstruct new trajectories and formulations of identity positioning,
of uses of race, color, the political economy of race mixture or “mixed
The cultural continuum between social relations
and color hierarchy from Haiti to South Florida can be better understood
if we revisit for one instant what had always been at stake in these relations
from the very existence of Haitian society.
politics of color and socioracial hierarchies in Haiti.
Haitian society emerged from a radical revolution
against slavery and colonization. What came to be understood as the first
Black Republic in the modern world had to face a singular dilemma: should
Haiti reconstruct and re-appropriate its past for itself and reconfigure
it within the confines borders of the nation-state or should it block
its African heritage and embrace the Western values in order to show the
world that it is a ‘civilized’ country? This question articulates the
very contradiction that sanctions the relationship between ‘State’ and
‘Nation’ in Haiti from its foundation in XIX century until today. Two
types of culture had developed from this fundamental question: the French-dominated
paradigm of the elite culture and the African-oriented paradigm of the
popular (rural infra-urban) culture. Two opposite frameworks within which
discourses on and of identities will develop. To the Haitian elite’s culture,
the national project must take the orientation and the language of civilization.
For this task, it emerges as a natural leader if not ‘the’ natural ruler,
who should fill the vacuum left behind by the White master. Its natural
destiny is to control the state apparatus; to generate a representation
of the ‘nation’ that must be associated with ‘progress’ and civilization
- a representation that embraces a civilized language (French) a civilized
religion (Catholicism), a color-line pattern (Whiteness), and European-like
manners and cultural practices. As it is the case for other Caribbean
and Latin American countries, the ideology that sustains Haitian elite’s
representation of the nation equates civilization with whiteness. It permeates
class relations and sociopolitical processes. Thus, the really difficult
tasks of this elite, included, but are not limited to, erasing every possible
mark of blackness from the ‘national type Haitian’, meaning the satanic
and, thus, African religion called Vodoun, an infamous language called
Creole (yet speak by 100% of the population), and barbaric cultural practices
emerging from the rural areas (of which more than ¾ of the population
are part!). State’s campaigns against Vodoun practitioners and superstitions
at the beginning of this Century, as well as bloodshed and political repression
in Haiti’s rural and inner cities areas until recently, are partially
articulated in this ideology.
As the fact of blackness is rather inescapable for Haiti and its elite,
the task of the latter will be also to redefining the singularity of ‘blackness’
in Haiti: we are black, ‘but’, we are at the avant-garde of Africa and
any black population in the Americas; we speak French, we are European-like
educated, and we are becoming even lighter-skinned under the tropical
sun! Even at the Edge of Haitian nationalism, during the Duvalier regime,
the discourse of blackness (which is essentially part of Haitian nationalism)
has always been for the elite – black or of ‘mixed race’ - a subterfuge
for situating itself within the civilized world and, at the same time,
distinguishing itself from the uncivilized and backward black masses let
alone in their misery in the rural and inner city Haiti. It is within
this complex framework of hierarchy of class, location, color, and gender
that Haiti’s sociocultural-political-and-economic system has been built.
Since the last three decades, the contradictions inherent to the Haitian
sociopolitical and economic structure
have led to what some Haitians called a ‘generalized crisis’.
It is within this context of ‘generalized crisis’ and structural violence,
contested identities and social positions that Haitians from different
social backgrounds negotiate their life through migration.
The spell of Caliban: new questions, old problems.
As I was about to write this summary reflection
on the continuity of uses of race, mixture and color line in the making
of social hierarchy among Haitians – even within a singular context of
North American scientific biological and cultural racism, I could not
avoid the powerful image of Caliban and its metamorphosis within Prospero’s
language. Transported to foreign lands as Slaves or as cheap labor forces
in the Americas, confronted to the postcolonial body-recycling machine,
subjects to continuous redefinition of resistance and oppression, we,
Caliban, seem to embody the dialect
of our condition: whether we say race or mixture, the fact of race seems
to be inescapable. Whether we try to deconstruct what culture, history
and power have blended together to create that condition against which
we resist it seems that we still inhabit an enchanted house (‘enchanted’
in the Weberian sense). The ‘spell’ inhabits Caliban. It turns into habitus.
Despite our understanding of it, despite our capacity to depict it mentally
in the modern-like cold and objective manner, whenever we ‘have to feel
ourselves to be a problem’ (as W. E. B. DuBois felt it), the logical question
that comes after it remains: What makes the inescapability of race so
totalitarian and so powerful that we can only talk about it?
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Antonio, The Repeating Island. The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective.
Durham: Duke University Press 1996.
Aimé, Une Tempête. Paris: Gallimard 1969.
Lee, The Cultural Continuum: A Theory of Intersystems, Man
Frantz, Peau Noire, Masque Blanc. Paris: Seuil 1952.
Paul. Aids and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame. Berkeley: Berkeley
University Press 1992.
Nina, et al. Towards A Transnational
Perspective on Migration. New York: The New York Academy of Science
Labelle, Micheline, Idéologies de couleur et classes sociales en Haïti. Montréal: Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 1979.
S. Michel, Diasporic Citizenship. New York: St. Martin’s Press 1998.
American Odyssey: Haitians in New
York City. Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1984
Matts, Peasant and Poverty in Haiti. 1976.
Steven, “Wasted Lives: Tuberculosis
and Other Health Risks of Being Haitians” Medical
Anthropology Quaterly 7(3):227-59. 1993.
S and G. Dreyfus, “Haitians and AIDS in South Florida” Medical
Anthropology Quaterly 17(2):32-33. 1986.
Walter, B. Morrow and H. Gladwin, Hurricane
Andrew. Ethnicity Gender and the Sociology of Disaster. London: Routledge
Alejandro & A. Stepick, City
on the Edge. The Transformation of Miami. Berkeley: University of
California Press 1993.
Roberto Fernández, Caliban and Other
Essay. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989
Michel-Rolph, Haiti: State Against Nation. New York: Monthly Review 1990 .
Assistant Professor at the Department of Anthropology at University
of Miami and Researcher at the Sociocultural Research Center Department
of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Miami. His research
interests include Family, Kinship, Immigration, and Transnational
processes (Caribbean, Brazil, and South Florida); Health-Illness Practices
in Afro-American area (South Florida, the Caribbean, Brazil); Sociopolitical
Violence, Marginalisation processes, and Post-colonial Identity in
Latin America and the Caribbean. His writing extensively on race,
family and gender among Black populations in North-Eastern Brazil
and on sociopolitical violence in Haiti as well as on immigration
processes among Haitians in the United States. He coauthored the celebrated
book Cultures entre elles Dynamiques ou Dynamites? with Edith Sizoo and
Thierry Verhelst, Paris, France, Brussels Belgium, 1994.
Among others, see Césaire 1969; Fanon 1952; Retamar 1989.
Basch, Schiller and Blanc 1994; Schiller, Basch and Blanc-Szanton
Reported by Portes and Stepick 1993:21.
See Farmer 1992; 1996; Nackman 1993.
Kill a Haitian or kill a dog is the same thing.
Lector interested in this question may refer to Trouillot 1990 .
 Lundhal, Matts 1976.