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Grupo de Trabalho 5
The Spell of Caliban: The Works of Identity, Power, and Socioracial Hierarchies among Haitian Immigrants in a Transnational Margin.

Louis Herns Marcelin[1] 


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[2], 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[3].

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 as Diaspora. 

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 by Mariel.

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 in Cuba.”[4] 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[5] 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.

In 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.


 The 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 and Haitianness.

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

and practices of differences among them.


 The 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” (DeConde 1996).

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.


Contact Zones 

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 Central America.

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[6], 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.

(Investigator) What better off means?

Inf.:  … better education, of course, better profession, better alliances.

Inv.: What do you mean “better alliances”

Inf.:  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 society.

Inv.: In Haiti or in the US?

Inf.: 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?

Matrimonial 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 race” strategies.

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.


Cultural 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[7] have led to what some Haitians called a ‘generalized crisis’[8]. 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.


 Conclusion: 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?


Basch, Linda, N. Glick-Schiller, C. Szanton-Blanc, Nations Unbound. Transnational Projects, Postcolonial Predicaments, and Deterritorialized Nation-States. Gordon and Breach 1994.

Bénitez-Rojo, Antonio, The Repeating Island. The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective. Durham: Duke University Press 1996.

Césaire Aimé, Une Tempête. Paris: Gallimard 1969.

Drummond, Lee, The Cultural Continuum: A Theory of Intersystems, Man 15:2 1980:352-74.

Fanon, Frantz, Peau Noire, Masque Blanc. Paris: Seuil 1952.

Farmer, Paul. Aids and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame. Berkeley: Berkeley University Press 1992.

Glick-Schiller, Nina, et al. Towards A Transnational Perspective on Migration. New York: The New York Academy of Science 1992.

Labelle, Micheline, Idéologies de couleur et classes sociales en Haïti. Montréal: Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 1979.

Laguerre, S. Michel, Diasporic Citizenship. New York: St. Martin’s Press 1998.

___ American Odyssey: Haitians in New York City. Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1984

Lundhal, Matts, Peasant and Poverty in Haiti. 1976.

Nackman, Steven, “Wasted  Lives: Tuberculosis and Other Health Risks of Being Haitians” Medical Anthropology Quaterly 7(3):227-59. 1993.

Nackman, S and G. Dreyfus, “Haitians and AIDS in South Florida” Medical Anthropology Quaterly 17(2):32-33. 1986.

Peacock, Walter, B. Morrow and H. Gladwin, Hurricane Andrew. Ethnicity Gender and the Sociology of Disaster. London: Routledge 1997.

Portes, Alejandro & A. Stepick, City on the Edge. The Transformation of Miami. Berkeley: University of California Press 1993.

Retamar, Roberto Fernández, Caliban and Other Essay. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph, Haiti: State Against Nation. New York: Monthly Review 1990 [1986].

[1] 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.

[2] Among others, see Césaire 1969; Fanon 1952; Retamar 1989.

[3] Basch, Schiller and Blanc 1994; Schiller, Basch and Blanc-Szanton 1992:101-123.

[4] Reported by Portes and Stepick 1993:21.

[5] See Farmer 1992; 1996; Nackman 1993.

[6] Kill a Haitian or kill a dog is the same thing.

[7] Lector interested in this question may refer to Trouillot 1990 [1986].

[8] Lundhal, Matts 1976.