haiti port-au-prince
View of Port-au-Prince. File photo

By Myriam Salomon

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be considered white to live in a country where 95 pct of the population is black?

My grandparents from both sides migrated to Haiti at the beginning of the 20th century from Lebanon. They never spoke to their children and grandchildren about their past because they wanted us to be accepted in a country that, no matter how hard you work for your money, you may be seen as white and Arab. Thus, not “natif natal” Haitians. 

Our grandparents never taught us to speak Arabic because they didn’t want us to be seen or heard differently in Haiti. In other words, they were focused on assimilation.

They would speak Creole with a funny accent that I would find amusing as a little girl. They so much wanted us to be included and loved. 

They never returned to Lebanon, not even for a visit. They wanted to bury a past that was too hurtful to remember. They dedicated themselves to working hard in the textile business while being adamant about their children and grandchildren’s education. So we became doctors, scientists, engineers, lawyers, and business owners. 

We were taught sound, core values such as we should help others whenever we can, honesty, decency, and respect. We married all races and ethnicities, and we proudly call ourselves Haitians wherever we are. Our children born in the US fulfilled the rite of passage of required trips to visit and learn about Haiti and the culture. We know where we come from, and we are comfortable with who we are. 

I am sick and tired of being silenced… I know what racism is, and I can relate to any Black person … because I have suffered from it in Haiti. 

Like any immigrant, I can relate to how hard it is to forcefully leave your native country because of religion, politics or economics. I will never know my grandparents’ stories as they, unfortunately, died with them. They were buried with sadness in their hearts! Double sadness because they were never loved or trusted in Haiti. They were considered “whites” and, as a result, were humiliated, mocked, picked on — you name it! We still are today, even though our generation speaks Creole fluently without an accent and we were born and raised in Haiti!

I felt moved to tell my story. I wanted you to hear the other side, the one that no one has ever wanted or asked to hear because, as Arab Haitians, we were born guilty! 

My long hair would be pulled as a little girl, and I was repeatedly told, “Blan, ale lakay ou.” Creole for “White, go home.”  Or “You Arabs are the ones sucking the country’s money.” I would cry. I didn’t even comprehend what they were accusing me of. My aunt had to cut my hair short to put a stop to it. Even worse, some of us were looted. 

I am sick and tired of being silenced, especially now that I live in a country of free speech. I know what racism is, and I can relate to any Black person or anyone suffering from it worldwide because I have suffered from it in Haiti. 

What are Haitians supposed to look like? 

Today, I live in the United States. I still encounter many discriminatory comments from Haitians living here. “You don’t look Haitian,” some say. “How come you speak Creole? “Where did you learn to speak Creole so well?” At first, I’d be mad and defended myself until I found one simple answer: “You don’t look Haitian either,” whether the person asking me is black skin or not. Touché!

We are all Haitians, whether we are black, mixed, or white, rich or poor. We all share the same culture: we eat the same food, dance to the same konpa, and speak the same Creole.

We are all Haitians, whether we are black, mixed, or white, rich or poor. We all share the same culture: we eat the same food, dance to the same konpa, and speak the same Creole. Attributing collective intent or behavior based on Arab ethnicity is as racist as attributing collective behavior or purpose to any race or ethnicity, and that invariably leads to prejudices and hatred.

Let us pause for one moment from the destructive rhetoric of prejudices and let us focus on a gentler polity and specific and unifying solutions to real problems. As Bloomberg columnist Noah Smith recently suggested, let us not just ask why Haiti is so poor but also how to make Haiti less poor. 

The violence behind President Jovenel Moise’s execution left me shocked and saddened to the point of sleeplessness. Why so much hatred? When will it end? Those who want to see changes must demand lawful justice as the justice of the mob will perpetuate the same cycle of violence and a polity that remained unbalanced, overly politicized, and unaccountable. 

I do not believe any accusation before it is sorted in a credible court of law. I believe in the presumption of innocence as a fundamental tenet of human relationships. But a court of law is always necessary to sort out all claims and not by our bias based on a specific ethnicity or other characteristics. 

Corruption and cronyism are not limited to one ethnic group in Haiti. As Amy Wilentz noted in a recent New York Times opinion piece, when the government is no longer duty but business, vultures of all races/ethnicities, will constantly be circling.

Haiti’s primary focus should be economic growth and not discrimination. According to Smith, Haiti’s GDP has not improved in 71 years. Let us listen to Paul Kagame that civil war is not a solution. “L’Union Fait La Force”. We are all hurt and union must be our force! 

Many minds, one heart, I am cheering for a better Haiti. 

Myriam Salomon is an entrepreneur living in the United States.

The Haitian Times welcomes submissions from Haitians of all backgrounds, identities and locations about their experiences. You may email contributions to submissions@haitiantimes.com for consideration.

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  1. This article is accusing the people (non Arab) who are oppressed by the economy strong hold by the Arab Haitian as the one who are racist toward the Arab Haitian. I have been around enough of the Arab Haitian to hear them speak racist term about the non-Arab Haitian. This Author is blaming the victims

    1. You could be missing the larger point that without economic development and good governance, there will be always scapegoats.

    2. It seems to me the author is not saying that Arabs cannot be racist. The author is just saying that that there can be racist behavior against Arabs in Haiti and calling for all to set aside these differences to address critical issues facing Haiti.

  2. If you are here in the USA, you are an American. If you wish Haiti to be less poor, you must get rid of socialism and crooked politicians.

  3. I agree with the author. Let us stop looking at our differences . Let us put our heads together to work for a better Haiti.

  4. Arabs aren’t white, but carry the title because of the entitlement they think ut brings in countries of color. But, in the United States they’re just another people of color. Arabs try to carry that entitlement to any group of people darker than themselves and receive immediate rejection, which offends them. Arabs have ALWAYS been oppressors of Africans and have the gall to yell foul and racism in a Black country.

    1. To your point, Arabs and ethnic group from the Middle East and North Africa. They can be perceived as black, brown, or white.

      Please consider that the political structure of Haiti has always be dominated not by Arabs. What political power did they have to oppress in Haiti?

  5. Just to be clear. You benefit from a country that you did not fight for through a system that was created to afford you all the social, educational and financial benefits while your countrymen literally eat dirt, prostitute themselves are kidnapped arbitrarily and cannot guarantee that a gang member’s bullet will find them simply by stepping outside and your first instinct is to cry about how unfair things are to you, eh!? Some of us are tone deaf and lack perspective!

    1. And just to be clear Charles, it would be nice for people to share but it is good governance which forces people to share.

      Even in the US, plenty do not pay taxes by under porting income.

      1. You cannot legislate good behavior and governments cannot “force people to share”. History is full of lessons of the failure of such efforts. Apartheid was officially abolished in South Africa in the 1990s but you can still, to this day, see the demarcation of the townships, even from the air. We need not even talk about the shortcomings of the US civil rights movements. Beyond race and racism, our problem in Haiti stems from the absence of any semblance of national interest. The motto seems to be “Everyman for himself”. Nobody cares that the country lacks basic infrastructure, that there is no running water, electricity etc. The goal is not to develop infrastructure but to find the means to provide the basics for oneself, ie electricity through generators, often powered by car batteries etc. Until we realize that we are all interconnected and that our success is interlinked, I cannot be optimistic about the prospect of positive change and development in Haiti.

        1. You are correct to a certain extent. But you can create incentives for good behavior and disincentive for bad behavior. But it alway come back to the institutions of good democratic governance.

  6. I completely understands the writer’s point of view.
    First of all, Arab like Latino is a cultural/linguistic term and not a race.
    Arabs from the Levant are indeed white as opposed to many from Yemen, the Maghreb and western North Africa who do have some non-caucasian genes.
    As for the teasing and name calling, this occurs in every society even among people of the same race. Remember what Haitian immigrants suffered at the hands of black americans and anglophone caribbeans in the US.
    And let’s not forget the daily ridicule and rejection of Haiti’s dark african majority by those with a little milk in their coffee.
    Now to the important subject of Haiti’s minority. The Levantine immigrants have prospered all over the americas and have become part of the economic elites of countries all over the caribbean and latin-america. Argentina has had an Arab president, DR currently has an Arab president, The richest Mexican is of Arab ancestry.
    It is the responsibility of the state to keep its private sector players in line. The non existing and disfunctional Haitian state has allowed money makers of all races and background to revert to zero sum mercantilism. From the black madan-sara to the mulatto or arab entrepreneur, Haiti buys and buys and produces little. The billions sent by the diaspora simply enriches the sellers mainly the neighboring state.
    And of course the International meddling by Haiti’s so called friends have only made things worse. The Clinton’s plan and the resulting destruction of Haiti’s rice industry is one example.
    Haiti’s black led governments need to see the examples of the other countries in the region where the state has created the conditions that allows, encourages and guides the economic elites towards contributing to the nation. The biggest and richest names in DR and Jamaica are also not from what we would consider to be the national majority.
    The lack of governance and of national vision is the problem, not the minority making money in spite of it all.
    Yes France did rob us at gun point and stunted the growth of the new state. Yes the US and others colluded to isolate and denigrate the new nation. The current static and sometimes regressive state of our economy and our economic subjugation DR is totally on us.
    Finally could we stop using that term “person of color” to group all non-European whites . As if everyone else’s existence must revolve around one “superior” group.
    Putting a Japanese and a Congolese in the same basket only creates artificial alliances not grounded in reality.

    1. Totally.

      We know from Independence day to today, what has make Haiti so poor and so unequal. It is past due to ask as Noah Smith noted, how to make Haiti less poor?

  7. While that may be true that many are well to do compare to the majority of poor Haitians, it always come to better governance. One way good governance forces people to share is via taxation and not bribes. Philanthropy could be a nice complement but a Google search revealed scant Haitian Philanthropy. Also, the same could be asked of rich black Haitians and there are plenty. So it is the targeting of solely Haitians of Arab descent based which constitutes prejudice.

    Did the many current Haitian immigrants to the US, DR, or Brazil fight for these states?

    Good governance creates good citizens. So I think your questions are really about the social contract between the Haitian State and citizens.

    Haitians of Arab descent are 0.023% of the population. Can they elect President? Do you know any of them who are in the assembly or is a mayor?

    I also do not buy the narrative they control the state. This is another racist troll.

    If you do not like the way they conduct business, then have your government tax, regulate, fines, etc. It is entirely up to your government.

  8. You wish to be treated equal and the same in a country which is 95% black and you are not black. Power does not work that way hence why blacks in USA and other non-black Countries still have to fight against white racism. I have been to Lebanon and see how black african immigrants are treated. It hurts when that white privilege cannot work in a mostly black country huh?You have the audacity to think that you should be included and treated the same as 95% of blacks in Haiti?? No. You and I are not the same and never will be. If that sounds or is racist, great so be it. I could care less about you but I do care about the 95%, some of whom worship your “ti couleur” and would kill their own to do your bidding. Haiti is a Black Country founded by the blood of majority blacks who dared to fight against people like you. If you don’t like it get out and take those white struck loving Haitians with you too. We will be fine without you and the likes.

    1. Ah yes, it you do not like, leave it. Certainly that is a solution.

      But if they do leave with their money, I am not sure a net gain for Haiti.

      So you have to find other ways. For instance taxation and redistribution of the tax money, not to buy 3.5 millions dollars house in Canada by government officials, but rather redistribution in social goods and incentives to productive use of capital not to import but to increase local production are mechanisms which potentially could lessen inequality. Additionally the government could provide some basic services like electricity or security as they are currently business costs for more businesses in Haiti. And when there is dejoukaj, employees lose their jobs and the ONA loan might not be repaid as it was guarantee by the assets which were “dejouke.”

      So it is kind of more complex that if you do not like it, leave. But it is certainly a solution.

  9. I totally agree with “NS”several replies .
    Arabs are easy scapegoats because they visibly stand out in Haiti . They are hard working group who came to Haiti with nothing for the most post part !
    Shame on those who are targeting all Arab Haitians poor or rich . The country can not move forward with such division .
    Folks interested in a better Haiti should focus on unity and provide practical solutions for making Haiti less poor .
    Excellent Article .

  10. I thinks it hard to play victim here, shedding light on how youve experienced racism but fail to mention majority of Haiti worship y’all every step. And you /maybe not you personally have exploited that to the fullest. You were welcomed with open arms , but yet never built schools to help the people that worship y’all. Yes you may have experience some racism , but growing up in Haiti around affluent Haitians. It wasn’t comparable to any racism in the United States. It could be best described as jealousy form the black is anything.I have a lot of Arab friends and mulattes and you are causing more division instead of addressing and acknowledging the problem you all contributed too as well.Question I would love to know which school bullies white/Arab kids if anything black bend over backwards and attack their own for you. You should compare the racism you’ve experience to the racism of a black personality in a Black Country with no money. There are Mullates that do good that recognize this as their country and by all means no one needs to be punished for their success. But the same systematic racism set here in the United States is also in Haiti a Black Country by the powers that pay and lobby and influence and block or pass anything ( the black politician ) wants to do.

  11. I do not think it is a case of playing victims. In fact, finding easy scapegoats to blame bad governance could in fact be playing victim.

    1. In Haiti, I rather call it scapegoating to deflect attention elsewhere by politicians using unethical journalists. But the results can be malignant when the mob is made to believe that an entire ethnic group is the problem. Not that some members of a particular ethnic group is part of the problem.

      Stigmatization always lead to hatred.

      To put it in simple terms, I am not responsible of my brother crimes and neither is anyone else.

  12. Not based in facts at all. That does not mean that they do not have political influences. They do. But is rather a perfect synergy between the politicians and the financial sectors, and not solely of Haitians of Arab descent.

    Calling the whole enterprise a big business without rules and norms would be more accurate. A perfect study case is PetroKaribe.

    Could anyone block anything from politicians like the Duvalier.

    Or more recently, exercising power only against those who are their their political opponents.

  13. My last comment to this article.

    Haiti has been poorly mismanaged since the 1980s.

    Noah Smith reports in Bloomberg that Haiti GDP has not increased in 71 years. During these years, Haiti has added millions to its population.

    The Government no longer provides basic security. Every man or woman is an island with few rules and norms. Corruption is systemic and affects all sectors.

    The solutions should be local with the benevolent assistance of the international community to implement local solutions and only if welcome. Not that the international community has not added to Haiti problems but it can also be part of solutions.

    If Haiti descends in chaos, and especially if it is manufactured chaos for personal gain, not a single penny of US tax payer money should be spent in Haiti to reestablish order. In a recent survey, 75 percent of Americans of all political persuasion support this position. However, the US should evacuate its citizens.

    Haiti focus should be economic development and improved democratic governance. Anything short of this will always lead to deflecting blame to scapegoats like the international community and/or different skin shades or much worse.

    Lastly, I propose to change the name of the Haitian opposition into Haitian proposition. It is easy to oppose. It is more constructive to propose.

    1. Agree with NS again . His comments are on point .
      Haiti needs good inclusive governance and a economic plan to promote tourism and agriculture to start like in the DR .
      The race issue is a huge distraction with zero economic return !

  14. I’m really over people trying to reverse racism their point of view of black people. Black people have a difficult time standing in solidarity without others feeling the need to be included yet our issues aren’t included when it comes to theirs. I’m over non Black people trying to say they know racism from experiencing “bullying”, what exactly was the point of this article?

  15. the desperate acceptance for people who made it clear you will never be one of them borders on pathetic.

    even moving to another country you continue to cheerlead for your abusers. sounds like stockholm syndrome.

  16. Mimose Dessalines, I hope you are not living in the US or another white country while telling mon-black Haitians to get out of Haiti.
    Black Haitians should be the last people to have such an attitude as they have become a demographic threat to all their neighbors.
    All Haitians deserve equal rights and protection. I am sure that is what we ask for in our host countries.
    Many mulatto and Arab Haitians have contributed to the country’s modern culture, architecture, music etc., Jacques Roumain, Issa El Saieh, Nathalie Handal to name a few. Many have fought and died for the masses, Jean Dominique, Antoine Izmery for example.
    It is easy to scapegoat a minority while ignoring the failings of one’s own group. Black Haitians have been mismanaging the country long before the arrival of the Levantine. Did the Arabs and mulatto prevent you from emancipating the african masses, from following basic urban planning, forced you to sell Haitian cane workers to Trujillio’s DR…..I could go on.
    As many have said, Haiti became a country but never a nation. State versus nation has been the constant battle since the death of Christophe.
    We in the south still wonder how things might have been different with
    the progressive Dejoie instead of the fake noirist Duvalier. Negritude and Indigenisme are worthy philosophies but Noirism is rooted in anger, envy, inferiority complex and defeatism. What we need are nationalist Haitians of all stripes to stand up against the anti-nation people no matter their skin tone.

  17. Why is The Haitian Times allowing this kind of navel-gazing article to be published at a very delicate moment in Haitian’s political history? So irresponsible! And why does Myriam Salomon want us to turn our attention towards her at this moment? “What about ME?” she whines in an article only days after the recently assassinated Haitian president was buried! “What about ME?” she cries from a safe distance, as she asks you to forget the Haitian people who are truly the ones suffering in Haiti. What makes Myriam Salomon think that she is more important than the situation in Haiti right now? What makes her think that we should focus our energies, concerns, and empathy in her direction? She clearly does not understand what racism is. Can we start there? Myriam Salomon does not know racism and has not experienced it from Black Haitians. She should lie and cry into her pillow at night instead of lying and crying out loud in public like this.

  18. This is a very complex situation engendered by a lack of integrity. Everyone wants to be rich; The haves do not care about the haves not. They exploit them any way they can with the complicity of those in power. This is a sad and shameful situation with no hope for a better tomorrow for the haves not. The haves and the Haitian leaders are both responsible for the inhuman conditions in which most Haitians are. As the world becomes more materialistic the probability for Haiti to become poorer is one. Ils font la course aux millions. No values, no virtues, no altruism, no bonhomie, no patriotism, no fraternity; wow! Cogitate!

  19. No way. The racism in Haiti has very deeper roots, not only white Arabic people are discriminate but all mulatto and white people. In general.
    Not all black (at 100%)Haitian people are racist but it’s not correct unterreted the problem. I know many Haitian not racist too.

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