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.
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 , 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.
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