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#1374: Scooby-doo academia (aka creolists' tics): DeGraff comments (fwd)

From: Michel DeGraff <degraff@MIT.EDU>

I'd like to add to Guy Antoine's, Joel Dreyfuss's, Elizabeth McAlister's
and many others' outrage regarding recurrent negative portrayals of Haiti.

Re McAlister's latest posting:

> I just got back from a conference in Miami on Yoruba religions.  (Laennec
> Hurbon and Karen McCarthy Brown gave excellent presentations) The
> presentation I gave was on negative images--the demonization, even--of
> African-based religions in Hollywood.  The images on Scooby-Doo and other
> cartoons and tv shows are not accidental, they are repetitions of earlier
> negative images reaching all the way back to colonization.  There is much
> to say about these negative portrayals:  they are racist, they mix and
> match diverse African traditions, fantasy and fact and they usually link
> people of African descent with non-rational thought, contagion or crime.

I must sadly add that negative portrayals don't happen only in television
and cartoons.  What about libraries and academia?  In fact, negative
stereotypes are even more lethal when they bear the signature of bonafide
academics with much power in `manufacturing consent'.  Take Creole studies,
for example.  There, one finds a three-century tradition of caricaturing
Haitian Creole.  Creolists' claims are often cloaked in (pseudo-)scientific
authority --- what Bourdieu calls "consecration" --- which gives them even
more power to do more harm to the people they write about.

You may need some examples to fully understand what I have in mind.  So,
here's one typical passage in creolists' tics (sorry, creolistics):

 "[Creole languages] constitute a handicap to the creole-speaker's personal
 intellectual development"  (Whinnom 1971)

Here's another one:

 "Creole languages differ from other languages along many dimensions and
 these differences entail certain limits with respect to their development.
 [...] [T]he absence of productive derivational processes [i.e. of certain
 linguistic processes in the minds of Creole speakers] reduces the capacity
 of internal creation in lexical enrichment" (Valdman 1978)

A short side-note (no footnote, please!). Here's a paradox: Some linguists
still argue that Creole languages are non-normal handicapped languages that
cannot undergo "lexical enrichment"; as it turns out, the very careers of
such linguists prove that Creole languages have enough words and structure
to greatly contribute to at least these creolists' academic and individual
`enrichment'!  I'll let you draw larger parallels with other socio-economic
aspects of Haiti, this "poorest country in the Western hemisphere"...

How about this quote:

 "Notwithstanding the fact that [Haitian] Creole is the only language
  shared by all Haitians, there is no inherent principle of language
  planning that compels its use as the primary school vehicle or as the
  official language" (Valdman 1984)

One last quote, from back home:

 "[Haitian] Creole facilitates mediocrity in many ways" (H. Trouillot 1980)

I'll stop here --- no need to say that such quotes represent larger trends
in intellectual thought, both in Haiti and abroad.  Academics and pundits
don't use "fire, chickens, fake rhythms, and a blown `white powder'...",
but their pseudo-science is not too far from Hollywood's special effects,
and their effects are unfortunately all too real.

The point is clear: A great number of intellectuals (including Haitian
scholars and pundits and Haitianist `experts') are also responsible for
`scooby-doo type' downright racist portrayals of Haitian culture.  "Live
and let die", indeed!  In Alister's words, they too commit acts of

> ... "cultural terrorism" that shows groups of color their subordinate
> place in US society.  They also provide "deep background" that justifies
> white supremacy for white groups.

We need to extend the concept of "white supremacy" to include its non-white
neo-colonial counterparts in Haiti and elsewhere.  They do help provide
"deep background".

The conquest continues, and so does the struggle.

MIT Linguistics & Philosophy, 77 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge MA 02139-4307
degraff@MIT.EDU        http://web.mit.edu/linguistics/www/degraff.home.html