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#1528: The labeling of Haiti -- Final thougths (1999) (fwd)
From: Guy Antoine <GuyAntoine@windowsonhaiti.com>
Thank you for all the responses, which form a rich tapestry of opinions
indeed. Not all of us share the same approach to the characterization
of Haiti as "the poorest country in the western hemisphere", but enough
of us cared to let the forum know our opinion about it.
What follows are memorable quotes from that discussion. They have
given me much food for thought, and even greater resolve. I hope they
provide the same for you. Let us work together to eliminate both
Haiti's misery and her horrendous characterizations in the media
in coming years. Have a great 21st century, Haiti!
- Editors and news services should be told that we disapprove of making
disingenuous labeling of Haiti masquerade as factual illumination.
- I am much less concerned about how Haiti is characterized than I am
disturbed about the reality that Haiti is ranked 152nd in the world on the
basis of the human development index (HDI) published yearly by the UN
Development Program in its "Human Development Report."
- The purpose of continuing to use this label is no longer to inform but to
denigrate. And all I am saying is "Enough is Enough".
- Haiti has enough problems already that it does not need to add unfair
label to them.
- People are sensitive, but let's not fall into the trap of demented
correctness... All countries can be "labelled," as long as it's in a
context and is based on sound fact.
- There are those who will never see Haiti as anything but a poor country
(yes, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere!), who will only see the
squalor of La Saline and never speak to a poor Haitian, for whatever
reason, to find out the wonder of Haiti. The hope that will not die, the
humor that somehow still springs forth in spite of dire conditions, the
innate intelligence that manages to teach the most learned and erudite
among us if we only listen. Those people hear "that phrase" and nod
sagely...."yep I been there.....very very poor." As far as I'm concerned,
if that is where people stop when describing Haiti, that is where I stop
connecting with them.
- Who is the Big Editor in the Sky that inserts That Phrase, instead of
Haiti, one of the most artistically active countries in the Western
Hemisphere? ... What about: "Haiti, with its rich literary, musical and
- I must admit that six years ago I made my first trip to Haiti because it
was "the poorest"... What keeps me going back is being in relationship
with Haitian people and discovering more and more about a very "rich"
- I do not see this as an exercise of political correctness. This is simply
saying: "Hey, enough already!" I have only read this particular phrase
about ten million times. This may be my country's present condition,
but it's not part of its name. And as far as I can tell, this automatic act
of labeling is specially reserved for Haiti... Yes, Haiti is the poorest
country in the Western Hemisphere. If you did not already know, well
you just heard me affirm it. But do you need me to tell you again
- Please, it's not just reporters who are guilty of using (and too often
overusing) "the poorest nation in the hemisphere" phrase.
- I'd like to propose we begin a writing campaign to editors of major
newspapers and magazines everywhere to put a stop to this nonsense
once and for all. The basis of the argument is not about disputing the
fact that Haiti is "economically" poor, but the fact that she's being
"labeled"... Folks, it is entirely up to us. We can vent or we can take
action. You choose.
-If we only stay in the generalizations and don't go beyond, then grave
distortions occur. But I worry about some sort of sanitized language
that says all is the same and nothing is different, or that only positive
language is allowed... The trick is: how does one attract people to go
beyond the exaggerated generalizations and to care about deeper
perspectives? That question seems more hopeful than holding us to
silence about the very things that drew so many of us into interest in
Haiti in the first place.
- A rural policeman makes $30 US per month in Bolivia. How does
that compare with a Haitian country gendarme? About 1/3 of the
Haitian pay? What figures do they use to justify this "poorest country
in the Americas" rubric.
J. David Lyall
- Ascend to second (poorest) tomorrow... That was our determination
54 years ago, and some of you still believe Japan is a fanatic,
imperialist believers of Shinto. Proof is the only thing...
- Think of the poorest members of your family. In your conversations,
do you constantly refer to them as such? I want to issue a challenge
to the many reporters that work for Reuters and other wire services,
as well as the editors of major newspapers and television programs.
You could either give us your rationale for perpetuating this labeling
of Haiti, or you could engage your editorial staff in a discussion to
eliminate this over-used PHRASE... By senselessly and relentlessly
repeating The Phrase, you simply become part of the problem.
How many among you could quickly tell me which country is the
"poorest country in the Eastern Hemisphere", which is the "poorest
country in the world", which is "the most violence-ridden country in
whichever hemisphere", etc, etc ? Either create a slew of new
labels fast, or get rid of them altogether! On the eve of a new
century and her bicentennial, Haitians MUST find a way to eliminate
HAITI'S MISERY, but we can do without your labeling, thank you!
- We should not feel that change will be difficult. Make the correction,
do not let go without saying anything. Listen, if our ancestors felt
overwhelmed that they would not break their bondage, we would be
a French colony.
- There is a not so odd and interesting symmetry, in the subconscious
of many, between "the first black republic in the world," and "the poorest
country in the hemisphere [the world]."
- This phrase really grates my nerves... Because what it means is
that it's come to define Haiti: this is what it is (poor), this is how
it's meant to be and this is how it *will always be*, until the end
of time. So, don't bother working towards change, don't bother
committing your resources and energy to positive goals. Cuz
Haiti's poor, caught in a political quagmire, and we might as
well just forget about it...
- As many times THE PHRASE is used, my response is always the
same, in writing, in presentation and conference: "Correction! the
proper phrase is not that 'Haiti is the poorest nation of the Western
Hemisphere' but the 'first black republic of the western hemisphere'.
The former will not be forever true, but the latter will never change,
- I call it "The Prase'' and it comes up almost anytime Haiti is mentioned
in the news. The Poorest Nation in the Western Hemisphere. There,
seven words represent a classic example of something absolutely true
and absolutely meaningless at the same time. On a recent trip to Haiti,
I asked a young journalist working for an international news organization
why The Phrase always appeared in her stories. "Even when I don't put
it in,'' she confided, "the editors add it to the story.''
The Phrase is a box, a metaphorical prison...
- I am a realist, and far from me the thought of denying Haiti's abject
physical poverty. Obviously, the fact that "Haiti is the poorest country
in the Western Hemisphere" is no longer news, unless one has never
read more than one news story about Haiti or never heard a TV news
report. It is not news, it is a label. I cannot think of other countries
the world that have labels so uniformly, so predictably, so automatically
attached to their name. I just wonder about such labeling practices.
Are they warranted?