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#1926: Re:The timing and the import of violence: Ulysse replies

From: Gina Ulysse <gulysse@abacus.bates.edu>

Dear Ms Zennie,

I must begin by saying that I also agree with other members of the list
who situate the timing of these killings within the context of the
upcoming elections. I felt compelled to respond again after your last
response to Mr Delatour.  As I wrote in the previous message (that perhaps
was not direct enough) some lives have always been worth more than others. 
That is and has always been one of the privileges of being of a certain
class/color in Haiti. When such lives are under attack (in the rarer
moments that they are) then there is a greater crisis and a need for
greater responses than ever. It is the political and economic value
ascribed to these lives and what they represent which did make violence
against them taboo only until very recently.  Up until then however, most
members of such groups have enjoyed a certain amount of safety that is too
often denied to those who do not possess the social distance that came
with the protection of being members of specific class/color. Again when
white tourists are killed then Haiti is OUT of control. This is the
greatest of all violations. It is ok when we kill ourselves but when we
kill foreigners and the upperclass then we have gone too far. We have
crossed to the other side.  Why is it that it is only when white or
upperclass lives are taken that things seem ever so irreparable? Why is it
that when such lives are in danger that there is such outrage?

I agree with you that things are changing. Like you, I was in haiti for
the holidays (on a research trip). My last visit was in 97. Luckily I was
there with my sister who hadn't been there for over 15 years. I was able
to see things through her eyes. I was not at all surprised by the changes
that I saw since I had been to Haiti numerous time prior to 97. She, on
the other hand, was discombobulated because the Haiti she remembered and
the one I did (from 97) were quite different. Some of the differences are
more visible then others. Yes in some ways the face of Haiti is changing
as youths adopt more US styles and as more US born Haitians are finding
their way back to Haiti (often unwillingly due to racist US imigration
policies). However, when you point to the impact of these more overt
expressions on the changes in the "atmosphere," the implication that Haiti
has been static in the past is too bold for me to ignore. Things have been
changing in Haiti for quite a while now. If that wasnt the case, then the
events of the past fifteen years would not have occured. It is the passing
of time that makes people see things differently. It is the passing of
time that influences how old and new generations feel differently about
the same things. It is also because of movements that have occured over
time that make people respond to things differently. 

All of these differences I would boldly argue lies more in the fact that
plus ca change.... (well you know the rest) then the fact there is
movement back and forth between peoples, cultures etc. I will return to
this point much later in response to your comment on the Jamaican case.

I am not certain that I would rush to label the killing of these tourists
or any persons "of importance" a form of gratuitous violence. The social/
symbolic meaning of their positions is much too great for reduction. Their
lives matter in ways that have profound impact on how Haiti and certain
Haitians are viewed by the same international community from which we are
highly dependent on for loans and development aid. I can't help wondering
why are these events happening in the endeyo? There is absolutely nothing
gratuitous about the lost of such capital (white lives) in a country where
socio-economic divisions are built upon the aristocracy of the skin. 

For it is against whiteness and all of its values that all else continues
to be measured in Haiti and anywhere else in the world. I agree with you
that there are different types of violence occuring in Haiti at present. 
Though I would like to raise a question about your statement that the
crime that occurs in "third world countries" and "industrialized nations" 
can be neatly categorized as political crimes and crimes of desperation
and violent gratuitous crimes. Such distinction may be quantifiable, but
it certainly does not take into account the fact that it is premised on
definitions of political, desperation and gratuitous which are relative. 
If my desperate need for a Chanel bag (and i have had one for quite a long
time now) motivates me enough to go out and rob/kill someone. No matter
how frivalous and brutal it would seems to you we could dispute that I
acted out of desperation until pigs fly. That is indeed mine to define
because such concepts are depend upon too many contextual variables.

I am not so sure that gratuitous violence is not inherent in our country. 
Brutality is not necessarily conducive to labor. Yet French brutality made
it an integral part of Haitian culture. French brutality has permanently
damaged Haiti. The impact of this gross injustice is not something that we
can merely relegate to the past when our very attempts at self-definition
today are marred by the continuous presence of self-hatred imposed bythe
French. And that is precisely why a person will try to speak French no
matter how broken because without that language the basic respect that a
red headed French woman with green eyes will get speaking creole, a dark
skinned woman with or without any education does not get. Creole for her
or the man who is walking painfully with shoes he is not used to or
wearing pants that are too tight does not have the same meaning. Much in
the same way, i would argue that only certain people can afford to be
racine. The respect that Mr RAM gets (by the way much thanks for those
free flowing stream of consciouness comments on this list)  gets is not
the same as the treatment that the tambourier in that unknown band rara

Indeed, only certain people can truly afford to embrace and express their
"Africanness" with social comfort.  Those of us who do it and attempt to
resist those trappings of babylon nonetheless do so and pay the price of
continuous devaluation.  That is one of the ways in which class/color is
lived and felt. Until the black sweaty man or woman can walk to any bank
with dusty feet speaking kreyol as rek as it can get and still get the
same basic respect that is ascribed to someone who is black and speaks
"good french" or someone who is of a light or of a darker shade but with
all of the approriate status symbols, or someone who has good hair or
someone who is white and speaks kreyol and so on.. We are still in chains.
Every single one of us are still colonized.  We are still in chains when
we allow it and we remain in chains when we do not intervene. We condone
it when we allow it. We allow it and we only recreate it when we laugh
about it. African is an insult, in part because attempts to search for
respect (no matter how superficial) is in fact remains a laughing matter
to someone who enjoys the benefits of being automatically ascribed
privilege. Like Sweet Honey in the rock says NONE OF OUR HANDS ARE CLEAN. 

How can we say that slavery is in the past. Personally I think it's way
too early for us to stop blamming the blan when their impact is still
being lived and felt today. The crucial thing is to not see all blan as
the same. Time has passed, yes! but French colonialism did and continues
to create an environment which still affects all of us every single day in
very specific ways. While some of us reap the benefits, others suffer.
For it is structurally impossible for all of us to have.

None of us are born violent. We learn it. And Haiti and Haitians have been
learning for quite a long time and we have had many expert teachers. I
keep thinking of the killing of Charlemagne Peralte and his crucifixtion
was that not gratuitous. We have had a history of blood shed. Blood is
spilling over in Haiti today because blood has always spilled over in
Haiti and I believe it will continue to spill until we all own up to our
part in recreating the great socio-economic divide.

Finally I would like to address the Jamaica example for a couple reasons. 
Before I proceed I should tell you that it is an argument that is used in
Jamaica by Jamaicans all the time. While there is some truth to it, this
view is very dangerous for it fails to acknoweledge Jamaicans' pertinent
role in the creation of this phenomenon. As a result, attempts to deal
with this problem have always been flawed. The question ought to be what
about Jamaica during that particular moment in time made such behavior
possible? adn what continues to make it possible? I believe this is the
same question that we need to ask of Haiti. 

The fact is that these jamericans who were returned to the island from
Canada, England and the US either were or had ties to former gang members
in well established garrison communities in Downtown Kingston. These are
political machineries with well formed hiearchical structures that more or
less became subtitutes for the state as provider. These "posses" had been
politicized very early when high profile members of both political parties
provided young ghetto youths with short term jobs, cash and armed them
with guns during the late 60s. In return, these rude bwais were to assure
the electoral support of local voters and in some cases help facilitate
the development of certain aspects of the drug trade.  As a result, drugs,
elections and violence in Jamaica became tightly woven into the social
fabric. I must say that the violent behavior of these "yardies" as they
were known particularly in Britain had been learned at home in Kingston.
That is where they had their training. It was because of their disregard
of social taboos at home that these gang members became great gangstas
abroad.  No one was immune. They killed who ever stood in the way and that
is how they had learned it at home. They could do so particularly since
their actions were sanctioned by government officials who protected them
by sending them abroad when the heat was on. 

While conducting fieldwork in Jamaica in 1995-7, I remember a scene that I
shall never forget that made me realize more connections between Haiti and
Jamaica (I won't get into those here). The Jamaican national guard which
was patroling the "problem" areas of Downtown Kingston at the time killed
a suspected gunmen after a successful raid for firearms, gunmen and drugs.
To send a message to the gangstas in the community this man's boby was
placed atop a military vehicle like a crucifix and driven throughout
several other "problem" areas to send a clear signal to the other gunmen
of what could happen to them. For me this image conjured up memories of
Haiti during that first US occupation, that is the image of Charlemagne
Peralte. No!this man wasn't a caco, and yes he was probably a drug dealer. 
Regardless he was just a young black man who was born in violence and died
in violence. He had been destroyed by the very system that produced him. 

With more peace


Gina Ulysse Ph.D.			
Asst Prof African-American Studies 
Bates College Lewiston, Maine 04240  
(207) 786-6436 FX (207) 786-8338
				We like trashing on the weak 
				because too often 
				we don't have the courage 
				to confront the powerful
                 				--Cornel West

On Wed, 19 Jan 2000, Robert Corbett wrote:

> From: jewel <redlion@ufl.edu>
> Dear Mr. Delatour,
> You have a great point as to the timing of these killings. However I am not
> sure that I woudl interpret then quite the same way you did.
> I don't know if you go to Haiti regularly but I was there last Christmas. I
> go regularly twice a year and I only left the country four years ago.
> There is one thing I have noticed mainly in the population that has changed
> only since I have been gone and that is their general appearence. City youth
> are surely MUCH more Americanised than when I left (and I'm not talking
> about the bourgeois kids who've always been that way). I see gold teeth and
> baggy jeans wher I used to see fresh faced smiling young men with pearly
> whites and modest but clean and simple clothing.
> I see stretch mini skirts and afro American up do's where I used to see
> permed hair or African braids on beautiful Tropical women dressed in
> sensual, yet conservative, clothes.
> All this says something to me. The population is changeing, and so is the
> atmosphere.
> There is a recrudescence of violent behavior that is not typical of the
> traditionnal haitian people. This behaviour is freshly imported from the
> ghettos of our good old USA.
> I will give you an example to show that this does not only occur in the
> Capital.
> You are probably aware of the important drug ring going on in the south of
> the country.
> Well, last June, my parents and I went on a long weekend to the magical town
> of Port Salut. A wonderful experience that I am looking forward to repeat
> next time I go home.
> At this pont I must say that my father drives a very recent sports utility
> vehicle.
> On our way back from Port Salut we arrived at les Cayes. After passing
> Kalfou 4 Chemins, we noticed a white BMW following us. The windows were
> tinted black so we couldn't see who was driving. My father slowed down and
> the car did not pass us. We stopped our vehicle and the car passed. Further
> on the road we found the car again waiting for us. It took off right behind
> us again. At that moment, my father stopped our car again. Pulled out his
> hand gun and put it in his lap and gave me his shotgun (he had gone hunting
> that weekend).
> We started driving again and we found the BMW further ahead again waiting
> for us. As we got to Cavaillon, we pulled into the marketplace, only to
> notice 5 minutes later the BMW pulling in behind us. When we realized what
> what going on, my father stepped out of the car while I stood behind him
> with the rifle, and went to the driver clearly showing that he was armed. He
> asked the guy if he had a problem and the man responded to him in
> Creole/English that he was just providing security in the area. He then took
> off and we never saw them again.
> >From talking to te area farmers my father learned that these were local drug
> lords, and gangsters.  They probably would have attacked us had we not been
> on our gards and armed.
> This event had nothing to do with politics directly. They are random acts of
> greed and violence committed by people who learned of these things in the US
> or wherever they came from and are applying them in Haiti.
> It use to be that the only crimes commited in Haiti were revenge crimes, if
> you stepped on someone's toes. While this is by no means acceptable
> behaviour, it is at least understandable. Gratuitous violenc is not inherent
> in our country. Psychologicsl research has proven that violent gratuitous
> crime occur mainly in industrialized nations whereas political crimes and
> crimes of desperation (if somebdy is starving) are most likely to occur in
> third world countries.
> Though I do agree that the timing for those killings is odd, I don't think
> they have anything to do with the elections. I jus think they are one mre
> example of the state of decay in which our society is plunged with its lack
> of education healthcare , food and political/ judiciary system topped of
> with the newly arrived destructive youth that is simply escaping from prison
> in the USA.
> The same thing happened in Jamaica during the early 80's. Kingston was
> flooded by young Jamericans (jamaican americans) who were pursued by the law
> in the US and claime Jamaican citizenship to escape punishment. Now,
> Kingston is one of the most violent cities in the Carribbean.
> As for the election, please see my earlier post in reply to Jean Poincy to
> see how I feel about it.
> Thank you for your reply and I look forward to reading more from you and
> others.
> Emmanuelle A. Zennie
> P.S. You called me Mr Zennie, but Emmanuelle A. Zennie is in fact a 22 yr
> old female microbiology student :-) so it's really Ms. Zennie.