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#2900: OPEN LETTER to Dr. Robert Park (fwd)


Dr. Robert Park                                 March 19, 2000
Professor of Physics
Rm.2342, Physics Building
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742-4111

Dear Dr. Park,

    Greetings in the name of God.  I hope you are enjoying the best of the 
spring season.

    Dr. Park, it is with some dismay that I note the title you have chosen 
for your new book, "Voodoo Science".  You are not the only person to have 
associated our religion with fraud, deceit, and ignorance, but you are one of 
those who should know better.

    The Haitian Vodou tradition developed during the French colonial period, 
and incorporates influences from many African ethnic groups, European 
Christian and pre-Christian traditions, and Native Caribbean (Arawak, Taino) 
elements.  In their effort to justify the abomination known as the slave 
trade, the Christian religious and European political authorities of the day 
made a target of African spiritual beliefs, which they characterized as 
witchcraft, Satanism, and the like.  This they wrought into an acceptable 
motivation for slavery, namely to Christianize Africans.

    Later, during the American military occupation of Haiti from 1915 - 1934, 
the political objective was to present Haitians as black savages incapable of 
self government.  Thus officers of the United States Marine Corps were given 
contracts to produce such books as "Black Baghdad" and "Cannibal Cousins".  
The Vodou religion was once again painted as demonic, hypersexualized madness 
from which Haitians had to be freed.

    Even today, persecution of Vodou and Vodouisants continue.  U.S. Senator 
Jesse Helms last year threatened to cut off the entire operating budget of 
USAID in Haiti because USAID funded a Planned Parenthood associate, PROFAMIL, 
which was conducting culturally competent reproductive health care outreach 
to Vodouisant women.

    Vodouisants in the USA have lost jobs and custody of children simply for 
their affiliation with the Vodou religion.  Haitians are frequently 
negatively affected by negative views of Vodou whether they are Vodouisants 
or not.  And although United States commercial culture has begun to produce 
images of Vodou which are less malevolent, such as the "Shadowman" video game 
or "VooDoo Rain" soft drinks, the stereotypical images of Vodou as evil 
charlatanism persist.

    Your book title, Dr. Parks, contributes to the persecution of Vodou and 
Vodouisants by identifying Vodou with bunk, fraud, and pseudoscience.  You 
should be ashamed - presumably as an educated man you do know that Vodou is a 
religion.  It's time for you to enter the 20th century of social thought, Dr. 
Parks - the rest of the world has already entered the 21st!

    You know perfectly well that you would never dare publish a book on 
pseudoscience titled "Jew Science" or perhaps "Jihad Science", because 
members of the Jewish and Muslim faiths in the United States have some degree 
of economic and political strength.  But because Vodouisants remain 
marginalized, you take a cheap shot at us to make up a jazzy book title!

    I suggest that you begin a process of self education about this religion. 
 There are many good books on the topic available in your university library, 
and I will be happy to make some recommendations if you like.  Visit the 
Haitian communities in your area and look at the people around you - in 
Haiti, at least ninety percent of the population is Vodouisant.  Even the 
State Department acknowledges this fact.  In fact, consider yourself invited 
to our ceremonies!  Vodou dances are public events just like Christian church 
services, and I will be happy to facilitate your attendance.

    So as you walk through the Haitian community of Baltimore or New York, 
look at the people whose lives you are making more difficult by identifying 
them with evil and fraud.  That woman raising three children with her husband 
and working as a nurse, who can never let her co-workers know she is an 
honored clergy person of the Vodou because she fears she may be accused of 
harming her patients; that man teaching elementary school who can't talk 
about his trips home to Haiti to conduct Vodou and Roman Catholic services 
for the family ancestors; that evangelical Christian Haitian who has never 
even been to a Vodou service, who is rejected for employment because some 
ignorant employer is afraid of "those voodoo people" - these are the men and 
women whose lives you impact for the worse.  And don't forget those Americans 
who were not born to Haitian heritage or to the Vodou religion, but who have 
found it a nurturing discipline.  We too are impacted by the stereotype you 

    An apology is in order, Dr. Park; and then you should begin the process 
of educating yourself and your colleagues, perhaps by presenting an article 
on the true nature of the Vodou faith and it's implications for modern 
thought.  At present I, a Mambo asogwe (something like a 'bishop' in 
Christian terminology, as I can consecrate other priests) am also a 
consultant to lawyers working with Haitian immigrants and to public health 
agencies designing health programs for the Haitian and Haitian American 
community here in Boston.  Other organizations in other locations have also 
begun a dialog with us, so you will not be the first or the only academician 
or professional to begin to take a respectful attitude toward this religion 
and find it worth your time.

    Thank you for your time and attention.


                                    Kathy S. Grey, M.S.
                                    (Bon Mambo Racine Sans Bout 
                                        Sa Te La Daginen)


Dr. Stephen Halperin, Dean of the College of Computer, Mathematical and 
Physical Sciences at the University of Maryland
Dr. Rhonda M. Williams, Director, Afro-American Studies Program, University 
of Maryland
Dr. Melinda Chateauvert, Afro-American Studies Program, University of Maryland
Dr. Ernest J. Wilson, Afro-American Studies Program, University of Maryland
Dr. Francille Wilson, Afro-American Studies Program, University of Maryland 
Dr. Eustache Jean-Louis, Director, Center for Community Health, Education, 
and Research, Dorchester, Massachusetts