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#3324: Haitian Stereotyping : Delimon comments

From: Florence Delimon <fdd7929@garnet.acns.fsu.edu>

Dear Ms Clemens,

This is difficult to make valid comments with the little details you
imparted (they seem so to me), because in order to answer one needs to know
- what is your son doing in Haiti - vacationing, working, volunteering,
re[reseting a church/NGO, visiting friends, family?  Where is he being
harassed - when he is alone, in places the average population will not
"expect to see" a white man (in a small village, a poor neighborhood of
Port-au-Prince or a larger city)?  Does he give the impression that he is
ogling at people, or does he go around his own business, and then he is
teased/harassed ...?  These are a few questions that came to mind when I
read your post.

Now, if I may offer my two-cent-worth of comments:

Haitians of all ages and all social levels LOVE to tease other people,
sometimes to a point of being and/or appearing rude and extremely
insensitive (often, the average Joseph will not reflect - not by sheer
rudeness but by unwitting ignorance - on the possible mental and/or
psychological harm that teasing may do to others.  Average Djo will realize
when he has already gone too far).  Teasing is sometimes a cultural way of
showing off wit and verbal prowess, particularly if the teasers are among a
group of friends.  They may actually concentrate more on outdoing one
another with smart-aleck remarks than purposefully teasing the victim - when
they realize, it is too late.  Most often it seems that males enjoy this
type of banter and would spend hours standing on street corners indulging in
that pastime - try to imagine that any person going by is good sports.

To address specifically your worry about your son being accepted by the
community - in general terms when Haitians do get to know the "individual"
(and not what he/she represents - youn blan), they are quite warm, and
respectful.  Sometimes they even admire a person coming from another place
and learning to live the simple lives that they live everyday.  The key is
that they have to KNOW the individual.  Since I do not have much more clues
than the few details that you gave, I would assume that to be " yelled at
everyday to go home and hey white guy get out of here...etc etc..." may have
to do with other tensions and conflicts going on inside the country, and
your son may be a symbol of what the community where he is perceived him to
represent.   I think that everywhere in the world - including in the US - we
all confront mistrust and rejection because of our skin color (regardless of
which color we are all talking about), and we all have to take a back seat,
think, and reflect on that.  History in the Americas (and I am talking about
the whole continent) has a lot to do with it.

Now, all of this may not be very re-assuring to you - because I have
probably not really helped with my comments.  I assume as a mother you are
expecting something more concrete than the few reflections I have offered
above.  I will try to just give you my input.  Your son is already showing
what I would term "cultural smartness" by telling Haitians in the community
where he lives that he is a friend.  I would advise that he does not venture
alone in places that he does not know, but that he get to be "introduced" by
having an informal sponsor, i.e. going places with his Haitian
colleagues/friends/etc... until such time that he is known, and that he has
established more than superficial contacts.

Also, avoid being visibly angry in reaction to the teasing - if he is fluent
in Creole - he must pretty much get what people are saying.  If he plays
"deaf", he won't be fun to tease and people will look around for other

You ask:  "Does this happen a lot?"  Teasing, yes.  Cruel teasing?   That
may happen too.  "Is there anything he could do to blend in without getting
the verbal abuse..."  That is going to be difficult being a White boy to
physically "blend".  But Haitians are quite sensitive to human warmth and
honesty, and true heart - and if your son can be patient, and go beyond the
hurt and the stress (he probably needs to have a mental/cultural support
network made of both Haitians who know him and Americans (white and others)
who have lived fairly long in Haiti), he will also go beyond the stereotyped
attitudes and behaviors of Haitians who may or may not be racists and who
probably push the teasing way too far.

This is not a perfect answer, but I sincerely hope it will help you.

Florence Délimon