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6029: Re: 6008: RE: 5978: Teaching a lesson: "blan" or Madanm" (fwd)

From: H P <kemsere@hotmail.com>

I have been following the debate about the term "blan" for some time and 
finally decided to put in my two cents.

My mother is European. As white as they come with red hair and green eyes. 
She has been living in haiti now for more than 20 years. I have discussed 
this topic with her and this is what we have come up with.
Now because she is very fair, my sister and I are also quite light skinned. 
We have been addressed to as "blan" more times than I could ever count. 
However, like Mrs Henrius was saying, only once or twice has it been with 
any agressivity.

The one time we really felt threatened was the day my mother was having an 
argument with someone that we knew and and that was Black at the airport. A 
bystander listening to the argument looked at my mom and said in an 
agressive manner "sa ou pral fe blan? Ou pral bat li?" (what are you going 
to do Blan? Beat him up?"
There was no consideration that the argument was none of this stranger's 
concern. The insinuation of the statement was that because my mother was 
white and the man she was arguing with was Black, she intended to have him 
beaten. We were not only very offended, but we felt an agressivity that was 
completely foreign to us. This anti-foreigner reaction, which I would extend 
to anti-light skinned, is something I had never felt in Haiti until I left 
for college in 1996. I believe it would tie in well with an other discussion 
going on on the list about anti foreign propaganda.

However, the same week we travelled to Port Salut (one of the most gorgeous 
places in the world if you ask me). My mother and I were waiting near the 
local Cavaillon market while my dad had gone to buy some avocadoes. Suddenly 
a group of little girls gathered around us giggling. They were had the most 
angelic smiles and sweetest giggles. Finally one of them walked up to me and 
and touched my hair. My mother and I exchanged puzzled looks and my mom said 
"Oh Oh ti fi sa wap fe la?" (Little girl, what are you doing), she must have 
been 8 or 9 years old. then she looked at my mom and said "blan, ban mwen li 
non" (come one Blan give it to me)...more puzzled looks... and my mom 
answered, "sa ou vle mwen ba-ou" ( what do you want me to give you?) and the 
little girl pointed at me and said (in creole of course) "her hair". To this 
day I think that is the sweestest and most innocent thing that came out of a 
chlid's mouth. It was funny and the kids realized it and we all laughed. She 
called us Blans but it was not threatening.

So in sum, to me, blan in creole is like Neg (negro). Neg is used to 
designate a man in general. Now if you call somebody Neg Nwe, as in Black 
negro (that translation always makes my African American friends laugh), 
this could be equated to calling somebody a N----- in the US. The same way 
if you call somebody Blan Mannan, mannan being the creole version of the 
French word Mannant which loosely translated designates the outlaws that 
were cast away in caribbean islands instead of going to jail, then it is an 
insult. Also Blan colon, refers to colonizers and is also meant as an 
insult. But the word Blan in itslef is like neg, it has a specific role of 
designating a foreigner, or somebody of foreign descent regardless of their 
skin color.

The proof is, when the Americans invaded in 1994, I heard the term Neg Blan 
(white negro, that aslo makes my friends laugh) which designated a Black man 
of Foreign origin, notably the African American soldiers. And also, speaking 
to the few Asians I have met in Haiti, I have heard them called Blan Jon 
(yellow white person (more laughs)).

In considering the term blan, I think context is the most important 
criterion. Should we really be that sensitive? If the statement is 
definitely not meant as an insult, why should we interpreted as such?

Language and vocabulary reflect the culture and history of a country.
Blan is a word of our vocabulary. It is a culturally charged word and 
designates something specific. Like any word, it can be interpreted 
different ways depending on the context.

I think if we are travelling into foreign countries, we cannot expect to 
change the customs of our destination. We can explain different viewpoints 
to the locals, to broaden their persepectives on other cultures, but the 
bottom line is we are in a foreign country.

If I travelled to Iran, I would cover my hair and wear conservative clothes, 
I woudln't talk to men I didn't know and would not go to places that do not 
admit women. I would do this because I am a tourist/foreigner and even 
though this would probably insult me as a modern woman. I would do the same 
if I married an Irani man and chose to live there. I would have to adapt to 
the local customs.

Though in haiti certain things may insult non haitians, they are still part 
of the haitian culture. Even though you may not embrace or understand it, if 
you choose to live in or travel to haiti (nobody forced you to go) then you 
will have to accept it along with all the other social tabous and customs.

Well that's my two cents. A point of view from an interracial, part haitian 
part European woman. I am not attacking anyone with this post, I'm just 
stating my opinion on the matter.

Emmanuelle A. Zennie
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