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6029: Re: 6008: RE: 5978: Teaching a lesson: "blan" or Madanm" (fwd)
From: H P <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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
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
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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