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8442: Of Vodou/Voodoo, Kreyol/Creole, Ayiti(an)/Haiti(an) and , political correctness (fwd)
From: Guy Antoine <GuyAntoine@windowsonhaiti.com>
Re: 8435: Corbett responds to Coates on the ENGLISH spelling of the name of
the Haitian religion
A notion that is curiously absent from Corbett's discourse on the use of language
and political correctness with respect to the spelling of "Vodou/Voodoo/voodoo"
is the evolution of literature itself to reflect newer preferences often in spite of
entrenched conservatism. Peiping has evolved into Peking then into Beijing.
Furthermore, it should be understood that political correctness is a weapon that
cuts on both sides, though it is not always termed the same way. A minority of
people necessarily has to be more vocal to have any chance of success in
establishing some of its preferences as opposed to the "correctly-neutral"
views of a majority that, while not needing to be as vocal, can be even more
forceful in terms of standardizing its political preferences, simply because it has
the upper hand. While some have to explain and even defend their capitalization
of Vodou or any other variant, an editor at the New York Times can be completely
dismissive of such concerns, without risking the label of being an advocate of
"political correctness", no matter how injurious his use of language may be to
certain people. Ditto for the abuse of The Phrase. They have "the establishment"
on their side, clearly european-centric, clearly reflecting a tradition of power and
the traditional force and use of big money. Such force and use have no need to
be assertive, since they already have their way.
I do agree with most of what Corbett had to say in his post, yet he fails to dissuade
me from continuing to spell the religion's name as Vodou and not "Voodoo". It's
not the capitalization that bothers me as much as the preponderance of the letter
"o" in the word, and I think that this particular preponderance of one letter has an
unshakeable hold on the perception (that it reinforces), that the religion in question
is oooooh nothing but black magic.
Like our host, I am not writing from the stance of someone anchored in the religion
or any other religion. I have encountered many Haitians (and foreigners on this list)
who have identified Vodou as being intrinsically and undeniably a part of the Haitian
identity, and have even extrapolated universal notions of Haitian morality based on
the majority's religious affiliation, for the purpose of setting Haitians apart from the
rest of humanity. In that narrow sense, I concede to them this Haitianity that I do
not have and will never have. But I have strongly associated with Christianity in my
upbringing. And what no longer amazes me is the level of similarity between the
two belief systems in their attribution of everyday natural occurences, and sometimes
not so ordinary ones (even in the natural world, there are unordinary circumstances)
to supernatural causes, hence the end of all logic, end of discussion. Similarity also
in the mediation of Catholic Saints and the Lwas. To say nothing of the existence
of White and Black Virgins or the apparition of St. John the Baptist in Vodou
ceremonies. Let me just catch a deep breath and move on...
I do agree with Corbett's view on capitalization, but this is in my view the feeblest
of attempts in the use of literature to distinguish between two wildly different
connotations locked in head to head competition: the practice of a religion versus
the practice of black magic. Needless to say that to some people, there may not
be much difference between those two notions, but I do accept that there is a
difference, but that is the nature of a different discussion. In today's practice of
the written word, most especially on the Net, capitalization is no longer what is
used to be. Anybody who receives much e-mail should be able to assert this.
A great many people do not take the time to capitalize any more. To many, it's
even a question of personal style.
To say that most people are aware of correctly applied grammar is optimistic.
Most Americans write the possessive "its" with an apostrophe (as in " to loose
it's color" in lieu of "to lose its color", to say nothing of the curious replication
of "o" in "loose"). But should I point this out that many will feel obliged to
show this uppity nigger up who can't possibly speak French and think he could
show others how to write English (Note that I started my last sentence with a
conjunction). These days I proudly do most of my writing in Kreyol (which I
spell so, though the standard way of writing the language in English is "Creole"
and with all due respect to our host, I am profoundly aware of this fact. I am
not trying to be politically correct. I am being joyfully assertive when I write
"Vodou" and when I write "Kreyol". I do not make use of force and pressure
for others to follow my practice, but will secretly revel when they do so for
sentiments possibly quite different from my own. To label this "assertiveness"
as "political correctness" is perhaps a more subtle form of political correctness?
To some, the ultimate political correctness resides precisely in being shockingly
I believe in the persistence and value of culture and ethnicity, and probably not
very much in any boundary or exclusivity that people try to enforce on those
notions. In my entirely life I have never met a White person who truly was white,
though I have indeed met some Black people who have come very close to
being black (and in the case of some ladies, truly black and beautiful). I also
believe that we all have common ancestors, "humans" not evolutionary ones,
that we share the same blood, and partake from the same gene pool, though it
is not diversified in a normally distributed fashion. In that sense, we are all,
"white or black", uppity niggers trying to make a difference. Some of us do
so by the conscious use of unconventional spelling. And I can choose to be
called a Haitian-American or an African-American at the same level that most
Whites introduce themselves as Irish-American, Italian-American, or whatever.
Though to some "nigger", "black", and "african-american" mean exactly the
same thing, enough of us have protested the use of the word "nigger" that it is
no longer acceptable in conventional use. A victory for political correctness,
perhaps, but more so in my point of view, a victory for self-respect.
Though I have yet to feel the need, that many highly respected and respectable
Haitians have to change the English name of the country to Ayiti and its inhabitiants
to Ayitians, and the name of their language to Ayitian or Ayisyen or even Haitian
Creole, I do not begrudge them their assertiveness. Perhaps one day, they will
convince me. For my part, I will continue to write Vodou to distinguish the
religion from its well-rooted association with the practice of black magic, capitalized
or not, and Kreyol as the name of the specific and fully developed language the
inhabitiants of Haiti refer to when they say: "Krey˛l pale, Krey˛l konprann".
Which practice will win in the end? My forgotten Saints and Lwas will not help
me out on that one.
Guy S. Antoine
Windows on Haiti