Earlier this year, Protestant pastors, civil society groups, nonprofits, unions, and local protesters gathered in seven different cities to denounce the unstable presidency of Jovenel Moïse. Months later, he was assassinated.
The attack was ignited after Moïse refused to step down, when he announced on February 7 that he would not leave his presidential office, which caused even more uncertainty and unrest among the Haitian population.
As the murky details surrounding the Haitian President’s assassination unfurled, a series of speculations, conspiracy theories, and marginalization dominated Western media.
When many Western news outlets took notice of the attack, they were quick to fall back into patterns of racial stereotypes, including the country’s government, people and religious practices, that further dehumanize Haitians and isolates them from the rest of the world.
“Haiti is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.” Haitian American journalist Joel Dreyfuss compares this problematic phrase to a prison that is “something absolutely true and absolutely meaningless at the same time.”
As reported by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) University of London, “The New York Times wrote that Haiti was ‘one of the world’s most troubled nations’ and was tipping into ‘lawlessness.’” The Guardian referred to the ‘impoverished nation’ as ‘on brink of chaos,’ and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) emphasized that Haiti was ‘the largest recipient of development assistance from Canada in the region.'”
And media conglomerates like the New York Times were still using what many call “the Phrase” because of its ubiquity in media coverage of the country, “Haiti is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.” Haitian American journalist Joel Dreyfuss compares this problematic “Phrase” to a prison that is “something absolutely true and absolutely meaningless at the same time.”
Other than the labels that further desensitized the political crisis in Haiti and denigrated its population, these stereotypes didn’t just emerge this past week but are part of a long history of the media, the U.S., and other foreign leaders abandoning Haiti.
As Amy Wilentz puts it for The Nation, “the international media is quick to cover Haiti’s dysfunctions.” She explained that international support from governments and institutions like Canada, France, the Dominican Republic, the European Union, the United States, the United Nations and The Organization of American States, “have continued to support Haiti’s incompetent, irresponsible, corrupt, and deadly government” and that this network has been guiding Haitian affairs for decades.
Even after Haiti successfully unchained itself from slavery and earned its independence in 1804, the United States would later occupy Haiti for 19 years, and since then, what followed was a media landscape that described Haiti as a “country plagued by political instability, violence, disarray, and immorality, among other problems.”
In 2010 when a catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti, killing hundreds of thousands of people and displacing over a million, the North American coverage did not do justice to the devastating news. Instead, it continued to stereotype the country and its people by delivering speculation and misinformation instead of facts.
Haiti’s story should not be told by people who know nothing about its people and their history.
Haitian American author and anthropologist Gina Athena Ulysse said back in 2010 that the reports were “were largely uneducated on Haiti’s history and offered little sympathy to the people dealing first-hand with such a tragedy.”
It was also only just a few years ago when former President Donald Trump met with officials on immigration and allegedly said, regarding Haitians and Africans, “Why do we want all these people from s—hole countries coming here?” In combination with irresponsible leaders, the complicit international community, and false coverage, it catapults misleading knowledge within the Western population.
The United States and the international community have always benefited from Haiti’s agriculture and economy by the force of uninvited interventions, which in return resulted in a political crisis, gang violence and poverty. Often, it is not acknowledged that Haiti has also significantly contributed to what is known today as America, including the Louisiana Purchase, the founding of Chicago, the liberation of slaves in other countries, involvement in the Revolutionary War, and much more. However, the media will continue to undermine or ignore these key details to sustain white supremacy.
For Teen Vogue, Fabienne Josaphat wrote, “Haitians exist as a reminder that the damages of racism and oppression cannot sway self-determination. We are not going anywhere. In fact, Haitians continue to thrive despite adversity. Our ancestry and culture empower and enable us to bounce back and carry on. If the whip of slavery did not break us, the words of an inveterate racist will not kill us. Haitians sacrifice for others even when others don’t sacrifice for them. I see this as the definition of love: the continuous devotion to others with no expectation of reciprocity.”
As details of President Moise’s assassination continue to unfold, Haiti’s story should not be told by people who know nothing about its people and their history.