We Are Not All Haitians

Reading and re-reading The Public Archive’s 2012 interview with the late J. Michael Dash I was struck by Dash’s refusal to talk about himself. In the interview Dash described many of the moments and encounters that shaped him as an intellectual. But he offered little in the way of personal motivation. There is nothing of the emotive or psychological rendering that signifies autobiography of a certain cast. When I asked Dash to elaborate on his past, hoping he would offer some pathos-ridden clue that would explain a Trinidadian’s interest in the literature and culture of Haiti and Martinique, Dash politely brushed the question aside. “I would resist the autobiographical impulse,” he stated. “I was also taught very early to avoid the explicitly personal in critical essays,” Dash continued. “That reflex remains until this day.”

Dash’s avoidance of the autobiographical, of the personal – his refusal of an over-wrought “I” – had important methodological and theoretical implications to his approach to Caribbean literature and history. His privacy guarded against the over-representation of the self in critical narrative. It also defended the integrity and sovereignty of the other, especially from the kind of authorial spillover (or, more precisely, the kind of anthropophagic terrorism) that turns the other into the mere fantasy or projection of the self. While these ethics partly undergird the project of Dash’s neglected The Other America: Caribbean Literature in a New World Context(Virginia, 1998) they also apply in particular to his writing on Haiti, a place that has suffered from more representational cannibalism than almost anywhere else in the world. 

It is a testament to Dash’s ethics and intellect that his writing on the republic was sympathetic without being sentimental, neither paternalistic nor proprietary, and avoided the traps of romance and fetishization that have plagued representations of Haiti for two centuries. It goes without saying that for these reasons it is well worth returning to Dash’s incredible corpus of writing on Haiti: to his 900-plus page 1972 UWI dissertation Nationalism in Haitian Poetry, 1915-1946, toJacques Stephen Alexis(Black Images, 1975), to Literature and Ideology in Haiti: 1915-1961(MacMillan, 1981), to Haiti and the United States: National Stereotypes and the Literary Imagination(MacMillan, 1997), to Culture and Customs of Haiti(Greenwood Press, 2001), as well as to his numerous essays on literary figures from Jacques Roumain to Edwidge Danticat. 

If Dash’s approach to narrative was to resist autobiography, it was also to reject identity. This rejection of identity came about in part as a reaction to the brutal excesses of noirisme manifest in the Duvalier regime. Here, Dash found critical solace in the poetics of Alexis, Edouard Glissant, and others. But it also came about through the particularly Caribbean conjuncture of time and space in which Dash emerged, that moment of possibility of twentieth-century Caribbean intellectual production wherein imperial borders were erased, linguistic boundaries crossed, and the parochialism of inter-island rivalries was partially transcended. Instead of dwelling in the familiar and the proximate, Dash, borrowing from Michel-Ralph Trouillot, argued that one “needed detour and distance to fully grasp what you thought you had already understood at home.” He continued: “I lamented then, as I do now, the fragmented and insular state of Caribbean Studies as scholars invariably still tend to study the places they came from.”

Haiti was critical to Dash’s Caribbean sensibility. This is a point Jamaican historian Matthew J. Smith makes in his moving tribute to Dash published by our friends Africa is a Country. For Dash, the Haitian Revolution signaled the irruption, to use Glissant’s word, of a modernity whose impact resonated across the archipelago, in many ways creating the modern Caribbean. As Dash once asserted, “We are all Haitians.”

This phrase, “we are all Haitians,” offers a powerful and elegantly precise means of invoking the intertwined histories and fates of Caribbean people, while at the same time tethering that history and those fates to Haiti itself. Yet I would like to push back against the idea that we are all Haitians. Dash understood – and lived – with a rhetorical and practical allegiance to Haiti. But he also understood this simple truth: that we are all Haitians, except when we are not. Dash fought against the vulgar forms of Haitian exceptionalism but he also understood the particularities of Haiti’s experience.  In his writing, he grasped a fundamental paradox of identification and solidarity: the recognition that what is exceptional is not always unique, and that while experiences can be shared, they can also be experienced differently. Dash could enter the space inhabited by the other, but he never spoke for or claimed that space as his own. It is a practice, I would argue, that is as much political as it is literary.

Dash passed away in New York City the morning of Saturday, June 2nd, 2019. On Sunday, June 9th, thousands of protestors took to the streets of Haiti’s cities and towns, demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse and the prosecution of those responsible for looting some $2 billion from the government’s Petrocaribe Fund. On Monday, June 10thHaitian journalist Pétion Rospide was assassinated, shot to death in Port-au-Prince while driving a car belonging to Radio San Fin. Rospide anchored the general affairs program “Ti Bat Bouch” (“Small Chat”) and “Info Petro,” which focused on the PetroCaribe scandal. Described as “an ally to the destitute in Haiti,” Rospide’s reporting is said to have made him a target.  

I suspect that Dash would be a little embarrassed at the attention he has received in the wake of his passing given the fact of Rospide’s murder, and of the continuing struggles of Haitian journalists, writers, scholars, and students. He would probably be chagrinned by the energy of mourning directed towards him. Unfortunately, it is in death that we can clearly see the distinction between who is a Haitian and who is not; it is in the imbalance of grief separating the local journalist from the international scholar that the rhetoric of solidarity begins to dissolve. Dash, who saw himself as “an intermediary, a kind of broker, between writers and readers,” would probably seek to redress this imbalance. He would probably want us to re-direct the focus on his life and work to that of others – especially those Haitians who continue to fight against the counter-revolutionary forces unleashed after the Revolution, against the continuing project of neocolonialism begun in the nineteenth century. Selfless, generous, quietly radical, Dash would probably ask those of us who are Haitian but who are often not to throw our weight behind those who always are. 

Rest in peace, Brother Dash. Thank you for your work.

Jean Michael Dash (Port of Spain, Trinidad, 20 July 1948 – New York City, USA, 2 June 2019)

J. Michael Dash: In Memoriam.

Matthew J. Smith, “We Are all Haitian,” Africa Is a Country(June 2019)

Mort de Michael Dash, spécialiste d’Édouard Glissant : fonder sur l’absence, Mediapart(3 June 2019).

Detours and Distance: An interview with J. Michael Dash, The Public Archive (4 March 2012).

Image: View of Port-au-Prince from Saint-Jacques, circa 1970s, Bryant Slides Collection, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Central Florida Libraries, Orlando, Florida /Digital Library of the Caribbean.

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Eight interviews with Florine Démosthène

Florine Démosthène was born in the United States and raised between Port-au-Prince, Haiti and New York. Demosthene earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Parsons the New School for Design in New York and her Master of Fine Arts from Hunter College-City University of New York. She has exhibited extensively through group and solo exhibitions in the USA, Caribbean, UK, Europe and Africa, with recent solo shows including The Stories I Tell Myself (Gallery 1957, Ghana) and The Unbecoming (Semaphore Gallery, Switzerland). She is the recipient of a Tulsa Artist Fellowship, Arts Moves Africa Grant and a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant. She has participated in residencies in the USA, UK, Slovakia, Ghana and Tanzania. Her work can be seen at the University of South Africa (UNISA), Lowe Museum of Art, PFF Collection of African American Art and in various private collections worldwide. Ms. Démosthène resides between New York, Accra, and Johannesburg.”

• Exclusive Interview: Florine Démosthène, Uprising Art: Contemporary Caribbean Art, April 23, 2012.

• Florine Démosthène and the New Black Female Heroine, African Digital Art, February 15, 2016.

• Florine Démosthène explores the black female form using mixed media art, Design Indaba, May 18, 2016

• Florine Démosthène on Femininity and Sensuality, Omenka, March 26, 2018.

• Florine Demosthene Is Conjuring the History of Black Heroines—and Creating New Ones, Artsy, March 29, 2018.

• Healing the Wounded: A Conversation with Artist Florine Démosthène, World Literature Today, February 14, 2019.

• OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Florine Démosthène, OtherPeoples Pixels, July 10, 2019.

• Florine Démosthène, Visual Artist, Kreyolicious (no date).

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Africans and the French Revolution

“Africans and African slavery in the West Indies were the main causes and influences of the American Revolution of the French Revolution.”

W. E. B. Du Bois, The Negro in the French Revolution (Lagos, 1962). W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

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A Dossier on Disaster Capitalism and Haiti

Just three days after the January 10, 2010 earthquake activist and journalist Naomi Klein alerted her readers to the impending ways in which capital would use Haiti’s crisis as a means for exploitation and accumulation. “Readers of the The Shock Doctrine know that the Heritage Foundation has been one of the leading advocates of exploiting disasters to push through their unpopular pro-corporate policies,” Klein wrote on her blog. “From this document, they’re at it again, not even waiting one day to use the devastating earthquake in Haiti to push for their so-called reforms. The following quote was hastily yanked by the Heritage Foundation and replaced with a more diplomatic quote, but their first instinct is revealing:

“In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region.”

Klein’s warning was prescient. With the aftershocks came the shock doctrine and, as outlined in the dossier of articles below, crisis and neoliberalism have found a miserable unity in post-earthquake Haiti.

•   •   •

Benjamin Dangl, “Profiting from Haiti’s Crisis: Disaster Capitalism in Washington’s Backyard,” Toward Freedom (January 18, 2010).

Alec Dupuy, “Disaster Capitalism to the Rescue: The International Community and Haiti after the Earthquake,” NACLA: Report on the Americas (July-August 2010), 14-19, 42.

Mark Schüler, “Haiti’s Disaster after the Disaster: The IDP Camps and Cholera,” The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance (13 December 2010).

Matt Kennard, “Haiti and the shock doctrine,” Open Democracy (14 August 2012).

Anthony Lowenstein, “Foreign Powers Hollow Out Haiti,” New Matilda (28 September 2012).

Ama Biney, “Haiti: Capitalist Plunder and Empty Promises,” Black Agenda Report, (16 Jan 2013). 

Jesse Hagopian, “Seismic Imperialism: Haiti’s Buried Cry for Help on the Third Anniversary of the Earthquake,Black Agenda Report (16 January 2013).

Keir Forgie, “US Imperialism and Diaster Capitalism in Haiti,” Good Intentions: Norms and Practices of Humanitarian Imperialism, Maximilian C. Forte, Ed., (Montreal: Alert Press, 2014), 57-75. 

Mark Schüller and Julie K. Maldonado, “Disaster Capitalism,” Annals of Anthropological Practice (6 October 2016) [$$$]

Image: Marriott Hotel, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Ciara Ferrie architects in collaboration with Hugh Murray Architects.

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Crucifixion de Charlemagne Pérale pour la Liberté

Detail from Philomé Obin (1891–1986), Crucifixion de Charlemagne Pérale pour la Liberté, 1970.

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Canada, Haiti, and Military Occupation: A Dossier

Canada in Haiti: Who Engineered the Overthrow of Democracy?

Canadian Crimes in Haiti: Beyond Complicity.

“Legalized Imperialism,” “Responsibility to Protect” and the Dubious Case of Haiti.

No Time for Democracy: Six years of Canada in Haiti.

Declassifying Canada in Haiti: Part I: Canadian officials planned military intervention weeks before Haitian coup.

Declassifying Canada in Haiti: Part II: Did Canada have plans to support another military coup in Haiti?

Canada in Haiti: Peacekeeping or Military Occupation.

Canadians Apologize to Haiti, 10 years after the coup.


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Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 12 January 2010

Evelne Alcide, Seisme (Earthquake), 2010. Museum of International Folk Art/Museum of New Mexico. Click links for more information; click image for larger version.

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Haiti: Roots of an Uprising

People walk in the street during protests over the fuel price increase in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Saturday, July 7, 2018. On Friday, the government announced that it would raise the prices of gasoline, diesel and kerosene from 38 percent to 51 percent beginning Saturday. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

Despite two U.S.-orchestrated coups against the administrations of former president Aristide, despite a sophisticated COINTELPRO-style campaign aimed at dividing and marginalizing Fanmi Lavalas and its allies, despite 14 years of United Nations military occupation, despite stolen elections, and despite the grinding economic misery facing most Haitian families, the popular movement has persisted.

Robert Roth, “Haiti: Roots of an Uprising,” Haïti Liberté, August 29, 2018.

[Published in French, Kreyòl and English, Haïti Liberté is the largest Haitian weekly newspaper, distributed throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and Haiti. Haïti Liberté offers weekly news and analysis of Haitian affairs by some of the foremost writers and intellectuals in Haiti and its diaspora. Please subscribe.]


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