Friday, February 6, 2015

Are foreigners hijacking Haiti's narrative and national identity?

As Samuel P. Huntington reminds us in this article about his book "The Clash of Civilizations?,"

The clash of civilizations thus occurs at two levels. At the micro- level, adjacent groups along the fault lines between civilizations struggle, often violently, over the control of territory and each other. At the macro-level, states from different civilizations compete for relative military and economic power, struggle over the control of international institutions and third parties, and competitively promote their particular political and religious values.
Is the narrative of Haitian civilization, their national priorities and concerns, being drowned out by the competing vision and narrative projected by the nexus of foreign NGO's, charities, missionaries and celebrities who have seemingly planted their flag on Haiti's national identity?

A snapshot of a Google news search this evening is a perfect illustration of these two competing narratives:

For the first time in weeks, articles addressing national concerns where Haitians are the central protagonists emerged on top of the list generated by Google's news algorithm.  Third, fourth, fifth and sixth on the list are the standard fare of charities, missionaries and NGOs ostensibly working for the benefit of Haiti but where the protagonists are foreigners engaged in charitable acts. While not intended to cast aspersions on the intentions of charities in Haiti, this example clearly illustrates the differences between these two narratives as they compete for attention in their representation of Haiti's national priorities and concerns to the outside world. While the foreigner's narrative is largely one of dependency where Haiti and Haitians need their help, the narrative of Haitians is one of independence where they are fighting directly for social change. This difference becomes even more evident when we contrast images from articles about recent protests in Haiti with the articles promoting charity and recent church missions:

Five years after Haiti earthquake, Hackettstown church still answering the call to help

Missionaries from Trinity United Methodist Church in Hackettstown were in Haiti
for their annual missionary trip last month. It was five years after a church
team experienced a devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince.
Six people from that mission were on the most recent trip.
Contrast that with:

Scene from recent street protests in Haiti

Another example of charity narrative:

Valley kids taking hope to Haiti

A group of students, parents and teachers at All Saints' Episcopal Day School are
collecting school and art supplies and will take them to Haiti later this month.

Contrast that with:

Street battles between police and protesters

So how can the average person discern where the truth lies between these two competing narratives representing the reality and priorities of Haitians? To better address this question we can turn to the theoretical concept of the "indigenous foreigner" offered by curriculum theorist and professor THOMAS S. POPKEWlTZ.

Popkewitz (2000) writes,
While the heroes and heroines circulate as part of global discourses of reform, such heroes  and heroines are promoted in national debates as indigenous or what appears as a seamless movement between the global and the local. The foreign names or concepts no longer exist as outsiders but with an indigenous quality that erases any alien qualities. The invocation of the indigenous foreigner functions to bless the social reform and nation with the images of the harbinger of progress. The discourses in which the foreigner appears are seen as opening up new intentions as new concepts are available for opportunities and interactions.

But when the narrative of the indigenous foreigner is examined closely, it is found to be a narrative without specific historical references and practices. It is a discourse that is empty of history. (p. 10)

Popkewitz (2000) recognizes the power this gives foreigners to subvert the national identity and narrative of others,

The transmogrification of the indigenous foreigner is the effect of power. The indigenous foreigner appears in the form of universal categories that order the interpretations and possibilities of national practices-the paths that one must take toward salvation and emancipation. The universal principles, however, are not universal but embody specific social and cultural forms. The national imaginaries that speak of emancipation and empowerment tend to inscribe principles of a "liberal democracy." These universal, inalienable principles embody particular sets of European, bourgeois norms about human rights and political freedom. (p. 11)
This raises the fundamental difference between organizations that are engaged in "solidarity" with Haitians, always sensitive to them setting the priorities, as opposed to the prevailing culture and approach of the nexus of foreign NGO's, charities, missionaries and celebrities that is not.

Maybe this discussion will contribute to folks watching the content and narrative of news stories about Haiti more consciously. What patterns do you see? It certainly is food for thought.


Huntington, S. P. (1996). The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Popkewitz, T. S. (2000). Educational knowledge : changing relationships between the state, civil society, and the educational community. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Other recent post/articles by HIP:

 Haiti: Protests, Strikes and a New Election Council

Who is Reginald Boulos, Martelly's "fixer" in Haiti?

Sean Penn's 'Corner' in Haiti: Don't believe the hype

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Haiti: Protests, Strikes and a New Election Council

A protester holds up a banner with the image of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide 
with text in Creole that reads "You persecute him, you persecute us"

Flashpoints Executive Producer Dennis Bernstein interviews Senior Producer Kevin Pina about a two day transportation worker's strike, ongoing protests in Haiti, a new elections council and the continuing incarceration of Jean Bertrand-Aristide.