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Black Like Me

Jean-Baptiste,  Jean Claude. (February 2006) "Black Like Me," Center for Youth Studies. 

              As Abraham, the father of the faith, I consider life like a long pilgrimage, and after him I would say the years of my pilgrimage are 55 years. I was born in Haiti, the city of Gonaives, the third largest of the country, located about 200 miles north of the capital Port-Au-Prince.  Gonaives is proudly called the city of independence because the declaration of Independence was written and proclaimed there on January 1, 1804, after 3 years of bloody war between the indigenous people and the French army.  As the first black independent country in the world, Haiti was literally isolated at the dawn of its birth by the world powers.  They could not believe that a bunch of determined slaves had revolted and destroyed the infernal slavery machinery of the French in a corner of the Caribbean basin.  They resolved to punish the nation by not recognizing their independence and by not accepting any Negro as ambassadors in the world capitals. It was a very rocky start for the young nation whose people had committed no other crime than not accepting to give up their dignity and live under the boots of the White Master.
              I am a black man and I deeply understand the plight of the black man in white America.  As a black man here, you feel at times like it is a sin, a natural deficiency, or a misery to be born black.  It is like you have been born for anything least, petty and inferior. My ancestors have known the worst atrocities at the hands of white French colonists and we are still carrying a heavy load from the colonial era.  My people have been wounded so profoundly by the French establishment that many of our wounds are still bleeding under the disguise of social ills and political weaknesses.  The French have left, but they left behind many secular problems that the nation is still wrestling with.  We are embroiled in an eternal class confrontation; united at the beginning, we became divided, opposed over selfish interests.  The masses have changed masters.  A new social and political class “ the mulatoes” emerged from the sexual appetite class of the white man for the black woman; they have plundered all the wealth of the new country since the beginning of independence, leaving the masses with nothing other than becoming their servants.  Since then, Haiti tends to have 5% who are super rich and 95% who are poor living in abject and sub-human conditions.  The late president Dumarsais Estime came to power in 1946 and created a powerful black middle-class.  Francois Duvalier took over in 1957, a former disciple of Estime. He went on the same path, but the middle class of “ black petit bourgeois” had been voracious, rapacious.  Today, they have still not changed the fate of the masses, which stand now between two tigers. Haiti is at the brink of disaster because of the greed and selfishness of these leading classes.
              As a child, I attended a good catholic school in Petion-Ville.  It is the wealthiest city of the nation inhabited by most of Haiti's elite because of its mild climate and proximity to the capital.  At a tender age, I experienced the hideous face of prejudice already ingrained in the young hearts and minds of peers from “the mulattoes.”  Their words, attitudes and reactions towards me were disrespectful and offensive.
              For the past twenty five years, I have been living in the United States of America where racism is very poignant, divisive and a hot issue.  I am glad to be in a black and white classroom (at seminary) where Christians students united as one family through Jesus Christ, can frankly discuss this subject and put our differences to rest.  May our light brilliantly shine throughout the darkness of the ages.  With Jesus, we stand against all the forces of evil, all polluted philosophies and policies that remain captive to the evils of prejudice, biases and hatred that degrade and destroy.  

1. What struck you most about this article?
2. How is Haiti's history of racism similar and different to the US?
3. How might you lead a discussion between Haitian-American youths and African-American youths to help them share experiences?
1. Racism is so complex and diverse, yet it has similar threads across all nations.
2. Christians especially are called to stand united again such prejudice.
3. It is important to know Haiti's past in order to understand the context of young Haitian-Americans.
Jean Claude Jean-Baptiste cCYS