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Yes, There Might be Violence in the Streets. You Should Still Travel to Haiti

Haiti is a country that can be many things depending on where you choose to look. You can look only where the news cameras look and you can see isolated groups of people rioting in the streets, protesting injustices that they’ve lived and felt. The images of flames rising high above the pavement and the sounds of rocks being hurled and landing on rusty tin roofs as the crowds scatter. These images can all be scary. That picture of what Haiti is, is indeed a true one. It’s one that the cameras wouldn’t be able to capture if it didn’t truly happen. I’m not here to tell you that the streets never pose any risks in this country. But that picture presented is a very limited one.

Another picture of Haiti is the one that tourism brochures choose to present. It’s one of pristine white sand beaches populated with towering coconut trees. It’s one of cascading waterfalls spilling through lush, forested valleys. It’s a picture of bustling local markets filled with colorful tropical fruits of all varieties and bright patterned fabrics adorning the vendors’ tables and their heads. It’s one of costumed dancers celebrating traditional festivals and creative artists producing all sorts of one-of-kind works that you won’t find anywhere else on the globe. All of that is also a picture of Haiti that is true, and worth consuming. But it remains a picture of Haiti that you are not likely to see unless you choose to look at it.

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Both of these can be true. Both of these are true, as are many others. There’s the picture of Haiti that comes out of the ever-so-frequent natural disasters, whether it’s an earthquake, a hurricane, or a flood, one of damage and devastation. There’s the picture that the NGO’s use to produce pity and raise funds, one of poverty, disease, and suffering. There’s the picture of the successful results of local grassroots organizing in communities throughout the country of children being educated, trees being planted, water being filtered, and businesses being started. There’s the picture that shows the rich and inspiring history of the country, the spirit of which continues to run through the veins of every Haitian, a spirit which can be seen providing meaning and substance to every single other picture of the country that one might choose to see.

These are all true pictures of Haiti. Sometimes it may be hard for some people to believe that all of these truths can exist in one small island country such as this, but that, my friends, is actually the best argument why you should actually travel to this country. Because it is complicated and it is full of contradictions. That means that it is also full of discovery and full of life for one to experience in new and unexpected ways. If you travel to Haiti and you only experience one of any of those pictures that I mentioned, then you are not actually experiencing Haiti. You are experiencing propaganda, whether positive or negative, you are not experiencing the fullness, the depth.

IMG_0838As someone who works in the arts sector, I can confidently say that if you come to Haiti and leave only understanding that Haiti houses some of the world’s most talented and creative artists, then you’re completely missing what Haiti is. I hope that you do see the breadth and the beauty of the art here, but it’s pointless if you don’t understand the painful and difficult realities of life in Haiti that is often the source of those artists’ expression. You can’t celebrate the work of an artist who paints out of political protest, but then not defend that artist’s neighbor when they take to the streets to burn tires or throw rocks in the same spirit. And you can’t refute those two different responses without also understanding the historical, educational, economic, and social systems that have been built to leave both of them to feel like they have no other options. You also have to realize that the artist that you praise today might be the protestor throwing rocks in the street tomorrow and they might have justified reasons for doing so.

In places where peaceful protest has a history of getting positive results, peaceful protest continues to be elevated as the more righteous form of public political action. But in a place like Haiti where the only thing that has ever historically gotten results is violent revolution, you have to leave space for contemporary protest to take a different shape in that context. When you hear about “violence” in Haiti you also have to educate yourself on what that really means and what the true context of the violence is. What the news usually means when they say there is violence in Haitian streets is that there are large crowds of people protesting something. For the most part those protests are usually peaceful despite the fires that they set and the rocks that they throw to get the attention of the people in power. Very seldom is the violence ever targeted, and if it is targeted, it is very unlikely that it will be targeted at you as someone visiting the country (unless you are somehow responsible for all of the political and social ills that the people are suffering).

This is not to diminish the trauma that does occur when violence is targeted at foreigners. I personally have multiple friends who have been robbed at gunpoint on multiple occasions in this country, and I wouldn’t wish that situation on anyone. Yet, all of those friends still visit this country even after those experiences. Why? Because they understood the contexts surrounding their experiences and knew that those experiences did not define Haiti but just represented one limited part of its identity as a country. I’ve lived in Haiti for 12 years now (I know, 12!) and I’ve never been the target of any violence and even in the situations where I’ve gotten caught up in protests in the streets, I’ve never felt unsafe. Those protests that they like to show on the news under the headlines about “violence erupting in Haiti,” I’ve seen them up close and personal, felt the heat from the burning tires on my skin, had to negotiate directly with the lead protesters to get around roadblocks, yet I’ve never felt like I was actually in danger.

Although accurate statistics on crime in Haiti are hard to nail down, some sources put the levels of violent crime in the country much lower than other Caribbean locations considered popular tourist destinations, including Jamaica, Costa Rica, and our island neighbor of Dominican Republic. But that’s not how it’s ever reported. In those other countries more frequent smaller, targeted instances of violence occur, but Haiti always has to be the drama queen of the Caribbean and make a big show of it when they do decide to stir things up, so it makes the news more and is reported with a much more exaggerated sense of danger. It paints an inaccurate picture, even if it comes from a grain of truth.

So come and discover the truth for yourself. Discover the truth, then discover the truths behind the truth and all of the other truths around that truth. Peel back the layers of this wild, wonderful, weird, complicated, colorful, cultured country. When you come, leave a little flexibility in your agenda for the unexpected. Expect some disruptions, some delays, some disasters, and maybe even a little bit of danger. But also expect that no matter what happens you’re going to come away from it all with eyes opened to new truths about what you thought this country was, and because of it you will probably also discover new truths about who you are as well. I can’t guarantee what you will or won’t see or experience when you do get to Haiti. I can guarantee that Haiti will change you. So come and let it.

Thank you for reading the Green Mango Blog. If you appreciate what you read, please consider making a donation to help the Green Mango’s continued writing and community work. Make a donation here. Thank You.

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What to Say When Words Can’t Heal the Wounds

There was a time when big news would happen and my initial reaction would be to go to blog and write about my thoughts on the news or to share my opinion on the latest trending topic. It was the best way for me to express myself and once in a while those posts would get some substantial traction so I felt like my words carried some value. But lately my faith in the value of blogging has waned as I’ve tried to turn to more direct responses to what’s going on around me. Now when news breaks, my default is not to write a blog post but to reach out to friends of mine or even strangers who are directly impacted by the news and offer my personal support. Rather than logging on I’ve been checking in and trying to be more intentional with my personal relationships. I had, in fact, grown comfortable with the idea that maybe I would never blog on the Green Mango again and allow that chapter of my life to organically close while I searched for more effective ways to use my voice. Then I had a friend of mine earlier this week tell me that they had always looked forward to my posts as one of the few things keeping them sane in life. And that encouraged me to get back on here. So here I am.

I want to be honest, however, of how I’ve grown since I first started this blog. It’s been over 6 years since I first published my list of Mission Team Fashion Mistakes as my introduction to the world as The Green Mango. That first post was written with the intention of being a light-hearted poke at something that I thought way too many people took far too seriously. I shouldn’t have been surprised when the responses to that first post proved just how excessively serious people took such an issue. My response to their response was to then poke even greater fun at issues that they took even more seriously with my subsequent posts. Early on in the days of this blog I was accused of “waging a war against mission teams” and I wrote some things that offended some readers enough that I ended up losing some friends and donors over it all. But in the process, I also gained some friends and donors who discovered me through the blog and shared similar perspectives on the topics that I found important. Ultimately, though, it was about creating some accountability and engaging in debate over topics that too often escape interrogation because they get put in the category of “good work” and “helping people”.

Although it was never my intention, maybe I was waging a war because I was truly annoyed and frustrated by a lot of the things that I saw foreigners doing in Haiti and the ways that they justified those things in the name of the same God that I followed. And in my venting of those frustrations, I may have energized the frustrations of others and ended up creating more division than solutions. Through the years of exploring how I might continue to use this platform I’ve tried to adjust my approach to remedy that. And through that journey, I’ve changed, but also the world around me has changed. The Haiti that inspired me to start writing 6 years ago is not the same Haiti that I write in today. Although things remain complicated here in Haiti, the country is not flooded by swarms of mission teams anymore and the poisonous alphabet soup of NGO’s vying for power and influence has greatly diminished over the years. So, either I won the war that I was waging, or, more likely, the war just migrated to different places where the same misguided ethnocentric, racist, and classist views of the world could wreak havoc on different issues with their “good intentions”. Using those good intentions to screw with Haiti has become less sexy over the years and instead the calamitous interventions of well meaning people focuses its energy closer to home.

The original intention of the Green Mango Blog, however, has always been to be honest about the places where I as an individual and we as people have some ripening to do. Sometimes that means dragging what is rotten out into the sun and shining a light on it. Other times it means simply remaining connected to the branch that you have sprung from and allowing yourself to be fed and to grow. Then only when you’re ready can you feed others. That’s why the blog is named the Green Mango. The Haitian proverb says “You never throw a rock a green mango.” I’ll admit to having used this blog to throw rocks of my own. But I continue to grow; I continue to ripen; I continue to evolve and learn.

So, for my own sake but also for the sake of those of you who depend on this blog for a bit of sanity in an insane world, I will also continue to write. I can’t guarantee what direction the writing may take from here. I’ll admit that when I look at what’s going on in the world, I often find myself at a loss for comment. The issues that get me riled up these days and make me want to fire off an angry blog are mostly happening back in the US. Yet my duty to the work that I am committed to here in Haiti keeps my energy focused on practical means to continue making a difference here where I am currently planted.  When news does break these days, the first question that I try to ask myself is always how can I be a healer in any situation. Seldom when I ask myself that question do I find the answer to be, “write a blog.” The wounds of this world are so deep sometimes that they can’t be healed by words alone. Justice, Love, Dignity, Compassion, and Forgiveness are difficult to send across the internet. Usually it takes an honest but uncomfortable conversation with someone you love and trust. Sometimes it does take protests, and righteous anger, and voting. But when it does call for writing, and I feel like my voice can add something constructive to the communal dialogue, I will continue to post here, hopefully with more frequency that I have been in the past year or so.

In order to do that, though, I would love to hear from you, my readers, as to what topics you would like me to write on. Give me some ideas. I’ll be posting some more topical posts soon. I promise at least one more this week. And, if you truly do appreciate what I write on The Green Mango and would like to encourage me to keep at it, then please click on the Donate button just over there on the right side of your screen and send me some love that way. I will keep writing if it seems like people really do find value in what I write, but one of the main factors in me writing less lately has been the fact that blogging don’t pay the bills and I gotta focus my energy on activities that are gonna sustain me financially. I’ve been too broke this past year to use my time blogging. That’s just the truth.

Thanks for being here. Thanks for reading. I appreciate you and your presence more than you know.

Art Really Does Save Lives

I would usually be the last person to ever claim that anything that I do in Haiti actually saves lives. I would also be the first person to roll my eyes when some other non-Haitian would claim something so dramatic. Whether it may be technically true or not, the white savior narrative is so problematic in this country that it doesn’t need any extra fuel to bolster it. So I usually try to avoid such hyperbolic and cliché proclamations. An experience that I’ve gone through this past week, however, has revealed to me the life-or-death gravity of certain situations that really do need discussed. And so I want to talk about it here, not because I am saving lives, but because you who are reading this, can save lives, and you can do so by buying art and by supporting the work of Haitian artists. You may read that and think that now I really am being dramatic. I mean we’re not curing cancer or feeding starving children, we’re creating art. How is that saving lives? Well, I’ll explain. But before I do, please know that it has been very difficult for me this week as I process my feelings on this to know how best to share these stories while also protecting the privacy and dignity of the artists and my community here that trust me. So I’m going to try to do so in a way that illuminates the seriousness of the issue while not betraying that trust that they’ve given me.

I’ve been serving as the executive director of the Jacmel Arts Center now for a little over a year, and many of the artists here I’ve known for years before that. But being the executive director here entails much more than just the administration of a calendar full of arts programming for over 100 member artists. I also often end up serving as a therapist, a mentor, and a chief cheerleader for those artists. For many of them, this family of artists that they have here is the greatest system of support that they have in their lives, so when life gets challenging they look to us as a family for the strength to make it through.

At least once a month I have had an artist in my office telling me about how they are seriously considering suicide as an escape from the difficulties that they’re facing. In those moments, I have to try my best to make sure that they know that they are loved and they are valued as part of our family. I try to help them realize the tools that they have available to them to help them process their feelings and express the stress and depression that they feel trapped in. But sometimes that’s not enough. On one occasion I ended up having to call the girlfriend of one of the artists to tell her how worried I was about him and warn her about the dark place that he was in, knowing that she was his only other source of support.

This week, though, we came far too dangerously close to actually losing one of our artists to the darkness as he attempted to take his own life.  Fortunately he didn’t succeed, thanks to, in large part, two other artists from our center that were with him at the time and were able to save him and get him to the hospital. He was able to recover and seems to be on a more positive path now, but if it wasn’t for the support of our family of artists that we have built for each other here at the center, things could have turned out much different. This artist was in my office earlier that day, having that conversation with me that has become all too familiar, telling me that he didn’t see a way out. I talked to him but also made sure that he wasn’t going home alone.

Here’s the thing, being an artist is hard. It’s hard in any place and any cultural circumstance. Those of us who were born into the unavoidable current that pulls us into a life of the arts never choose this life because of its ease, we simply allow the current to pull us to where we need to be. Many people who’ve never felt the gravity of that vocational call to be an artist might look at us and simply say, “If things are so tough, then why not get a real job?” And sure, in some places it is possible for an artist who is not professionally or financially successful to get a part-time job to help make ends meet while they pursue their art. In other places, like Haiti, however, that is not an option. If you’ve discovered your natural allocation to be an artist, then you feel like it would be a spit in the face of the God inside of you to deny it. The Art that is within you needs to be created no matter what. And when, despite all odds, you find a way to create that art, you create it not for yourself but because society itself depends on the existence of that art.

Being an artist is hard, but it is necessary. No place knows this better than Jacmel. Known as the arts capitol of the country, its very identity depends on the arts and the artists who create the art. Without them, Jacmel would cease to be Jacmel. This country, itself, needs these artists now in this moment in history more than ever as it is them who can transform the narrative about their culture and share a more positive and true story than the one that is being shared through the media and from the houses of power abroad. It is these artists who are responsible for the identity of the city and the public perception of their country. This culture needs them, and yet they still struggle to survive on a daily basis and still find it impossible on many days to find any hope. They still find themselves in my office trying to brainstorm alternatives to suicide. It is one of the great paradoxes of art that while living the life of an artist can lead into really dark places where the darkness threatens to consume you entirely, it is also only the art itself that has the power to draw you out of that place and save you.

Creating the art is a process of creating life. But also selling the art is an essential part of providing for life and can either be the most encouraging or the most discouraging part of being an artist. That’s why it’s also important to buy art well. When you buy a painting, paying the artist a fair price for their work also saves lives because as artists we paint our very being into each work of art that we create. Those works of art are reflections of ourselves and they define our own value as human beings. If you buy a painting but pay much less than what it’s worth you are not only diminishing the value of the painting but the value of the human being that made it. This is why I sometimes get a bit feisty with people who try to negotiate lower prices on paintings at our center. I know that the artist would accept less because they are desperate, but I often refuse to accept less on their behalf because I know who truly pays the price in the end when they receive the message that their work, and by extension, their life, is not worth what they thought. Once your painting is on your wall you never see the long-term effects of paying less for it. You might feel like you got a great deal, but you have no idea how much that bargain cost the artist who had to give up so much for your deal. Haitians already receive plenty of messages trying to cheapen their worth as humans. Paying them fairly for their art that they have invested their time, money, and soul into, really does save lives.

This is why what we do at the Jacmel Arts Center is so important and why by supporting what we do here is actually saving lives. These artists need the network of support that they have here in order to survive and honestly, they need that network to be stronger. I don’t ever want to get a call again from the hospital, or God forbid, the morgue, saying that one of my artists is there because they thought dying would be better for them than living. That’s why I’m writing this, because before I ever receive that call, I want everyone to truly understand how severe the situation is. I want people to realize this every time that I try to sell a painting or ask for donations. I am not writing it to exploit their pain for the sake of donations or sales, but to simply provide you a context for the greater impact that those donations and sales make. You may think that there are more important things to use your money for. After all, cancer needs cured and starving kids need fed. But investing in the arts also saves lives.

I may not be the best therapist in the world because feelings aren’t really my thing and dealing with people’s personal problems isn’t really my idea of a good time. What I can do, however, is sell their art and continue to build an inclusive and positive environment for them to feel valued and supported as artists and as human beings. That is what we’re trying to do at the Jacmel Arts Center, and that is why every time you buy a work of art from us or make a donation to support what we do, you are saving lives. Art saves lives. Be a part of it.

Jacmel Arts Center Website

Jacmel Arts Center Facebook Page

Best of Books and Podcasts 2017

I didn’t get the time to write my full review posts of my top books and podcasts from 2017, but I still wanted to share my recommendations from the year anyway.

Best Books

1. The Nix by Nathan Hill

2. They Can’t Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery

3. Hunger by Roxane Gay

4. Exit West by Moshin Hamid

5. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

6. Swing Time by Zadie Smith

7. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

8. The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky

9. Pond by Claire Louise-Bennet

10. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

 

Best Podcasts

1. 1A

2. S Town

3. It’s Been A Minute with Sam Sanders

4. On Being

5. Pod Save the People

6. Larry Wilmore Black on the Air

7. Here Be Monsters

8. A Piece of Work with Abbi Jacobson

9. Levar Burton Reads

10. Missing Richard Simmons

11. Unhappy Hour with Matt Bellassai

12. The Ran Down with Robin Theade

 

Resignation Speech Template for Politician Accused of Sexual Abuse

This week we’ve seen more politicians resign from their jobs in a single week then since the Civil War (when states were seceding) . This all due to their nasty habits of treating women like garbage. I was glad to hear that Al Franken was resigning but was disappointed in his speech, thinking that he really could have used the opportunity to make a much stronger statement and contributed to pushing the issue forward in a bolder way. He didn’t. It was a weak moment that proved we can do better than Al Franken anyway. So, since there’s guaranteed to be more of these resignations coming as soon as other names hit the papers, I thought I’d go ahead and provide a suggested template for any politician to use when making their announcement.

Good Morning to all of my fellow colleagues here in the [Senate, House, wherever].

I’ve asked for the opportunity to speak here today because as we all know, over the last couple of months our society has seen a new wave of accounts becoming public from brave women and men testifying to the acts of sexual harassment and assault that men in powerful positions have committed against them. These accounts have implicated many who serve in our government, including myself. To those women how have come forth with their stories of how my behavior towards them in the past has left them feeling uncomfortable and even violated, I would like to simply say, I’m sorry. Period. I. Am. Sorry. I am sorry for what I did. And to all women, I am sorry that we have sustained a structure in our society that continues to protect men in power at whatever costs and disregard the dignity of women at all levels. I am sorry that we have allowed a toxic culture of masculinity guide us to a place where women cannot feel safe in the work place or even be in many public spaces without the fear of harassment. I am sorry that it has taken so long for you to feel heard.

But we hear you now.

Today I am doing what I think is right and announcing that within the coming weeks I will be resigning from my position as [Senator, Congressman, President, etc]. Serving within this institution for the last [number] years has truly been the greatest honor of my life. However, at this time, it is clear that my continued presence here would only serve to further sustain that structure that too often leaves men without consequences for their actions and leaves the victims of their actions silenced. I refuse to send that message to the many victims around this country who are waiting for justice for the acts perpetrated against them. We can do better as a country and we must do better, America. That is why I will be stepping down.

As I do though, I would like to call upon my other colleagues who are facing allegations of their own to muster up a bit of integrity and do what they know to be the right thing as well. In this moment we cannot play politics. We must seize the momentum of this movement to create environments in our workplaces and public life where all women and men feel safe and respected. In particular I call upon Judge Roy Moore to drop out of the senate race in Alabama and acknowledge the credibility of his accusers. You, sir, have no place in leadership if you have left teenage girls questioning their worth and hurting emotionally. Similarly, I call upon President Donald Trump to immediately cease discrediting his own accusers and stop lying about the many times that he has admitted in the past to finding joy in the sexual assault of women. It’s true that the American people knew this about you and yet still voted in great enough numbers that you were able to be elected by the Electoral College to the presidency. But I would ask that you would cooperate with a full investigation into the at least 16 accusations of sexual harassment and assault against you and agree to take appropriate steps as a consequence of their findings. And if those investigations find President Trump guilty of sexual crimes, and he does not do the right thing by resigning himself, then I call upon members of Congress to do what they know to be right by pursuing impeachment. And if, by chance, the investigation did indeed find that all of those accusers were lying as President Trump claims they are, then at least we would know that we did the right thing in taking them seriously enough to investigate. It’s never a waste of time or resources to take such claims seriously, especially when we are talking about the one position within our society that should be held to the highest of standards, the presidency.

We claim to be a country based on liberty, but as long as powerful men continue to think that they have a right to touch a woman however they want, or to force a woman to kiss them, or to expect any kind of sexual interaction with a woman, then we are betraying our promise to Liberty for those women and for our country. Now is the time to make the change! We are on the precipice of creating a real transformation in our society regarding this issue. It’s time to stand up for accountability, integrity, and respect for women and all people in the workplace and throughout society. If we don’t start by cleaning up our own home here in government, then we can never expect change to follow in other sectors. In fact, many other sectors have already taken the lead on this and we are the ones lagging behind in our response because we value power over integrity. For far too long we have been the ones standing in the way of such a breakthrough. We have been the ones silencing the victims, justifying our actions, and paying settlements to try to make it all go away. The voices of this movement have made it clear that they are not going away and they will not be kept silent!

Today I encourage all of you who are still holding on to your story to speak out! You will be heard and supported. I echo what Senator Al Franken said, I may be giving up my seat here in the [Senate, House, etc] but I am not giving up my voice. To all of my fellow men who are serving in government, and in leadership positions across sectors, I would like to simply say, quit being perverts. Taking advantage of women and those under your leadership doesn’t make you stronger. It doesn’t make you funnier or sexier. It doesn’t make you better. It makes you pathetic and sad and disgusting. So just stop. And for the many Americans out there who are witnessing this movement right now and wondering what they can do, as well as to those who are speaking their truths through their accounts, I encourage you to run for office. I have a feeling there will be some more vacancies opening up. For too long power has been concentrated in the hands of too few and too many rich white men like myself keep thinking that it’s somehow owed to us. We need your voices in the halls of power to guide this country to a brighter future. A future where all of our sons and daughters understand what consent is and what respect truly means. A future where a woman knows her rights and isn’t afraid to stand up for them. A future where #MeToo can become a response to incredible accomplishments and noble pursuits rather than traumatic encounters. Where more and more women can say, “I am going to become a Senator, a Congresswoman, the President,” and throngs of other women can respond back, “Me Too!” Where even one female hotel employee can sit down on the bus next to a female restaurant employee and say, “I feel safe at work.” and the other can respond, “Me Too.” Where a woman can stand up and say, “I am powerful. I am in control of my own body and my own choices. I am worthy. And I am free.” And every other woman in this country can confidently respond back, “Me Too!”

To close today, I want to thank women like Tarana Burke who started the Me Too movement and others like Alyssa Milano and Ashley Judd who used their celebrity to bring the movement to a much wider audience. And to all of the women out there, of which there are far too many to name, who have used their voice to add to the chorus, yes even those who spoke out against me. My career as a [Senator, Congressman, etc] may be ending but this experience has forced me to interrogate my own actions in a way that I know will make me a better man in the end. I want to thank all of my colleagues here in the [Senate, House, Supreme Court, etc] who have worked alongside me for these [number] years. Serving alongside you has been a privilege. I want to thank the great people of the state of [your state] for electing me and giving me the opportunity to serve them. I hope for the most part that I have made you proud. And I want to thank my family [wife, kids, etc.] for standing by me through it all. Finally, I want to thank the leadership for allowing me the time to speak today. Thank you.

Let’s Chill Out Over TPS

In case you haven’t heard, this past Monday, November 20th, the Trump administration announced that it would be ending the Temporary Protected Status program that has allowed nearly 60,000 Haitians to remain in the United States since they came here after the earthquake of 2010 to escape the devastation that was overwhelming their homeland at the time. These Haitian refugees have now been given 18 months to make preparations to return to Haiti before risking deportation.

Now ever since the announcement was made, my newsfeeds have blown up with posts about how cruel this decision is, how terrible it will be for these Haitians that have to return, and how it further proves that Trump is a racist tyrant hell bent on destroying the lives of people of color and immigrants. Most of these angry posts condemning the decision are coming from my fellow non-Haitians who live or work in Haiti and Haitian diaspora who haven’t lived in Haiti for years. It is not what I’m hearing from my Haitian friends when they comment on the news. So here I am, to offer my voice to say, “People, let’s chill out over TPS!”

The “T” in TPS stands for temporary. So for starters, anyone who thought that these Haitians would just get to stay in the USA forever don’t understand how language works. It’s been 8 years since the earthquake and they have been given another 18 month grace period. They were never promised citizenship and they were never promised indefinite amnesty. This announcement should confirm absolutely all expectations that anyone should have had about this program from the beginning.

But that’s just the most obvious reason why we should chill out. Here’s my bigger issue with freaking out about this as some sort of injustice: Haiti is not that horrible of a place, sending them back there is not a death sentence. It’s actually a pretty great place, and these people should be proud to return. Every time that we share our disgust in the administration’s decision to send these Haitians literally “back to where they came from” we are perpetuating the misleading stereotypes of the country being nothing but a miserable, impoverished, dangerous, crime-ridden, hopeless portal into Hell itself. It’s not! When we do that we make the same mistake that my Grandma Dorothy always used to make, confusing “Haiti” for “Hades”.

Some of us work very hard to try to market this country as a place where tourists should want to come, where businesses should want to invest, and where artists and innovators create a culture worth wanting to experience. How on earth do we ever expect outsiders to want to visit if we are going to say that making Haitians themselves come here is some sort of cruel and unusual punishment? For the sake of the 9 million other Haitians that are already here and have been here all through the last 8 years and before that, we have to stop acting like these 60,000 will never be able to survive living like the other 9 million of them again. We have to stop acting like living like those 9 million is the worst thing that could ever happen to those 60,000, like now that they’ve tasted the good life in the US they should never be expected to have to live like the rest of us poor unfortunate souls back in Haiti ever again.

Those 9 million lived through the same exact tragedy as those 60,000 and they stayed and they survived. Yes, it’s true that some 300,000 did not survive, and every day we still mourn them, but 9 million did survive and continued to persevere and work to rebuild their country while 60,000 escaped and got to live a different life in the US for 8 years. Millions of those who stayed watched their own homes crumble to the ground, some of them even being trapped by them, losing limbs and suffering extreme injuries, having their friends and family die under the rubble, and they didn’t have the chance to make it out afterwords. Instead they lingered in the horror of it all. So it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s not much sympathy for those who did make it out and now have to return. Boo hoo.

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In Jacmel after the earthquake, January, 2010

The Haiti of today is not the Haiti of after the earthquake. I know that there are reports of Haiti being the second least livable place on earth, after only Yemen. Yes, the effects of poverty and injustice and a lack of development still make life extremely difficult for many people in Haiti and still take a devastating toll on many families. But the Haiti that these 60,000 people left behind is not the Haiti that they’ll be returning to. There are plenty of homes for sale and for rent. My newsfeeds are also full of announcements about available properties. If they don’t want to buy or rent, 18 months is plenty of time to build a comfortable home and it’s not that expensive. If I can do it on my starving artist income, anyone who’s been working for the last 8 years in the US should be able to do it. In addition, infrastructure has improved. Roads and bridges have been built, new businesses have been established, security has increased, and there has been a lot of investment in education in the country. Are things perfect? No. They’ll still be returning to a place that is at a much less developed state than what they’ll be leaving behind in New York, Boston, Miami, or wherever they are. If they get sick they’ll still be hard pressed to find a hospital with a working medical staff. If they want consistent electricity they’ll have to invest in solar energy (outrageous!) But they’ll be able to find a home, probably be able to find some work, and it’ll take some adjustment, but they’ll learn how to live in Haiti again.

But what about the children!!!!??!?!? (I hear you screaming at your computer screen.) They’ll be tearing families apart! Again, chill out. Haiti’s a great place to raise kids. Bring them along. They’ll be fine. If they were born in the States, traveling for them will already be easy enough, but again, they’ve got 18 months to start figuring out the legal processes that they’ll need to go through. They all knew full well when they decided to have a child while on “temporary protected status” that eventually this would happen. So it shouldn’t be a surprise.

Of all of the things going on in our world to be outraged at, this should not be one of them. Like I said, none of my Haitian friends are posting about this on their newsfeeds, because it’s not a surprise to them nor is it an injustice worth making noise about. They’re ready to welcome those 60,000 back into their country. You know what my Haitian friends are posting about that no one else is? Slavery in Libya. That’s what they’re outraged over. Their West African brothers and sisters who are trying to escape legitimately life-threatening circumstances in their homes are now being sold as slaves in Libya before they make it to freedom. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you probably don’t have enough Haitian Facebook friends. That’s what they’re currently outraged over. Check out the CNN report on it if you haven’t yet.

When it comes to a bunch of people who’ve lived the majority of their lives in Haiti being told that now they have to live some more of their lives in Haiti, that’s not really worth being outraged over. A bunch of people being given a year and a half to plan the rest of their lives in a beautiful Caribbean island nation with a vibrant culture is not a tragedy. It’s simply the end result of a program that was always intended to be temporary. The quicker that we accept that reality, the quicker we can get back to working together with these 60,000 that will be returning to build a future for the country that everyone can be proud to be a part of. So let’s chill out.

Don’t Read This Unless You’ve Already Read A Bunch of Articles by Writers of Color on Charlottesville

It’s been over a week now since the events of Charlottesville and I’ve remained fairly quiet about it all. I’ve been busy and haven’t even sat down in front of my laptop all week to type anything out. When something traumatic like this happens I always need to sit and linger with my feelings a bit before crafting any sort of meaningful response. That being said, I can’t say that what I’m about to write will actually be meaningful in any way. I feel like most of what can be said or needs to be said already has been said by others much more eloquent and informed than me. But I’m still gonna write what I can because 1) maybe everything’s already been said, but it hasn’t all been heard or absorbed by everyone that needs to hear it and maybe adding my voice will reach an extra ear or eyeball or two. And, 2) “writing it out” is always a necessary reconciliation for myself between my mind and my heart whether or not anyone else reads these words.

It’s also been a daunting prospect to write because simply, my soul is weary and overwhelmed. My privileged white soul is weary and overwhelmed even though I never have to worry about being the victim of racism myself. The most overwhelming part is the knowledge that my brothers and sisters of color in this country have been screaming into the void, trying to get us to wake up, for ages, but they continue to have to fear for their lives everyday in a country that pretends to be for all people as they watch their sons and daughters continually killed, imprisoned, and oppressed. How much greater the toll a week like this has on them and yet they continue to be denied and dismissed. No matter how many politicians “condemn bigotry and hatred” people of color in this country know that condemning the neo nazis with the tiki torches in the streets is not going to ultimately change the policies that make everyday life for them a head on battle with discrimination. The racists in the polo shirts were yelling their racism out loud in blatant and unavoidable language. But for years our government has been legislating just as appalling of racism with laws suppressing the votes of black people, and making sure that black people are more likely to go to prison and serve longer sentences, and making it more difficult for black people to own homes and get jobs, and creating access to quality education only outside of communities of color, and turning a blind eye when those communities of color are poisoned by their drinking water . Everyone’s angry that the president defends white supremacists as fine people, all the while our vice president and secretary of state and senators can say that the KKK is a scourge on our society, but we all know that the next day they’ll be signing laws that the klansmen would applaud, just with sneakier, less outrageous language. But the end result is the same.

People of color have known these things forever. The difference now is that the events in Charlottesville have held a mirror up to white people to show them that the racists actually look like them and it’s forced many white people to start to acknowledge their own complicity in the system. It’s come out from under hoods and shed the robes and it looks too familiar. This is a white people problem and we have to accept our duty to dismantling the system that benefits us. Speaking out in times of crisis is not enough. We have to actively deconstruct the inherent system of supremacy that has skewed the balances of power so far in our favor. How do we actually do that? I don’t really have the answers but there are resources out there with good suggestions if you Google it. But I would start by stopping the tweeting about monuments and what Donald Trump said. Those things are important but mostly symbolic at the end of the day. Start looking at how you can do your part to change the system. That means looking at how you vote, it means looking at what organizations you support, it means rethinking about where and how you volunteer in your community, it means being conscious of the media and news that you consume, it means considering your involvement with your children’s school and keeping your chosen place of worship accountable for social justice issues. It means having actual conversations with people of color who are affected by the systems everyday and actually listening to what they have to say without trying to advise them or help them. Amplify their voice if possible. It means, if you’re white, being willing to take a back seat in conversations about race. In fact, if you’re reading this, I hope you go read at least 5 articles by writers of color on the issue, their voices matter more than mine here. Maybe at the end of the post I’ll include some suggestions.

Now I’ve made it this far in my blog post and I’ve completely deviated from the content that I set out to write because once I started typing I guess I just needed to rant a bit.  I intended to write about the nuanced intersections of racism in the United States and effects of global racism on the little country of Haiti where I live, but I guess maybe that will have to be a completely different blog post. Now I’ve passed the point of no return. And I need to continue to rant a bit as I still wrestle with how to understand the situation myself and what my own role is in the big picture.

We can’t continue to condemn the actions of the racists in Charlottesville in such ways that we pretend it’s some far off novelty carried out by a small group of wack jobs. No matter where we live in the United States, there is racism in our backyards and there are systems in place that affect all of us that maintain white supremacy. We have to be prepared to have the uncomfortable conversations, with compassion when possible, but with severity when necessary. We need to confess the places where we’ve embraced the benefits that white supremacy has afforded us, and as my pastor in Iowa said this weekend, repent and change our minds about how we live within those systems moving forward.

There are a lot of white people these days who have begun to admit that they benefit from white privilege, but it’s much more difficult to actually accept that that privilege is a product of white supremacy and the systems that uphold it. We may not be in the streets yelling out that whites are the supreme race, but we willingly welcome the better education access, the better protection from the law, the freedom from being followed and side-eyed at department stores. I, myself, have benefited greatly from my white privilege. The very work that I do and life that I live would not be possible if I weren’t a white, middle-class, college educated, cisgendered male. I love being able to work as an artist and community organizer in my region of South-eastern Haiti and collaborate with such dynamic groups of Haitian artists on both a local and international level. But if I had been born a black man, to a single mother, in Detroit, and decided in my late teens that I had a dream to do work similar to what I do now, there’s no way, NO WAY, in this country of the United States, that fulfilling such a dream would actually be possible. Because of where I come from and what I look like, when I began to pursue working in Haiti through the arts, it was very easy for people to assume that I was going to be “doing good”, “helping others”, and “making a difference”. And because of that, I was able to get the support that I needed to actually succeed in that pursuit and make a life out of it. I won’t say that it was easy to do so, but it was an absolute breeze compared to how difficult, nay impossible, it would have been if I had come from a more urban, less economically advantaged place, and had darker skin and different life experiences.

My white privilege allows me the opportunity to do work in Haiti that Haitians themselves aren’t able to do in their own country because of the inherent white supremacy systems that impact access to resources and power. Early on in my career in Haiti when I was young and starting out, I was enthusiastically encouraged on all sides to pursue specific projects, but when young Haitian men, my own age, with just as much intelligence and potential, attempted to do the same exact projects for their own communities, they would be criticized as being too ambitious, only out for their own good, having ulterior motives. Everything from their sex drives to their taste in music would be used to discredit them while at the same time I would be praised for changing lives. Seeing this, I made it my mission to raise up those same young men as leaders in their communities and empower them to prove the naysayers wrong while trying to take a more supportive, less dominant role in the community work myself. And yet, no matter what I try to do to push them to the forefront and communicate that they are the ones doing the work, I usually end up getting most of the credit, because our systems of white supremacy have taught us to assume that white people are the saviors even though history would suggest that white people are usually the oppressors.

And now I’ve taken this post in a different direction again and gotten away from Charlottesville with my rant. But maybe that’s the point. Charlottesville was not an isolated, insidious incident. It was a symptom of centuries old structures that affect our lives every day on a national and a global level. And for centuries the victims of those unjust structures have been calling out. It’s time for those of us who benefit from the structures to stop and listen to what they have been saying and to actively work to break down those structures with them so that together they may be rebuilt in a more equitable and just way.

As for suggestions on voices of writers and commentators of color to check out, my good friend, Gwenn Mangine, put out a blog post this week about listening to priority voices with some good suggestions. Gwenn’s not a writer of color, but it’s easier to share her list than make my own. So check that out here. I’ll add podcast recommendations for the most recent episodes on Charlottesville from Politically Re-Active, It’s Been a Minute, and Black on the Air. For articles, check out this one from my girlfriend, Roxane Gay, and this one from Vann R Newkirk at the Atlantic, and this interview with Patrisse Cullors. Also, although not directly commenting on Charlottesville, I recommend reading Kara Walker’s most recent Artist’s Statement. It is brilliant and tremendously relevant to the situation.