The "Black Rice" Hypothesis

Since the 1970s, what can be termed the “black rice hypothesis” has emerged in
ever stronger form in successive books by Peter H. Wood, Daniel C. Littlefield, and
Judith A. Carney. The major export crop of eighteenth-century South Carolina and
Georgia—rice—is now seen as predominantly a creation of Africans. This African
contribution to New World agriculture is epitomized by the arresting title of Carney’s
book: Black Rice. A direct role for Africans in American history strikes a chord at
a time when the national story is becoming less parochial and is increasingly being
viewed in an Atlantic or global context. Furthermore, the emphasis on African
agency resonates with histories from the bottom up and with subaltern studies in
general. That South Carolina’s rice industry was built not just on slave labor, but also
on the slaves’ agricultural and technological knowledge, is an exciting and appealing
revelation. In a multicultural world, it is reassuring to realize that the black contribution
to American life involved more than just backbreaking muscle power. The
development of American rice culture, the claim goes, marked the transatlantic migration
not only of an important crop but of an “entire cultural system.” It was a
major African accomplishment.
The basic argument rests on three core elements. First, rice culture was indigenous
to Africa and was a practice of long standing. Well before the Europeans
arrived, West Africans had developed complex systems of mangrove or tidal floodplain,
coastal estuarine, and upland rain-fed forms of rice cultivation. The area of
greatest rice specialization centered on the Upper Guinea Coast, that part of the
African littoral stretching from present-day Senegal to Liberia, but also reached into
the interior, and by the seventeenth century may have extended coastwise to the
western Gold Coast.8 Second, in contrast to the cultivation of most plantation crops
in the Americas, notably sugar and tobacco, there was never a period when free—or
at least non-slave—labor could be induced to produce rice for export. The workforce
engaged in cultivating rice for export was always black, although elsewhere in the
world, slave labor was not the norm. Moreover, among communities of Maroon or
runaway slaves, rice seems to have often become the major staple and assumed special
significance. Finally, putative parallels have emerged between rice cultivation in
Africa and its counterparts in the Americas. From land preparation through sowing,
weeding, irrigating, threshing, milling, winnowing, and cooking, African practices
seemingly left a deep imprint on New World ways of growing and processing the
South Carolina (later joined by Georgia and the Cape Fear region of North Carolina)
was the primary, but not the only, rice producer in the Americas. By the late
eighteenth century, northeastern Brazil (the present states of Amapá, Pará, and Maranhã)
had become a significant center of slave-grown rice for export. There were,
then, two key nodal points for commercial rice production in the eighteenth-century
Americas, although one was much larger than the other. In addition, the production
of rice for subsistence and as a minor plantation crop occurred in many other parts
of the New World—Peru, Mexico, the Guianas, Suriname, Cayenne, El Salvador,
Jamaica, and Louisiana. Surinamese Maroons grew rice as their primary food crop,
and their oral traditions include stories about female ancestors who hid seed rice in
their hair when moving either from Africa to Suriname or from plantation to Maroon
camp; a rebellion on a Bahian sugar plantation in 1789 involved a demand by predominantly
creole slaves to “be able to plant our rice wherever we wish.” In short,
rice became widely grown throughout the Americas, and in each case the association
with black labor is evident. Rice, notes Carney, was “the signature cereal of the
African diaspora.”

Excerpted from "Agency and Diaspora in Atlantic History: Reassessing the African Contribution to
Rice Cultivation in the Americas" by DAVID ELTIS, PHILIP MORGAN, and DAVID RICHARDSON, American Historial Review, December 2007, pp. 1332-1334

New Book

Patricia de Santana Pinho, Duke University Press

I am pleased to announce the publication of Patricia de Santana
Pinho’s new book Mama Africa: Reinventing Blackness in Bahia
(Duke University Press). Often called the “most African” part of
Brazil, the northeastern state of Bahia has the country’s largest
Afro-descendant population and a black culture renowned for its
vibrancy. Combining insights from anthropology, sociology, and
cultural studies, Pinho considers how Afro-Bahian cultural
groups, known as blocos afro, conceive of Africanness, blackness,
and themselves in relation to both. Central to the book, and to
Bahian constructions of blackness, is what Pinho calls “the myth
of Mama Africa,” the idea that Africa exists as a nurturing
spirit inside every black person. Mama Africa is a translated,
updated, and expanded edition of an award-winning book published
in Brazil in 2004.

For more information, and to order the book directly from Duke

University Press, please visit
Amanda E. Sharp
Publicity and Marketing Assistant
Duke University Press
Box 90660
Durham, NC 27708
(919) 687-3650
(919) 688-4391 FAX
905 W. Main Street, Suite 18B 
Durham, NC 27701 

Afro-Brazilian Ancestralidade

      "Afro-Brazilian Ancestralidade: Critical
Perspectives on Knowledge and Development," Alexandre
Emboaba da Costa, January 27, York University, Canada

BSS Bi-Weekly Seminar presentation by Brazilian Professor and
Sociologist Alexandre Emboaba da Costa, entitled:

"Afro-Brazilian Ancestralidade: Critical Perspectives on
Knowledge and Development"
Date & time & local:
JAN 27, from 12.30 to 2pm,
Room 830, York Research Tower, York University

Abstract: His presentation analyzes the case of an Afro-Brazilian
cultural center that mobilizes ancestralidade (ancestrality) as a
form of critical knowledge. Rather than revaluing ‘race’ as
‘tradition’ or conduit for folklorization, commodification, and
ideologies of racial democracy, ancestralidade shapes a dynamic
political practice that contests the hierarchical valuing of
knowledge within capitalism and its implications for contemporary
racial inequality. He analyzes the center’s carnaval afoxé and
efforts to restructure school curriculum to highlight the ‘past’
of racialized capitalism and ancestral memory as each
contemporary projects that demonstrate the contested meaning of
culture and development. 

Alex Da Costa received his PhD from the Department of Development
Sociology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. His research
examines how Afro-descendants in Brazil and Latin America
mobilize culture and knowledge to challenge the inequalities
produced through the diverse intersections of ‘race’ and
development. In winter term 2010, he will be teaching a seminar
entitled ‘Race in Development’ at the Department of Global
Development Studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada.


To Heal Haiti, Look to History, Not Nature

By Mark Danner
NY Times permalink
HAITI is everybody’s cherished tragedy. Long before the great earthquake struck the country like a vengeful god, the outside world, and Americans especially, described, defined, marked Haiti most of all by its suffering. Epithets of misery clatter after its name like a ball and chain: Poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. One of the poorest on earth. For decades Haiti’s formidable immiseration has made it among outsiders an object of fascination, wonder and awe. Sometimes the pity that is attached to the land — and we see this increasingly in the news coverage this past week — attains a tone almost sacred, as if Haiti has taken its place as a kind of sacrificial victim among nations, nailed in its bloody suffering to the cross of unending destitution.

Raymond Verdaguer

And yet there is nothing mystical in Haiti’s pain, no inescapable curse that haunts the land. From independence and before, Haiti’s harms have been caused by men, not demons. Act of nature that it was, the earthquake last week was able to kill so many because of the corruption and weakness of the Haitian state, a state built for predation and plunder. Recovery can come only with vital, even heroic, outside help; but such help, no matter how inspiring the generosity it embodies, will do little to restore Haiti unless it addresses, as countless prior interventions built on transports of sympathy have not, the man-made causes that lie beneath the Haitian malady.
In 1804 the free Republic of Haiti was declared in almost unimaginable triumph: hard to exaggerate the glory of that birth. Hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans had labored to make Saint-Domingue, as Haiti was then known, the richest colony on earth, a vastly productive slave-powered factory producing tons upon tons of sugar cane, the 18th-century’s great cash crop. For pre-Revolutionary France, Haiti was an inexhaustible cash cow, floating much of its economy. Generation after generation, the second sons of the great French families took ship for Saint-Domingue to preside over the sugar plantations, enjoy the favors of enslaved African women and make their fortunes.
Even by the standards of the day, conditions in Saint-Domingue’s cane fields were grisly and brutal; slaves died young, and in droves; they had few children. As exports of sugar and coffee boomed, imports of fresh Africans boomed with them. So by the time the slaves launched their great revolt in 1791, most of those half-million blacks had been born in Africa, spoke African languages, worshipped African gods.
In an immensely complex decade-long conflict, these African slave-soldiers, commanded by legendary leaders like Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, defeated three Western armies, including the unstoppable superpower of the day, Napoleonic France. In an increasingly savage war — “Burn houses! Cut off heads!” was the slogan of Dessalines — the slaves murdered their white masters, or drove them from the land.
On Jan. 1, 1804, when Dessalines created the Haitian flag by tearing the white middle from the French tricolor, he achieved what even Spartacus could not: he had led to triumph the only successful slave revolt in history. Haiti became the world’s first independent black republic and the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Alas, the first such republic, the United States, despite its revolutionary creed that “all men are created equal,” looked upon these self-freed men with shock, contempt and fear. Indeed, to all the great Western trading powers of the day — much of whose wealth was built on the labor of enslaved Africans — Haiti stood as a frightful example of freedom carried too far. American slaveholders desperately feared that Haiti’s fires of revolt would overleap those few hundred miles of sea and inflame their own human chattel.
For this reason, the United States refused for nearly six decades even to recognize Haiti. (Abraham Lincoln finally did so in 1862.) Along with the great colonial powers, America instead rewarded Haiti’s triumphant slaves with a suffocating trade embargo — and a demand that in exchange for peace the fledgling country pay enormous reparations to its former colonial overseer. Having won their freedom by force of arms, Haiti’s former slaves would be made to purchase it with treasure.
The new nation, its fields burned, its plantation manors pillaged, its towns devastated by apocalyptic war, was crushed by the burden of these astronomical reparations, payments that, in one form or another, strangled its economy for more than a century. It was in this dark aftermath of war, in the shadow of isolation and contempt, that Haiti’s peculiar political system took shape, mirroring in distorted form, like a wax model placed too close to the fire, the slave society of colonial times.
At its apex, the white colonists were supplanted by a new ruling class, made up largely of black and mulatto officers. Though these groups soon became bitter political rivals, they were as one in their determination to maintain in independent Haiti the cardinal principle of governance inherited from Saint-Domingue: the brutal predatory extraction of the country’s wealth by a chosen powerful few.
The whites on their plantations had done this directly, exploiting the land they owned with the forced labor of their slaves. But the slaves had become soldiers in a victorious revolution, and those who survived demanded as their reward a part of the rich land on which they had labored and suffered. Soon after independence most of the great plantations were broken up, given over to the former slaves, establishing Haiti as a nation of small landowners, one whose isolated countryside remained, in language, religion and culture, largely African.
Unable to replace the whites in their plantation manors, Haiti’s new elite moved from owning the land to fighting to control the one institution that could tax its products: the government. While the freed slaves worked their small fields, the powerful drew off the fruits of their labor through taxes. In this disfigured form the colonial philosophy endured: ruling had to do not with building or developing the country but with extracting its wealth. “Pluck the chicken,” proclaimed Dessalines — now Emperor Jacques I — “but don’t make it scream.”
In 1806, two years after independence, the emperor was bayoneted by a mostly mulatto cabal of officers. Haitian history became the immensely complex tale of factional struggles to control the state, with factions often defined by an intricate politics of skin color. There was no method of succession ultimately recognized as legitimate, no tradition of loyal opposition. Politics was murderous, operatic, improvisational. Instability alternated with autocracy. The state was battled over and won; Haiti’s wealth, once seized, purchased allegiance — but only for a time. Fragility of rule and uncertainty of tenure multiplied the imperative to plunder. Unseated rulers were sometimes killed, more often exiled, but always their wealth — that part of it not sent out of the country — was pillaged in its turn.
In 1915 the whites returned: the United States Marines disembarked to enforce continued repayment of the original debt and to put an end to an especially violent struggle for power that, in the shadow of World War I and German machinations in the Caribbean, suddenly seemed to threaten American interests. During their nearly two decades of rule, the Americans built roads and bridges, centralized the Haitian state — setting the stage for the vast conurbation of greater Port-au-Prince that we see today in all its devastation — and sent Haitians abroad to be educated as agronomists and doctors in the hope of building a more stable middle class.
Still, by the time they finally left, little in the original system had fundamentally changed. Haitian nationalism, piqued by the reappearance of white masters who had forced Haitians to work in road gangs, produced the noiriste movement that finally brought to power in 1957 François Duvalier, the most brilliant and bloody of Haiti’s dictators, who murdered tens of thousands while playing adroitly on cold-war America’s fear of communism to win American acceptance.
Duvalier’s epoch, which ended with the overthrow of his son Jean-Claude in 1986, ushered in Haiti’s latest era of instability, which has seen, in barely a quarter-century, several coups and revolutions, a handful of elections (aborted, rigged and, occasionally, fair), a second American occupation (whose accomplishments were even more ephemeral than the first) and, all told, a dozen Haitian rulers. Less and less money now comes from the land, for Haiti’s topsoil has grown enfeebled from overproduction and lack of investment. Aid from foreigners, nations or private organizations, has largely supplanted it: under the Duvaliers Haiti became the great petri dish of foreign aid. A handful of projects have done lasting good; many have been self-serving and even counterproductive. All have helped make it possible, by lifting basic burdens of governance from Haiti’s powerful, for the predatory state to endure.
The struggle for power has not ended. Nor has Haiti’s historic proclivity for drama and disaster. Undertaken in their wake, the world’s interventions — military and civilian, and accompanied as often as not by a grand missionary determination to “rebuild Haiti” — have had as their single unitary principle their failure to alter what is most basic in the country, the reality of a corrupt state and the role, inadvertent or not, of outsiders in collaborating with it.
The sound of Haiti’s suffering is deafening now but behind it one can hear already a familiar music begin to play. Haiti must be made new. This kind of suffering so close to American shores cannot be countenanced. The other evening I watched a television correspondent shake his head over what he movingly described as a “stupid death” — a death that, but for the right medical care, could have been prevented. “It doesn’t have to happen,” he told viewers. “People died today who did not need to die.” He did not say what any Haitian could have told him: that the day before, and the day before that, Haiti had seen hundreds of such “stupid deaths,” and, over the centuries, thousands more. What has changed, once again, and only for a time, is the light shone on them, and the volume of the voices demanding that a “new Haiti” must now be built so they never happen again.
Whether they can read or not, Haiti’s people walk in history, and live in politics. They are independent, proud, fiercely aware of their own singularity. What distinguishes them is a tradition of heroism and a conviction that they are and will remain something distinct, apart — something you can hear in the Creole spoken in the countryside, or the voodoo practiced there, traces of the Africa that the first generation of revolutionaries brought with them on the middle passage.
Haitians have grown up in a certain kind of struggle for individuality and for power, and the country has proved itself able to absorb the ardent attentions of outsiders who, as often as not, remain blissfully unaware of their own contributions to what Haiti is. Like the ruined bridges strewn across the countryside — one of the few traces of the Marines and their occupation nearly a century ago — these attentions tend to begin in evangelical zeal and to leave little lasting behind.
What might, then? America could start by throwing open its markets to Haitian agricultural produce and manufactured goods, broadening and making permanent the provisions of a promising trade bill negotiated in 2008. Such a step would not be glamorous; it would not “remake Haiti.” But it would require a lasting commitment by American farmers and manufacturers and, as the country heals, it would actually bring permanent jobs, investment and income to Haiti.
Second, the United States and other donors could make a formal undertaking to ensure that the vast amounts that will soon pour into the country for reconstruction go not to foreigners but to Haitians — and not only to Haitian contractors and builders but to Haitian workers, at reasonable wages. This would put real money in the hands of many Haitians, not just a few, and begin to shift power away from both the rapacious government and the well-meaning and too often ineffectual charities that seek to circumvent it. The world’s greatest gift would be to make it possible, and necessary, for Haitians — all Haitians — to rebuild Haiti.
Putting money in people’s hands will not make Haiti’s predatory state disappear. But in time, with rising incomes and a concomitant decentralization of power, it might evolve. In coming days much grander ambitions are sure to be declared, just as more scenes of disaster and disorder will transfix us, more stunning and colorful images of irresistible calamity. We will see if the present catastrophe, on a scale that dwarfs all that have come before, can do anything truly to alter the reality of Haiti.

Mark Danner is the author, most recently, of “Stripping Bare the Body: Politics, Violence, War,” which chronicles political conflict in Haiti, the Balkans, Iraq and the United States.


Cynthia Scott, "I Have a Dream"

Shades of Prejudice

Published: January 18, 2010

LAST week, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, found himself in trouble for once suggesting that Barack Obama had a political edge over other African-American candidates because he was “light-skinned” and had “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Mr. Reid was not expressing sadness but a gleeful opportunism that Americans were still judging one another by the color of their skin, rather than — as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose legacy we commemorated on Monday, dreamed — by the content of their character.

The Senate leader’s choice of words was flawed, but positing that black candidates who look “less black” have a leg up is hardly more controversial than saying wealthy people have an advantage in elections. Dozens of research studies have shown that skin tone and other racial features play powerful roles in who gets ahead and who does not. These factors regularly determine who gets hired, who gets convicted and who gets elected.

Consider: Lighter-skinned Latinos in the United States make $5,000 more on average than darker-skinned Latinos. The education test-score gap between light-skinned and dark-skinned African-Americans is nearly as large as the gap between whites and blacks.

The Harvard neuroscientist Allen Counter has found that in Arizona, California and Texas, hundreds of Mexican-American women have suffered mercury poisoning as a result of the use of skin-whitening creams. In India, where I was born, a best-selling line of women’s cosmetics called Fair and Lovely has recently been supplemented by a product aimed at men called Fair and Handsome.

This isn’t racism, per se: it’s colorism, an unconscious prejudice that isn’t focused on a single group like blacks so much as on blackness itself. Our brains, shaped by culture and history, create intricate caste hierarchies that privilege those who are physically and culturally whiter and punish those who are darker.

Colorism is an intraracial problem as well as an interracial problem. Racial minorities who are alert to white-black or white-brown issues often remain silent about a colorism that asks “how black” or “how brown” someone is within their own communities.

If colorism lives underground, its effects are very real. Darker-skinned African-American defendants are more than twice as likely to receive the death penalty as lighter-skinned African-American defendants for crimes of equivalent seriousness involving white victims. This was proven in rigorous, peer-reviewed research into hundreds of capital punishment-worthy cases by the Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt.

Take, for instance, two of Dr. Eberhadt’s murder cases, in Philadelphia, involving black defendants — one light-skinned, the other dark. The lighter-skinned defendant, Arthur Hawthorne, ransacked a drug store for money and narcotics. The pharmacist had complied with every demand, yet Mr. Hawthorne shot him when he was lying face down. Mr. Hawthorne was independently identified as the killer by multiple witnesses, a family member and an accomplice.

The darker-skinned defendant, Ernest Porter, pleaded not guilty to the murder of a beautician, a crime that he was linked to only through a circuitous chain of evidence. A central witness later said that prosecutors forced him to finger Mr. Porter even though he was sure that he was the wrong man. Two people who provided an alibi for Mr. Porter were mysteriously never called to testify. During his trial, Mr. Porter revealed that the police had even gotten his name wrong — his real name was Theodore Wilson — but the court stuck to the wrong name in the interest of convenience.

Both men were convicted. But the lighter-skinned Mr. Hawthorne was given a life sentence, while the dark-skinned Mr. Porter has spent more than a quarter-century on Pennsylvania’s death row.

Colorism also influenced the 2008 presidential race. In an experiment that fall, Drew Westen, a psychologist at Emory, and other researchers shot different versions of a political advertisement in support of Mr. Obama. One version showed a light-skinned black family. Another version had the same script, but used a darker-skinned black family. Voters, at an unconscious level, were less inclined to support Mr. Obama after watching the ad featuring the darker-skinned family than were those who watched the ad with the lighter-skinned family.

Political operatives are certainly aware of this dynamic. During the campaign, a conservative group created attack ads linking Mr. Obama with Kwame Kilpatrick, the disgraced former mayor of Detroit, which darkened Mr. Kilpatrick’s skin to have a more persuasive effect. Though there can be little doubt that as a candidate Mr. Obama faced voters’ conscious and unconscious prejudices, it is simultaneously true that unconscious colorism subtly advantaged him over darker-skinned politicians.

In highlighting how Mr. Obama benefited from his links to whiteness, Harry Reid punctured the myth that Mr. Obama’s election signaled the completion of the Rev. King’s dream. Americans may like to believe that we are now color-blind, that we can consciously choose not to use race when making judgments about other people. It remains a worthy aspiration. But this belief rests on a profound misunderstanding about how our minds work and perversely limits our ability to discuss prejudice honestly.

Shankar Vedantam, a Nieman fellow at Harvard University and a reporter for The Washington Post, is the author of the book “The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars and Save Our Lives.”

Read original article in the NY Times

Exporting Misery to Haiti

By James Ridgeway, Reader Supported News   
Monday, 18 January 2010 15:20
A boy watches a passing helicopter as Haitians line up to receive high-protein biscuits being handed out by the World Food Program with the assistance of United Nations troops. (photo-caption: Carolyn Cole, LA Times)A boy watches a passing helicopter as Haitians line up to receive high-protein biscuits being handed out by the World Food Program with the assistance of United Nations troops. (photo-caption: Carolyn Cole, LA Times)
"Le ou malere, tout bagay samble ou," says one of the Creole proverbs that are a staple of Haitian popular culture. When you are poor, everything can be blamed on you. It's a truth we can see played out in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake.

Reader Supported News | Perspective
Exporting Misery to Haiti: How Rice, Pigs, and US Policy Undermined the Haitian Economy
è ou malere, tout bagay samble ou, says one of the Creole proverbs that are a staple of Haitian popular culture. When you are poor, everything can be blamed on you. It's a truth we can see played out in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake. While many Americans are reacting to the disaster with genuine compassion and generosity, there's another kind of response afoot as well - one that extends well beyond the sickening remarks made by Pat Robertson or Rush Limbaugh.
Why can't the Haitians ever seem to take care of themselves? ask the denizens of web chat rooms and radio call-in shows. The place was a mess before the earthquake, and nothing we do ever seems to help - so why bother? In more elevated circles, the comments are more subtle: "Development efforts have failed there, decade after decade," noted a piece in Sunday's Washington Post, "leaving Haitians with a dysfunctional government, a high crime rate and incomes averaging a dollar a day." With rescue efforts still underway, it said, "policymakers in Washington and around the world are grappling with how a destitute, corrupt and now devastated country might be transformed into a self-sustaining nation."
You'd never guess, from this discourse, how much US policy has actually undermined Haiti's ability to be a "self-sustaining nation," especially its ability to feed itself. America's history of invasion, occupation, and intervention into Haiti's political and economic life stretches back two centuries, with plenty of help from homegrown Haitian despots. But since the 1980s, in particular, the United States has helped turn a nation of low-tech subsistence farmers into a dumping ground for American agribusiness.
The most glaring example of this trend is rice, which was once a staple crop. Today, little rice is grown in Haiti; instead, the nation is a market for the subsidized rice crop grown in the United States. Human Rights lawyer Bill Quigley, now at the Center for Constitutional Rights, wrote about this trend in the spring of 2008, as food riots shook Haiti and other parts of the developing world:
In 1986, after the expulsion of Haitian dictator Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loaned Haiti $24.6 million in desperately needed funds (Baby Doc had raided the treasury on the way out). But, in order to get the IMF loan, Haiti was required to reduce tariff protections for their Haitian rice and other agricultural products and some industries to open up the country's markets to competition from outside countries. The US has by far the largest voice in decisions of the IMF. "American rice invaded the country," recalled Charles Suffrard, a leading rice grower in Haiti, in an interview with the Washington Post in 2000. By 1987 and 1988, there was so much rice coming into the country that many stopped working the land.
Quigley interviewed Father Gerard Jean-Juste, a Haitian priest and human rights advocate. "In the 1980s, imported rice poured into Haiti, below the cost of what our farmers could produce it," Fr. Jean-Juste said. "Farmers lost their businesses. People from the countryside started losing their jobs and moving to the cities. After a few years of cheap imported rice, local production went way down." By 2008, Haiti was the world's third largest importer of US rice, receiving some 240,000 tons that year alone.
US rice growers are heavily subsidized by the government. Between 1995-2006 they received $11 billion. The American rice industry is also protected by tariffs - the same sorts of tariffs the IMF demanded Haiti remove. With the average family income standing at about $400 a year, most Haitians couldn't afford to pay international prices for a product they once grew for themselves - so they had to have aid. The US sponsored the aid, but half the money didn't go to buy the food; it went to US farmers, to processors and to shipping companies, because the food had to be transported in US ships. A good part of the so-called handout to Haiti actually went to US agribusiness, which needed markets for its overflowing bins of farm products.
Another infamous "aid" story involves the destruction of native pig farming in Haiti, following an outbreak of swine fever in the late 1970s. As described by Paul Farmer, the physician and anthropologist legendary for his work among Haiti's poor, pigs were once a centerpiece of Haiti's peasant economy, providing a reliable source of income and an insurance policy against hard times. The hardy Haitian creole pigs seemed to be remarkably resistant to swine fever. But American agriculture experts feared that Haiti's pigs could spread the disease to the United States and destroy its massive hog business, and bankrolled a $23 million "extermination and restocking program."
By 1984, all of Haiti's 1.3 million pigs had been killed. USAID and the Organization of American States thereupon announced a plan to replace the Creole pigs with brand new Iowa pigs - provided that the peasants committed to building pigsties to US standards and demonstrate they had enough money to buy feed. Even the peasants who could afford these "free" pigs found that they couldn't flourish under Haitian conditions. The fragile kochon blan ("foreign" or "white" pigs) frequently fell ill and had to go to the vet; they wouldn't eat scraps and required expensive feed; and they had few litters. Soon, the project was abandoned - leaving Iowa hog farmers enriched, and hundreds of thousands of Haitian families without a key means of survival.
These changes in many ways served US economic interests in the Caribbean, which since the 1980s have been oriented towards knitting the area into a common free trade zone, first in the Caribbean Basin Initiative and then under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Forced out of small-scale farming by the elimination of two basic staples, Haitians moved to the cities, where they were available to work in sweatshops producing panties, bras, and dresses for such places as Sears, WalMart, and JC Penney. US aid programs have supported the effort to turn countries such as Haiti into low wage assembly platforms that supply a cheap, easily exploitable workforce for American and international business - and at the same time, relieve pressure on immigration by keeping the desperate Haitians working at home for what is barely a living wage.
After coming to Haiti en masse in the 1980s and 1990s, some of these companies moved on to even cheaper - and more "stable" - countries. Yet recent development initiatives, including the US's HOPE II program to encourage duty-free trade with Haiti, continued to emphasize the low-wage, export-oriented garment industry over sustainable agriculture or other projects that would build Haiti's self-reliance. At the same time, Western companies looked toward the prospect of an expanded tourist industry, owned by foreigners and once again exploiting cheap labor. The purported return of the luxury tourist hotels targeted such places as Jacmel, which now lie in ruins.
Even before the earthquake, these economic actions, driven by outside economic forces, offered little promise of restoring and reinvigorating indigenous farming, or providing any sort of real, homegrown economic base for Haiti. Such has been the nature of the US's "help" to its impoverished Caribbean neighbor.
As the Haitians say, Bel dan pa di zanmi. A beautiful smile doesn't mean he's your friend.
James Ridgeway, an investigative journalist, is senior Washington correspondent for Mother Jones. His books include "The Haiti Files," an anthology of history, politics and culture.

Read original article here


"The Dream" Remains a Dream

by: Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed
On January 18, 2010, America will celebrate the birth, death, and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We will hear those powerful words, "I Have A Dream." What has troubled me over the years is how Dr. King, the visionary, prophet and revolutionary's vision, action and ultimate sacrifice have been hijacked, compromised and relegated to being those of just a dreamer.
Dreamers are safe, docile and non-threatening. People are comfortable with dreamers. Why? To be a dreamer, you must be in a restful state, usually asleep. To cast Dr. King in the light of a dreamer allows people to be convinced that action resulting from clear vision is not necessary. It allows the oppressed to be fooled into being patient and non-revolutionary; yours will come by-and by. It allows Dr. King's "Dream" - his vision - to remain a dream.
What many fail to realize is that Dr. King was no dreamer. He was a visionary, not some abstract thinker or philosopher. He was a prophet and a true revolutionary.
As I understand it, the original title of the "I Have A Dream" speech was "Normalcy - Never Again." That title was a real indication of what was to come. It was a clear statement that what had been accepted - what had been normal, i.e., oppression in America, would no longer be tolerated.
Dr. King the realist states, "... we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land...." That was no dream; that was the Negro's reality in 1963 and a clear indictment of the social conditions in America at that time. It continues to be an unfortunate reality for too many children languishing in inner-city schools, parents losing jobs and homes, and those unjustly incarcerated in American jails and prisons.
Dr. King the strict constructionist referred to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. He stated, "It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.... America has given the Negro people a bad check - a check which has come back marked insufficient funds." Again, no dream in that statement; that's a clear indictment of the African-American human condition!
Dr. King the prophet offered hope by saying, "But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation." He said this because he clearly understood the power of hope. As a minister, he clearly understood the power of faith.
Before Dr. King talks about the dream, he says that we must march ahead. "We cannot turn back.... We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality." In light of the January 1, 2009, murder of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California; the November 25, 2006, murder of Sean Bell; the March 16, 2000, murder of Patrick Dorismond; the February 4, 1999, murder of Amadou Diallo and many others, African-Americans still find themselves victims of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality, racial profiling and Driving While Black - and sometimes Walking While Black.
The "dream" reference actually comes toward the end of the speech. As Dr. King was close to ending his nine-minute delivery, the great gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, who was seated behind him, said, "Tell them about your dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!" At that point, Dr. King went away from his prepared text and said, "... so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream." It's important to understand that he spoke of the dream in the context of the horrific reality for the Negro and the poor that he had just articulated. What makes the "dream" significant is its juxtaposition against America's reality, failures and oppression of its own citizens - their nightmare!
Today, many see President Obama's historic accomplishment as evidence of the fulfillment of Dr. King's dream, a "post-racial" America. Standing as proof that America has made progress on the long and difficult road toward racial tolerance and acceptance. Progress yes, however, there are still many miles left to travel.
As long as African-American men are incarcerated at a rate more than six times that of white men and the incarceration of black women continues to grow at record numbers, the "Dream" will remain a dream. As long as unemployment among African-Americans is more than twice the unemployment rate of white Americans and as long as studies show that a black family's income is a little more than half that of a similar white family's income, the "Dream" will remain a dream. As long as African-Americans continue to deal with Driving While Black, excessive high school dropout rates, and imbalances in health care, the "Dream" will remain a dream.
Until every American's reality reflects the founding principles of this great nation:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The "Dream" for too many in America will remain a dream.


Haiti in Ink and Tears: A Literary Sampler

Today is a good day to remember that in Haiti, nobody ever really dies. The many thousands who've had the breath crushed out of their bodies in the earthquake, and the thousands more who will not physically survive the aftermath, will undergo instead a translation of state, according to the precepts of Haitian Vodou, some form of which is practiced by much of the population. Spirits of the Haitian dead — sa nou pa we yo, those we don’t see — do not depart as in other religions but remain extremely close to the living, invisible but tangible, inhabiting a parallel universe on the other side of any mirror, beneath the surface of all water, just behind the veil that divides us from our dreams.
That extraordinary spiritual reservoir is the source of the Haitian religious view of the world — as powerful as any today. As often as it is misunderstood and misrepresented, Haitian Vodou, with all it carries out of the cradle of humankind’s birth in Africa and combines with Roman Catholicism, has enabled Haitians to laugh at death, as they have too often needed to do.
During the decade-long Haitian revolution that began in 1791 — the only event in human history where African slaves won freedom for themselves by force of arms — a prisoner of the French was awaiting execution by burning. Come, he is supposed to have said to his companions, let us show these people how to die. He climbed onto the pyre himself and stayed there, without uttering another sound, until the fire consumed him.
The energy of souls not lost springs back into the living world, not only through one of the few surviving religions that allow believers to converse face to face with the gods, but also in an extraordinarily rich, fertile and (in spite of everything) optimistic culture. Haiti offers, keeps on offering, a shimmering panorama of visual art and a wealth of seductive and hypnotic music, much of it rooted in the rhythms of ceremonial drumming. For the past 50 years a remarkably vivid and sophisticated Haitian literature has been flowing out of Creole, an ever-evolving language as fecund as the English of Shakespeare’s time. The Haitian world is not all suffering; it is full of treasure. Here are a few of the many voices, native and not, inspired by Haiti. —Madison Smartt Bell

Read NY Times feature in full here