Ian Bethell-Bennett: “Art, racism and the words of representation”


Ian Bethell-Bennett writes about the complex interplay or racism and representation through centuries and how it continues in public discourse today. For full commentary, see The Nassau Guardian:  

I borrow words from Haitian writer and activist Edwidge Danticat to start this piece: “Nou Led, Nou La”, “We are ugly but we are here”, to express the sentiment against the “shithole countries” that have been accused for their suffering by powers that created it. And here we find ourselves again, in the ugliness of a non-racist, historical depiction of people and countries, even while some may be continents, that have been set alight by a history of gun-boat and dollar diplomacy, and representation that shows them to be nothing other than shithole countries with monkeys in the jungle. [. . .]

[. . .] Lest we forget these images haven’t evaporated, rather, they retain their currency in the tourist videos and brochures of today. However, the un-tempered, scathing condemnation for Africa and Haiti, two countries, along with El Salvador, that have suffered tremendously under the kindness of U.S. foreign policy, is perhaps unmatched.

In Something to Declare (1998) Dominican-American writer Julia Alvarez discusses the U.S. support for the son-of-a-bitch Trujillo, and then captures the liberation of women through his assassination in, In the Time of the Butterflies (1994). Her work found a contemporary companion in Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones (1998) about the awful Trujillo-led, anti-Haitian, anti-black 1937 massacre that was never decried by the U.S. These two writers bring light to misery and re-voice a history that is quickly, or was quickly being forgotten. [. . .]

When we forget, we forget that…

The relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic is tense and has been that way for decades. It has also been fanned by US imperialism that sought to defeat Spanish imperialism and oust Communism from the region, and so empowered dictators to aid in their efforts and ‘civilize the masses.’

Historically, Haiti has been portrayed as the worst nightmare in this hemisphere. The repetition is unmistakable. Paul Farmer and Norm Chomsky work on projects that examine the history of deploying negative images of Haiti and colonizing the popular imagination with them.  Haiti is a scapegoat for everything bad in the Caribbean. As people have said, they are AIDS-carriers and voodoo-worshippers, all of which are negative, full of darkness and never explained. It remains, though, one of the most resilient places on earth. It must also be remember that the U.S. created and then maintained the Duvalier dynasty. With their removing of Aristide from office during the Bush administration, little has changed. To be sure, the image is held ‘dearly’ in a strongly and intricately-woven prison of foreign policy, popular imaging and de-politicized, neoliberal investment in regional development from the ending of the Lomé agreement through Caribbean Basin Initiative, and Shiprider Agreement. These images have been deplorable and remain racialized and deeply offensive. [. . .]

[. . .] When Vargas-Llosa wrote La Fiesta, the damage done by Trujillo was almost forgotten, except by those who were directly impacted.  Galeano’s The Open Veins of Latin America (1971), works by Juan Rulfo, Carlos Fuentes, Haitian writers Jacques Stephen Alexis and Jacques Roumain demonstrate the paucity of remembering the pain and allowing us to be sidelined that have many times peopled the United States and provided them with much needed labour. However, given that the pain and suffering so poignantly articulated in Selmais being brought back to life and visited on black bodies in the USA in 2017, yesterday, and today, we should not wonder that we are told of our shitholes. [. . .]

[John Beadle. “Emanon/not known (New Obeah Series)” (1999), mixed media, 18” x 12”. Part of the Dawn Davies Collection.]

For full post, see https://thenassauguardian.com/2018/01/20/this-has-all-been-said-before/

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