Two weeks ago, on a Monday morning, I started to write what I thought was a very clever editorial about violence against women in Haiti. The case, I believed, was being overstated by women’s organizations in need of additional resources. Ever committed to preserving the dignity of Black men in a world which constantly stereotypes them as violent savages, I viewed this writing as yet one more opportunity to fight “the man” on behalf of my brothers. That night, before I could finish the piece, I was held on a rooftop in Haiti and raped repeatedly by one of the very men who I had spent the bulk of my life advocating for.
It hurt. The experience was almost more than I could bear. I begged him to stop. Afraid he would kill me, I pleaded with him to honor my commitment to Haiti, to him as a brother in the mutual struggle for an end to our common oppression, but to no avail. He didn’t care that I was a Malcolm X scholar. He told me to shut up, and then slapped me in the face. Overpowered, I gave up fighting halfway through the night.
Accepting the helplessness of my situation, I chucked aside the Haiti bracelet I had worn so proudly for over a year, along with it, my dreams of human liberation. Someone, I told myself, would always be bigger and stronger than me. As a woman, my place in life had been ascribed from birth. A Chinese proverb says that “women are like the grass, meant to be stepped on.” The thought comforted me at the same time that it made me cringe.
A dangerous thought. Others like it have derailed movements, discouraged consciousness and retarded progress for centuries. To accept it as truth signals the beginning of the end of a person–or community’s–life and ability to self-love. Resignation means inertia, and for the past two weeks I have inhabited its innards. My neighbors here include women from all over the world, but it’s the women of African descent, and particularly Haitian women, who move me to write now.
Truly, I have witnessed as a journalist and human rights advocate the many injustices inflicted upon Black men in this world. The pain, trauma and rage born of exploitation are terrors that I have grappled with every day of my life. They make one want to strike back, to fight rabidly for what is left of their personal dignity in the wake of such things. Black men have every right to the anger they feel in response to their position in the global hierarchy, but their anger is misdirected.
Women are not the source of their oppression; oppressive policies and the as-yet unaddressed white patriarchy which still dominates the global stage are. Because women–and particularly women of color–are forced to bear the brunt of the Black male response to the Black male plight, the international community and those nations who have benefitted from the oppression of colonized peoples have a responsibility to provide women with the protection that they need.
The United Nations, western women’s organizations and the Haitian government must immediately provide women in Haiti with the funding that they need to build domestic violence and rape crisis centers. Stop dividing Black families by distributing solely to women, which only exaggerates male resentment and frustration in Haiti. Provide both women and men with job training programs that would allow for self-sufficiency as opposed to continued dependency on whites. Lastly, admit that the issue of racial integration might still need addressing on an international level, and then find a way to address it!
I went to Haiti after the earthquake to empower Haitians to self-sufficiency. I went to remind them of the many great contributions that Afro-descendants have made to this world, and of their amazing resilience and strength as a people. Not once did I envision myself becoming a receptacle for a Black man’s rage at the white world, but that is what I became. While I take issue with my brother’s behavior, I’m grateful for the experience. It woke me up, made me understand on a deeper level the terror that my sisters deal with daily. This in hand, I feel comfortable in speaking for Haitian women, and for myself, in saying that we will not be your pawns, racially, politically, economically or otherwise.
We are women, not weapons of war. Thankfully, there are organizations here in Haiti who continues to fight for women’s human rights like, MADRE, SOFA and Enfofanm.
Rather than allowing myself to be used in such a fashion, and as opposed to submitting to the frustration and bitterness that can be born of such an experience, I choose to continue to love and educate instead. My brothers can be sensitized to women’s realities in Haiti and the world over if these are presented to them by using their own clashes with racism and oppression as a starting point.
They must be made to understand the dangerous likelihood of the oppressed becoming the oppressor if no shift in consciousnesses takes place and if no end to the cycle of trauma occurs. I intend to see that it does. . .by continuing to live and work fearlessly with justice in mind, through the creation of a safe space for women in Haiti and by creating programming for Haitian men that considers their needs, too. Weapons annihilate, dialogue bears fruit.
It’s the fruit I’m interested in now, no matter how strange or bruised it might appear.