Is there any truth to Trump's sh**hole comment?


Thursday, February 08, 2018

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There is a foul-mouthed blaggard who sometimes works for me. I continue to use him because he is skilful, perceptive, and calls things as he sees them. A few days ago, I overheard him on his phone, “Mi seh that Donald Trump only need one more sheet a zinc to be...” A noisy garbage truck at my gate prevented me from hearing the end of that comment.

As the truck moved on, I heard “...And mi hear seh him cyaan even read...” I don't doubt that US President Donald Trump can read, but we have to remember he has said, on numerous occasions, that he knows everything about everything, and so it must be a bit boring to bother with reading a lot when one knows it already.

This man, I gather, is angry at comments Trump made about black people and black countries, especially Haiti. But why, I wonder, would anyone be surprised, at this late stage, that Trump does not want “those people” around? This is the central theme of his immigration policy and is just a part of America's endemic 'phobia'.

The United States is what it is today because of the benefits it derives from immigrants. But the comments by Trump about Haiti are particularly troubling. Because, poor as it is, Haiti has had a lasting impact on many areas of American life. A few coloured Haitians immediately come to mind:

1. Jean Baptista Pont du Sable, son of an African slave, became a successful trader and is hailed as the founder of the city of Chicago.

2. Henri Christophe, a former slave, voluntarily joined a black unit as an adolescent and played a significant role in the American Revolution.

3. Pierre Toussaint, a former slave, who was transported to New York City by his owners and later gained freedom, is respected as one of the leading New Yorkers of his time. In his later years he established orphanages for refugees and assisted them with employment opportunities. If you happen to be travelling down Mulberry Street in New York, the impressive St Patrick's Old Cathedral there was partly his brainchild. He was acknowledged as venerable by Pope John Paul II and was highly regarded by the Roman Catholic archdiocese there.

4. Rodolphe Desdunes, a prominent Haitian editor, author, and civil rights activist, played a significant role in Plessy v Ferguson — one of the most critical civil rights cases in US history.

These are just a few of the outstanding Haitians that played a role in what America is today.

But Haiti has had a sad history. Starting with the arrival, on December 5, 1492, of Christopher Columbus, the residents — mainly Indians — gave them a royal welcome. These visitors could not believe that such a paradise existed anywhere. Bright gold nuggets were grinning at them from rivers, the weather was excellent, and the land teeming with resources. So they returned their hosts' hospitality by raping whomever they wished and beating the others into submission to work as slaves. Eventually the population of 300,000 was reduced to 500 — due to starvation and death from diseases these visitors brought and starvation. They then turned to Africa for slaves. Not being Indians, the Africans never accepted their role as slaves. Women would commit abortions or kill their babies rather than committing them to a life of slavery, and they helped their men to fight. But this was a treasured property for the French. The island produced more sugar than all the other French colonies combined.

So Napoleon Bonaparte decided to send his troops — Europe's finest — to make these slaves know who was in charge. Barefoot and hungry, but scornful of servitude, this brave band — bearing broken and bent bayonets but weaponised with human rights and justice — confronted Napoleon's imperial forces and handed them a royal 'backsiding'; sending survivors bolting swiftly to their boats. Haiti became the first black independent state. The second independent country in the western hemisphere after the US — which 540 ex-Haitian slaves had assisted in the War of American Independence. Napoleon went to his grave still wondering how a smaller number of uneducated, untrained slaves with inferior arms could have pulled this off.

One thing that world leaders agreed on was that the regime in Haiti had to fail. Or it would send a dangerous signal to oppressed people everywhere that slavery and oppression were unacceptable. America was France's closest ally in this matter. France started by demanding reparations to 'landowners' — by this immensely wealthy — a back-breaking sum which in today's money is approximately US$19 billion. Devoting 80 per cent of its total annual earnings, proud Haiti only managed to complete that payment in 1947. But by this time the damage had already been done. And, thanks to a long succession of criminals — hand-picked to rule the country by the US, and propped up in these positions while inflicting untold hardship on their people — the road back for Haiti is steep and rocky.

But it would be instructive to compare Trump's commitment to his country with that of ex-slave Henri Christophe. In his early teens, Christophe volunteered and fought with distinction alongside Americans for American Independence. Donald Trump has been wealthy, privileged, with a perfect health record, and has devoted his leisure hours to football, tennis, golf, and girls. He dodged the draft five times by submitting a letter from a doctor — something about his ankle hurting him. On the day of his graduation from college, 40 American soldiers gave their lives for their country in Vietnam.

So is there any truth to his vulgar depiction of Haiti and African countries? Well, look at it this way. People from countries freezing in snow stumble on other countries with excellent weather and an abundance of resources that do not exist in their countries. So, using superior weaponry and deception, they rape and subjugate the residents, capture the land, and force them to extract the resources to send back to enrich their countries. This has gone on for centuries, making these countries and their citizens immensely wealthy and providing the foundation for an Industrial Revolution guaranteeing their economic and social security for centuries to come.

One such beneficiary is that British prime minister who was so kind as to come all the way here to give us a prison. Generations of his family can relax at home and never know poverty thanks to this dreadful period of thievery and bloodshed. But all this came at a cost — a terrible, horrible, mentally crippling cost to those countries whose people were robbed of their pride, their sense of self and their property.

Haitians in America talking among themselves can often be heard saying, “Se vagabon ki loue kay.” (Respectable people don't rent.) And while this remains a wish for many, it certainly represents their hope. So the plundering continues — diplomatically, with a bug-ridden bed called the International Monetary Fund and a cow itch blanket called the World Bank.

So, given this history, what else could these countries ever be?

Trump is also reported to have said that all Haitians had AIDS. Perhaps with a little reading, he would learn that the Haitians contracting the disease were first prostituted by visiting Americans suffering from the disease.

John Adams often reminded his contemporaries that molasses — an illicit trade item from Haiti — “was an ingredient of the American Revolution”.

Thomas Jefferson was able to acquire the Louisiana territory from Napoleon because France was unable to subdue Haitian troops trained by the ex-slave Toussaint L'Ouverture. That's how one-third of the American land mass fell into the hands of America.

There is an old Haitian proverb that says, “With patience you will see the belly button of an ant.” This may yet be proven true. It is remarkable that a country left with bare crumbs of its heritage could have offered America so much. But the relationship — like the experience of men my age — can be summed up with one word: unrequited.

Glenn Tucker is an educator and a sociologist who is a former president of the Mico Historical Society. Send comments to the Observer or

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