Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

Dr. King, Haiti, and Extreme Social Activism

In Uncategorized on January 18, 2010 at 11:12 pm

There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. ~ Dr. Martin Luter King, Jr. A Letter from a Birmingham Jail

I take time on Dr. King’s birthday, ever year, to re-familiarize myself with why he was such an exceptional leader, revolutionary, social activist, minister and man.  We all, I believe are well versed on his accomplishments in the Black American struggle for human rights, but I believe what makes him most remarkable is his keen ability to use his heart, mind and spirit to facilitate progress within that movement.  The document that most thoroughly explains and actualizes our need for social justice and , in my opinion, the idea that a deliverance of such justice can not wait, is his Letter From a Birmingham Jail.

Dr. King’s letter was written in response to local clergymen in Birmingham’s attempt to paint him as an agitator because he organized non-violent demonstrations against segregation and violence towards Blacks in the city (and throughout the US, actually).  King’s letter speaks directly to this particular incident, but more so outlines a compassionate and coherent case for social activism and justice that can serve as a model for any human rights movement.

As I sift through the pages of the letter, I can not help but consider Haiti.  One section deals specifically with the “white moderate”, who according to King, sat idly by as Blacks were lynched,beaten, and mauled by police and attack dogs, with their only crime being a desire to live as women and men.  He also harshly criticized white ministers who, through their biblical scholarship and pledges to do God’s work, should have joined him in his fight for the ultimate show of morality, civility and liberty.  King was angered and saddened that people could be so callous towards and dismissive of such horrid human suffering.  Unfortunately, so also is the case in Haiti.

I may exchange the “moderate white” that King speaks of in his letter for the “moderate westerner”, because truly the humanity of the Haitian people have been dismissed even by American Blacks whose ancestors toiled, sweated, bled and died, ultimately so that the US government could find itself in a position to pledge 100 million dollars to help rebuild Haiti. Our pain sits at the cornerstone of this wealthy nation, and the suffering that many of us are witnessing through this Haitian earthquake coverage should not at all be lost on any of us. It should instead be a familiar cutting pain that we can trace back as far as the arrival of the first slaves in Jamestown or as close as images of floating dead bodies in NOLA after Katrina.  Actually, it should be a global pain that the human family feels collectively. Any person in the world who lacks compassion for the people of Haiti today demonstrates, as Joesph Conrad noted, a heart of darkness.

In speaking of dark hearts, King, in the letter, writes about weeping at the lack of human kindness Blacks were shown during the Civil Rights movement. Unfortunately,  instead of weeping, I teeter totter between feelings of anger and disgust to those of nonchalance. Part of me is outraged at comments like those of Pat Robertson, a separate part is not at all surprised by those comments and even less surprised at the number of people who share Robertson’s world and social view.  I fully understand that we are all extremists, and also that, as Dr. King points  out below, we have to decide what kind of extremists we will be.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

So what say you exactly? How will you treat Haiti as you honor Dr. King?  Will you note that just as Blacks in the US during the Civil Rights Movement could not wait any longer to be treated as full human beings, so also can Haitians not wait to have their humanity recognized and respected.  Do not dismiss the suffering of a people because you choose to be a moderate westerner.  I dare you to be extreme and even more to be extreme for social justice.  If you can not lift bodies from the rubble, if you can not afford to donate, the least you can do is ensure that you take no part in the “poverty porn” that is being perpetuated on your TV screens.  People will say that Black and Brown people can wait.  But we can no longer wait for any of our people to be seen as more than wretched caricatures of hopelessness and despair.  Dr. King changed the world through his acts of extremism.  At the core though, he just wanted himself and his people to be seen in their flesh.   All any of us wants is to be visible, to be seen, that really is all.  Let us each do for our brothers and sisters in Haiti what the moderates would not do for Black Americans during the Civil rights movement.  We should stand up and stand beside Haitians as they battle for their lives and for their dignity, and be extreme in doing so.

Dr. King’s Letter from  a Birmingham Jail:

Haitians react to Pat Robertson’s ‘devil pact’ remark:


For Ayiti

In Uncategorized on January 13, 2010 at 4:23 pm

I think Haiti is a place that suffers so much from neglect that people only want to hear about it when It’s at its extreme. And that’s what they end up knowing about it. ~ Edwidge Danticat

My heart has many compartments, sacred spaces for sacred people, and one of those spaces belongs to the people of Haiti.  I don’t love Haiti because I pity her, let me be clear about this so that there is no misunderstanding.  Haiti suffers with more pity and inaction intertwined than possibly any other place on this planet and my revolutionary spirit does not care much for those types of  bandwagons.  My love for her sits beautifully, poised  and majestic, eagerly recalling a freedom that somehow my heart knows more than two hundred years after she became free.  Yes, I celebrate her sons Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Alexandre Petion, but also every slave, every overseer, every African spirit who decided that our people were not chattel and were destined for liberation.  That spirit is still very much alive in her, despite and maybe because of all the hardship that she faces.  When I ponder Haiti, I ponder her with these feelings of love, respect, and adoration.

I wish that each of us could see her in this way.  But the truth is, the “first world” has never forgiven Haiti for daring to revolt and being successful at it.  We’ve all heard the stories,  Haiti is cursed because the “natives” practice “black magic”, as if the speakers’ religions don’t celebrate the birth and death of their Messiah with jolly bearded white men, bunnies, and sparkling trees. I know all to well about the privilege of finger pointing and victim blaming.  Vodun is the least of Haiti’s problems and the last reason for her misery.

Let us not go back past the Revolution. If you are reading this, I assume you know the horrors of colonialism, of slavery, of the breaking of bodies and spirits, this I’m sure would be an antiquated approach to our discussion- so I won’t bother with it.  We can begin with the boycott of the free nation, internationally organized, that began when Haiti won her independence from France in 1804.  And then there was that whole US occupation that you never read about, which lasted from about 1913 to about 1934 (also add in the US’ dominance over the island after World War II).  So yes, the humanitarian “aid” that you are told the US supplies to Haiti, if anything at all, is a quiet admission of wrong doing and a payment of reparations.  We can speak truth here, it is a safe place to do so.

We must also take into account that Haiti’s leadership, it’s rich and elite, have been greedy, never allowing the capital that does flow into the country to trickle down to its poorest citizens.  Education, also, is a very serious issue on the island with a reported literacy rate of around 53%.  It is understood that literacy creates a process of questioning and questioning leads to change.  Oppression and a lack of educational opportunities certainly hold hands,this is a familiar tool of the master.  However, Haiti has bigger challenges than miseducation. I would dare say that at the foundation of all of her problems is an insurmountable debt that began with France demanding Haiti “repay” him for making her a colony (as if France had not prospered enough from slave labor and stolen resources, which, I suppose, is another blog to write).  Additionally, during the Duvalier dictatorship (from 1957-1986) untold monies were stolen from the country, some estimate through audit that in the last few years of occupation alone more than 500 million went missing.  Imagine that amount multiplied in years.  The thought should make you gasp.  And we can not forget the ridiculous amount of debt owed to the Inter-American Development Bank, whose offices sit in Washington DC, the headquarters of your free world. Every penny that Haiti earns she owes, it is a tragic game that produces the single story you are seeing unfold on your local news stations- one of a poor, destitute, evil, and black Haiti that simply is not worth your compassion and care.  Yet there are still more contributing factors.  I would love to also discuss the impact of environmental factors like soil erosion, and more so the importing of products that stifle the efforts of local businesses in this post, but that is also a discussion for another time.  Our time is short, Haiti needs us, and the whys are less important than the what nows in this moment.

Natural disasters are natural, thus the name.  Does Haiti somehow have more than its share?  Who am I to determine the yes or no of that? What I will say is that the world has made it so that Haiti can not recover. Hearing of the way that the buildings literally crumbled after yesterday’s earthquake, speaks less of natural disasters and more of a failed infrastructure, simply to weak to withstand the pressure.  Those buildings, in my mind, represent my people there, and subsequently my heart, because they are suffering as they are.  Suffering is not new to the world, we see it all too often, but what constantly shocks and amazes me is the lack of compassion and empathy, the callousness that even other black people have towards Haiti.  It turns my stomach.

We have to realize that we are Haiti, as we are Zimbabwe, as we are Chicago.  We have to act now with vigor and earnestness, certainly, but we have to act again and again,  because as Edwidge Danticat noted, we can not only consider Haiti and other places like Haiti in these extreme times.  I humbly ask you to donate whatever you can to the nation that reminded you that you were once free and again could be.  I donated last night to Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti organization, as I have in the past.  It matters not to me how you take action, just that you take it.  Let us put our hearts where our mouths are, and our money and our time and whatever other resources we may have to give.  Please.

Text ‘YELE’ to 501501 or visit to donate to Yele Haiti

Donate to as they specialize in earthquake relief & medical response as a result.