Things Are Not Always What They Seem... Disbanding Haitian Stereotypes

As soon as I tell people that I am Haitian, they start going crazy. "What?! You're Haitian? Stop lying, you're not Haitian. You don't look Haitian! And you were born here? I didn't even know that there were light-skinned Haitians! But you guys dress well! Wait--so you're Haitian? Are you sure you're not mixed? So both your parents are Haitian? Wow! Oh my gosh--so you're Haitian?"
Being a Haitian-American, I have had many encounters with people who have been shocked because I am not their version of a "Haitian". The first impression of me that people have when it comes to my nationality is that I am black. Some people even think that I am of Hispanic descent. When they hear my last name, they automatically assume that I am French, or they think that I am Jamaican or Trinidadian. Haitian is the furthest thing from their minds. Then, the questions are kicked up a notch. "So, is it true that everyone in Haiti does voodoo? Do your parents or anyone in your family do voodoo?" At that point, I become confused. What do Haitians look like? And no, I do not practice voodoo, nor do I know anyone of Haitian descent that practices voodoo. Every Haitian that I know dresses well, and knows how to coordinate. Being Haitian was a diss in itself. If there was someone in the street who was considered badly dressed, then it was possible that they could be Haitian. If the person was very dark-skinned and had a thin build, then it was even more probable. There were many crazy stereotypes and assumptions that came with being Haitian. All these stereotypes and assumptions caused myself and a lot of other Haitian-Americans that I knew to become ashamed of our culture. For a while I let people assume that I was anything other than Haitian, and would only tell them that I was when they asked me. I made sure that my outfits always coordinated. I made sure that colors matched together. My shirt or my jacket matched with my shoes. I made sure that there was no way for any assumptions to become associated with me.
After January 12, 2010, the attitude towards Haitians changed. The questions changed to "You're Haitian? Are you okay? How's your family?" Pictures from the earthquake showed people praying, and not doing voodoo. The tragedy shed light to the fact that Haitians were more than their appearance; they were strong and more determined than ever not to let the earthquake define or deter them in any way. It showed that they were not the subjects of jokes, but that they were a force not to be messed with. It was great that for once, Haitians were not being portrayed as poor and helpless people, but as people who were strong in the midst of adversity and tragedy, and people who were friendly towards foreigners as well as each other. I gained a sense of pride in my culture because in the midst of the devastating event, we were stronger and more united than ever. This is the Haiti I have always known.
bklyn12594 bklyn12594
18-21, F
4 Responses Jul 1, 2012

People these days are so confused and dont do their research when they think your a certain culture just by skin color. Alot of people dont know that while yes the majority of Haiti is dark skinned, there are also white Haitians and light skinned Haitians. While the Dominican is talking trash about Haiti which i have heard for myself, little do they know that Haiti's government system is a complete mess or should i say its more non-exsistant than anything! The people are NOT lazy, during my trips before the earthquake and after the earthquake i saw Haitians still doing whatever they could to work. Most Haitian children dont get to attend school at all, the children want to learn but when you hear their lives you begin to understand why they are unable to, either they have no parents at all or they are too busy caring for their young siblings and still trying to provide a meal for them each day! Haitians get my full respect! They are the nicest people i think i have ever met besides my own family, everytime i go back they treat me like im their family mind you im Hispanic but they call me "the Haitian" i guess cuz when i go i get a major tan lol! I encourage everybody do your research, you will be surprised how beautiful Haitians are and the country itself is wonderful!

I can relate to what you're saying. Growing up, when people heard my last name, their first reaction was, "Oh, you're French!" When I said, "No, I'm Haitian," the next reaction was they recoiled in horror! Back in the '80s, American people associated Haitians with "boat people" and HIV/AIDS. They didn't understand that Haitians come from different walks of life. For example, many well-educated Haitians fled during the '50s-'60s in order to escape the dictatorship. This generation and their children settled into a middle-class American lifestyle. Also, as you point out, Americans knew so little about the country that they were unaware of the population's diversity, or that the African diaspora includes a wide range of skin colors.

I did notice that after the earthquake tragedy many news stories appeared explaining Haitian history, cuture, and contemporary challenges, hence educating American people. At the time, Americans had also experienced a series of natural disasters and econonic struggle on a personal level due to the recession, so perhaps they could identify more with Haitians.

It's also difficult, at times, when one identifies oneself as "Haitian American," "Afro-Caribbean," or "Caribbean American" because people assume it's some kind of distancing or rejection of African Americans when that's not the case. Haitians are (or should be) just proud of their native country and culture.

Some people do those things to me too. They say because, I was born in America, that makes me American. I'm not saying being American is bad but I'm 100 percent Haitian regardless of where I'm born.
They think because I'm light skinned, I don't look Haitian.
When Haitians see a beautiful person they say, "telman moun sa bel, li pa samblé Ayïsyen non." I hate that saying, it's degrading.

actually the earthquake just made matters worse in my mind.people like the Dominicans were like ohhh Haiti is always depending on someone to take of them; they are lazy and there were even some jokes about the earthquake which in my opinion were not laughable because people died for God's sake.some of my fam died and i still have a heart even if i didnt know them. i hate when people are like "you dont look haitian". how the hell do haitians look like? people forget we're not a race, we're a nationality