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Caribbean Matters: Time to push against Haiti hate yet again, and learn some hidden U.S. history

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The erasure, distortion, and justification of the United States’ relationship with Haiti has been crafted over centuries. Given the current rabid right-wing attacks against teaching American history as it really happened, warts and all, I am not surprised by the right-wing resurrection of what for them are tried and true tropes that pump up the blood pressure of adherents to hate.

While preparing to write this week’s Caribbean Matters, what kept popping up in my news feeds was Haiti. Not Haiti aid stories, nor reports on the ongoing political struggles on the island; no, these stories were all about immigration. Some of the stories were dominated by relentless racist and stigmatizing attacks on Haiti and Haitians from the bête noire of all things decent: a certain former U.S. president. Donald Trump’s reruns of past anti-Haitian spews were not a surprise. He is only one of many white supremacists with a media platform who use Haiti as their primary whipping boy in the stigma stakes, which aid and abet painting “Blacks” as diseased, savage, superstitious, and corrupt criminals, hopelessly destined to fail vis-a-vis their eternal “racial” damnation. This in turn paints the greater Caribbean with the same brush, and waltzes hand-in-hand with the all too familiar ongoing open racism against Black Americans.

None of this is new. Let’s talk today about Haitian history and the role we as a nation have played in making Haitians a primary chapter in the ever-expanding white supremacist playbook.

Caribbean Matters is a weekly series from Daily Kos. If you are unfamiliar with the region, check out Caribbean Matters: Getting to know the countries of the Caribbean.

Philip Bump documented the latest outrage from the orange menace in The Washington Post. From my point of view, describing Trump’s vile words about Haitians as “disparaging”—as Bump did in his headline—is far too mild.

A few months after he took office in 2017, President Donald Trump was handed a list of visas granted by the United States that year. He took the document (helpfully provided by aide Stephen Miller) to a meeting with advisors at the White House where, according to New York Times reporting, he began insulting various countries as undesirable or disease-ridden.


“You know,” he said to the network’s Sean Hannity on Thursday night, “there’s one other thing that nobody talks about. So we have hundreds of thousands of people flowing in from Haiti. Haiti has a tremendous AIDS problem.”

“AIDS is a step beyond. AIDS is a real bad problem,” he continued. “So, hundreds of thousands of people are coming into our country. And if you look at the stats, if you look at the numbers, if you look at just — take a look at what’s happening in Haiti, a tremendous problem with AIDS. Many of those people will probably have AIDS, and they’re coming into our country. And we don’t do anything about it. We let everybody come in. Sean, it’s like a death wish. It’s like a death wish for our country.”

Trump’s resurrection of the Haitian AIDS stigma may not ring a bell with readers who were not engaged in fighting the early HIV/AIDS epidemic here in the U.S.—where superstition, homophobia, and racism reigned with impunity over a disease that was not understood. As an HIV-AIDS activist at the time, I watched that full-blown ignorance take hold and hold sway.

In 1983, as Marlise Simons wrote for The New York Times, the stigma was devastating to the nation’s tourism economy.

… since the summer of 1982, when American health authorities linked Haiti and the so-far incurable disorder known as acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, this country’s tourist industry has collapsed. They said the largest group of AIDS victims consisted of male homosexuals, and the second largest group of victims consisted of Haitians.

Since then, charter flights and cruise ships have stopped docking in Port-au- Prince, the tropical verandas of the AIDS is now a worldwide problem, scientists at a meeting in Geneva agreed, and there has been a surge in cases in Europe.

Hotels stand empty and maids, waiters, guides and handicraft vendors have been laid off. Hoteliers, local officials and foreign diplomats complain that the whole country has been stigmatized by AIDS. An American resident of Haiti said that after landing at New York’s Kennedy Airport last month, he was asked by a customs official where he had embarked. ‘’When I said Haiti,‘’ the traveler recalled, ’’the customs lady told me: ‘Open your passport. I’m not touching it.‘’'

Julio Capo Jr. wrote about this in 2013 for HIVPlus magazine. The headline says it all: “Haiti has been linked with HIV for 30 years. Will the stigma ever go away?

On March 4, 1983, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control listed Haitians as one of the four “high-risk” groups for AIDS. With a relatively high number of cases among recent Haitian immigrants, the CDC warned, “Physicians who care for Haitian patients should be aware that opportunistic infections may occur in this population.” The federal designation singled out Haitians as the only ethnic group believed to be inherently susceptible to the then-mysterious disease. As such, they became members of the notorious “4-H” club that also included homosexuals, heroin users, and hemophiliacs.

This sparked a new wave of discrimination. Many people of Haitian descent were fired or denied employment, housing, and admission to school. Immigrants played a critical role in the grassroots movements that combated HIV and AIDS. Activists cried racism and pseudo-science as the impetus for the designation. Meanwhile, many others shifted the conversation to other plagues that affected Haitian communities: poverty, malnutrition, unemployment, and discrimination.

Years later, here we are again, hearing the same racist bullshit from the lips of a man who will stop at nothing and use every tool in the hater........

© Daily Kos

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