Growing up Haitian in the 90s in America wasn’t…pleasant. I’ve heard it all from, “Didn’t Haitians get AIDs first?” to “Did your parents come on a boat?” And of course, I’ve been hit with the “Wow. You don’t look Haitian. You actually have lots of hair!” Thanks a lot, guys ~__~. Feel free to tuck in your ignorance now. With each slur and hurtful question, I felt myself retreating more and more into my Haitianess, believing that I could not be part of a group that did so much to make me the other.
Interestingly enough, growing up I never felt more divided from my Black American peers than during Black History month. I use the word “interestingly” because I grew up in a home that defended the right that the “natural wo/man” is Black and everything else is the exception. My parents raised me and my siblings to feel no shame when it came to how much our hair kinked up, or how broadly our noses sat on our face. We were Black. We were beautiful. That’s it. History lessons at home involved stories on Toussaint, Makandal, Dessalines, Christophe, Ibo and Yoruba traditions that we had been able to keep alive on our tiny part of the island. And yet, at school our Black history lessons resembled nothing of this sort. The revolutionaries that had colored my fathers stories — none of them could be found. The heroes who said it was with the white man’s blood that they would write their constitution — where were they? It was as if these colorful men and women were nothing more than figments’ of my parents’ imaginations.
As an adult, I’ll be frank and say nothing has changed. I still don’t see me, nor any of my African and West Indian heroes celebrated during this month. And if we are to begin bridging the gap between the different Black groups throughout the diaspora, our histories and heroes have to be just as present and celebrated. So, to counter all of this, I set out a call on twitter for people to share their non-American Black heroes with me and the response was amazing. I’ve done my best to include them all in the slideshow below, but please feel free to drop names of those you wish for others to know in the comments section. As one of my elders used to say, “As long as you know your ancestors name, they can never die.” Ayibobo!