Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Post-Slavery Futbol Helix: Notes of a "Confused Haitian"

I have been slow to write about the world cup because I didn’t really know where to jump in. I had an idea for a piece about how Michael Jordan might’ve become the greatest soccer goalie of all-time if he ever took up the sport, this piece was inspired by watching footage of Trinidad’s goalie Shaka Hislop.

I’ve also been on the move too much to really sit down and flesh out that idea or anything really substantial about the world cup, not to mention some event just create their own narratives and they don’t need writing hacks like me to intervene.

All of this seemed to change however this week when I got caught up in what can only be described as Ghana-mania during my stay out here in California. Ghana-mania began last week Thursday when the friend who I was staying with in LA woke me up at 6am PST to watch the Ghana vs United States match (the match started at 7am PST and we had been out til 2am). It was a good spirited morning but my friend kept on blasting the ESPN broadcasters for being too American-centered, and she was right, they were very American-centered—but I felt for very good reason, millions of dollars had been invested in this American team that either wildly underperformed or was grossly overhyped. The broadcasters were doing their job trying to explain to the average American viewer which one it was.

It was hilarious watching the Ghanaians in attendance calling all the Afro-American players “traitors” for playing against their homeland, then two seconds later conceding that the Americans could have them because they weren’t that good anyway. Since it’d been years since I last played the beautiful game, I forgot exactly how much trash-talking goes on both on and off the pitch. Yankee and Red Sox fans have nothing on soccer fans when it comes to cutting down their adversaries. Fortunately, as a Haitian, I was playing the role of Switzerland and enjoying the serenity of my neutrality—or so I thought.

Ghana-mania was ratcheted up a notch when my friend and her dad turned their attention my beloved Haiti and our absence from the World Cup field. I made the error of telling them that Haitians are strong supporters of Brazil and many have adopted Brazil’s team as their own—an admission that led to my friend’s dad declaring “Haitians are CONFUSED.” Ghana-mania was now in full effect as the Ghanaians not only had a victory to celebrate, but a new whipping boy, the “CONFUSED” Haitians of the world.

Being the gracious host that I am I bit my tongue, and did not say anything, deciding instead to wait calmly until Ghana played Brazil in their next match—then we’d see who’s confused.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten exactly when that match was so when I got this email appeal from a friend this morning, I was, for a lack of a better word, “CONFUSED:”

"Les gaulois nos ancetres", vous connaissez bien cette expression que les francais ont utilise pour laver les cerveaux des noirs sous l'esclavage et la colonisation. Les haitiens, qui ont ete les premiers a rompre le fardeau oppresif de l'esclavage--ont toujours compris que nos vrais ancetres sont des Africains de Dahomey (aujourd'hui le Benin)...Mais parce que la region n'etait pas encore nettement separee, il est aussi possible que nous avons de meme des ancetres de La Cote d'Or--aujourd'hui le Ghana. C'est dans cet esprit chere famille que je vous encourage a soutenir le GHANA contre le Bresil dans le match aujourd'hui!! Je sais que cela n'est pas facile puisque les Haitiens soutiennent les bresiliens comme une equipe preferee, mais aujourd'hui rappelez-vous: LES GHANEENS NOS ANCETRES!!

["Les gaulois nos ancetres" this all too familiar expression was used by the French to brainwash Black minds during slavery/colonization. Haiti, as the first country to break free from France's colonial yoke, never trusted this lie--Haitians always know that our real ancestors are Africans from Dahomey (present day Benin)...of course, because this was before West Africa was divided into countries, it is possible that we do have ancestors from the region known as The Gold Coast--present day Ghana. It is in this spirit of pride in our African roots that I encourage all family members to root for GHANA against Brazil in today's World Cup Match! I know this will be hard because as Haitians we tend to root for Brazil as a favorite team, but on today let us remember--les ghaneens nos ancetres!!!]

It wasn’t the fact that I had to read French first thing in the morning that confused me, but I couldn’t really figure out what prompted my friend to send this appeal. Sure I knew she had a Ghanaian husband, so that must’ve changed her allegiances, from Ghana to Brazil, but her email had thrown a huge wrench in the post-colonial soccer matrix. Like most post-colonialists I eagerly look forward to any matches that pit the former colonizers against the former colonized (e.g. Trinidad vs. England and Angola vs. Portugal). I look forward to these matches with bated breath hoping that the former colonized will still it to their former colonizers.

However, never did I think of these matches in a post-slavery context. It was easy to laugh at my Ghanaian friend and her dad taunting the African-American players, but it wasn’t until I received my other friend’s email this morning that I realized that there really was something in those taunts, there were some traitors on the pitch, but, I wouldn’t be so quick to label the African-American players as traitors (which of course they are not). If we are talking about traitors and the legacy of slavery—and reading soccer through a post-slavery then on what side exactly should members of the African Diaspora cast their allegiances in matches where an Africanist nation like Brazil plays a African nation like Ghana?

Let me put this another way, should black folks in the Americas root for Brazil because it was the Ghanaians ancestors and their other West African compatriots who sold our ancestors into slavery?

Before I could answer this question for myself, I got a SMS message from my Ghanaian friend informing me that things were looking bleak for Ghana against Brazil—without pausing I wrote back “that’s what y’all get for selling us into slavery.” This reply had nothing to do with the post-slavery matrix that I am trying to make sense of, but was a bitter reflex response to the ribbing I took from her and her dad the previous week.

The match ended, and like most Haitians I know I am happy that Brazil won. As a futbol fan I am genuinely interested in the fate of this Brazil team as they seek to not just win the World Cup but seal a place for themselves as the greatest team in Brazilian, if not World Cup history. Their only Brazilian peers being the 1982 squad that featured the legendary foursome of Eder, Sócrates, Falcão and Zico, but which failed to win that year’s cup in spite of all the brilliance they displayed dribbling the ball on the pitch. Each time they step onto the pitch this year’s squad with Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka are fending off the ghosts of that 1982 team just as they must be focused on outplaying their opponents.

Those who saw the match saw Ronaldo score his 15th goal in world cup play to become the tournaments all-time leading scorer. This historical moment meant a lot to soccer fans who saw one of the best players from the last decade do what he does best, score, but was clearly another heartbreaking blow to Ghanaians whose team was defeated 3 – nil.

Ronaldo’s goal five minutes into match may have decided the outcome, but it does little for answering the question posed earlier, on whose side are the children of the African-Diaspora to hitch their wagons when their diaspora-cousins battle those long lost family members from the motherland?

Two interesting articles on Joe Gaetjens, the Haitian born member of the 1950 US national team shown in the picture at the beginning of this post being carried off the field by his teammates; Gaetjens scored their lone goal in the team’s World Cup upset of England in all of places Brazil. (Photo courtesy of www.wikipedia.org)



Monday, June 26, 2006

Oaxaca Teachers Strike

As some of you might have heard teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico have been on strike since May 22nd, and have been engaged in a standoff with government officials--that at times has turned violent. The government of Oaxaca appears intent on doing whatever it takes to make the teachers to concede to their demands, but the teachers have been putting a resilient effort. This Wednesday, June 22nd, The Professional Staff Congress, CUNY's Teacher's union is holding yet another rally outside the Mexican Consulate in Manhattan to show support for our comrades in Oaxaca. If you're in NY and able to attend, do try making it out to show your support.

Labor/Teachers Rally to Support

Striking Teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico

Wednesday, June 28th

4:00-5:30 pm

The Mexican Consulate

(27 E. 39th St. between Park and Madison Aves.)

PSC-CUNY, the union of faculty and professional staff at City University of New York, is calling for a picket at the Mexican consulate to support our brother and sister Mexican teachers fighting a bitter, difficult strike in Oaxaca, southern Mexico. We call on the Mexican authorities to stop the violent use of police against the strike, and to meet the just demands of Local 22 of SNTE (National Education Workers Union). On June 14 Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortíz sent 1,700 armed state police against the teachers, bombarding them with tear gas from a helicopter, causing nearly 100 injuries and, reportedly three deaths among teachers and their children. As teachers and as unionists we must protest this outrage.

“This government is capable of anything,” one of the union leaders said, but added that the Popular Assembly “is prepared for any eventuality,” and that “none of our members will take a single step backward” (Jornada June 22, 2006). A New York Times report on June 22, describing the failure of the dawn police raid on June 14, confirmed the teachers’ resolve: “The raid failed miserably, as the teachers armed themselves with sticks and stones and fought running battles with the outnumbered police.”

June 22 marks a month into the teachers’ strike and encampment in the historic center of Oaxaca. The strike is for higher pay, but also for schools, supplies, and student stipends.

The teachers of Oaxaca and their allies in the Popular Assembly inspire us with their courage under attack and their effective organization. We call on all New York City unions, our students and other concerned citizens, to join us to protest police brutality against these teachers and to support their strike.


For more information contact Mary Ann Carlese at the PSC at

212-354-1252 ext. 225 or mcarlese@pscmail.org.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

I've Always Been More of a Moet Brother

A few weeks ago while checking out Nah Right's blog I spotted a post about Jay Z's decision to ban Cristal from his 40/40 clubs and in effect calling for an all out boycott of the champagne because of remarks made by the company's president in an interview with the economist. Having never carelessly spilled a bottle of the bubbly over a bevy of video vixens and party goers, much less purchased one, like many rappers and some other select members of the "hip hop generation," I knew this boycott would have no bearing on my life whatsoever.

That said, I did think it was good thing that "El Presidente" was being more civic minded. And since he's a trendsetter hopefully this will be a trend that more rappers will follow. So with your help maybe we can convince rappers to expand the list of boycotted items beyond Cristal and to include other items whose manufacturers seem to have very little regard to their products impact in black communities. Here are my first three entries on what should be a long list of items that it would be kinda dope to see what would happen in the hood if MCs stopped dropping their brand names in their lyrics.
Smith and Wesson

Luger Pistols

Crack Cocaine

Those are my top three, do you have anything to add to this list?

The Verdict is In...But A New Battle Arises

A few weeks ago I blogged about the parent and student protests at a downtown Manhattan against the city's plans to allow a charter school to share their space while the charter school waits for their building's completion. Well it appears that the verdict came in, and on Friday afternoon the Mayor's office announced that the Ross school will not be moving into the building occupied by NEST--a public school in lower manhattan. Read the Times article(s) to develop your own conclusions on this matter, but I for one believe that it shows what capital, organization and a good media campaign can bring about.

Ironically, I spied the dispatch about the NEST parents victory while reading another article about the upcoming Supreme Court reviews of desegregation or racial inclusion policies of public school boards across the country. It seems that some conservative and anti-affirmative action groups are upset that some school boards are taking race into account when admitting students. They are angry that these school boards have the gall to make their classrooms, hallways, and lunchrooms look like the rest of the United States.

I will concede however, that I do agree with the conservatives and anti-affirmative action millitia that integrating predominantly white schools is not the ideal solution to solving the racial inequalities in our nation's public schools. Shuttling African-Asian-and-Latino-American students out of their districts does not negate the fact that there are underfunded schools in the districts that they students are shuttled out of. This is a particularly vexing situation for suburban and rural school communities where schools that are predominantly white are often lamenting their inability to attract and retain non-white students. The inability to solve or at least develop more sensible programs for public education at the k-12 level impacts attempts to alleviate racial disparities at the collegiate level---where sometimes the schools seem to be at even more of a loss on how to address these issues.

You won't find any answers here--at least not yet--but let's at promise to continue keeping an eye on these developments so as to make sure no one is caught off guard in the future. As always comments and links to relevant resources are always appreciated.

Images From The West Coast

Monday, June 19, 2006

"deconstructing the ubiquitous image of a haitian brooklyn blogger"

On Sunday June 18th I bumped into Alice who Blogs at kiskeyAcity while walking through ft. greene with a friend (you can read Alice's own account here: kiskeyAcity: Brazil v. Australia @Smooch)

This was the second time she and I met, the first time being in 1996 when she and her cousin organized a screening of Raoul Peck's film "A Man by the Shore" at Barnard College in NY.

But that's not the reason why this recent encounter was worth noting. You see a few months ago I spotted Alice's blog on my friend Rich's blog The Homelands. Rich is the self proclaimed "Haitian Eclectic," who would be so hot right now if he just took my advice and got himself a Vespa.

After spotting Alice's blog on Rich's site, I linked her and she eventually linked me. I was notified of this link by Nyasha-zasha who blogs at The Global Parish. Yemi, as I call her, went to law school with Alice and was rather excited by the fact that her classmate and I had met, at least virtually. At that time I had not realized that Alice and I had already met...

That did not come until a friend--who prefers to remain anonymous--contacted Alice after seeing her link on my site and realized that she was friend's with Alice's cousin, the same one who co-organized the film screening I attended.

This connection was confirmed when Yemi came over to show me the pictures Rich had taken while accompanying her during one of her sojourns through NY's Garifuna community after they met at my birthday party where Rich was the official photographer.

So, I don't know if you call this six degrees of separation, a small world, kiskeyAcity,the global parish, the homelands, or as Yemi has declared: "deconstructing the ubiquitous image of a haitian brooklyn blogger," to me it's just another day on the nightshift.

Friday, June 09, 2006

I am not a slave

I'm not a slave.'

Words spoken by a black nanny to the white boy in her charge.

Atlantic Center Mall

Brooklyn, NY
June 8, 2006

One of the books featured in my dissertation is Octavia Butler’s Kindred. It has a simple, but yet very troubling premise: a black woman in 1976 Los Angeles is inexplicably pulled back into 19th century Maryland and has in order to ensure the well-being of, Rufus, the young scion of a plantation. Readers of speculative fiction do not have trouble suspending disbelief and following Butler’s protagonist, Dana Franklin, back and forth between the 19th and 20th centuries. What often irks some people about Kindred is that there are those like myself who do not believe that this relationship is not entirely fictive and is in fact one of the troubling legacies of slavery.

“Slavery is over.” I am often reminded—or even better yet—“It is ideas like this that keep people black people from moving forward.”

The refusal by some to acknowledge that the hierarchical system at play in the United States was ratified during the centuries of trans-Atlantic slavery is precisely the reason why I think that situations like the one faced by Dana Franklin actually manifest in twenty-first century America. I know that people do not physically travel back to the 19th century, but many white and black Americans must nonetheless still replay some of the defining dramas of slavery. Case in point, the scene outlined in this post’s epigraph. Part of me felt like saying “I told you so” to some of my detractors—but the more powerful sentiment was a journey back to the poignancy of Butler’s text and its continued relevance. The black nanny and the young white boy most likely never got a chance to read Butler’s work or meet her in person before she passed away earlier this year, but she managed to capture a piece of their life together—a slice of the tension that exists between them and history.

Rufus: "You're not a slave are you?"

Dana: "No"

(Kindred, 29 - 30)

And speaking of history, did I mention that this scene took place in the Atlantic center mall.

C’est finis.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Nigger by any Other Name

One of the things that I strongly support is parental involvement with their children's schools. Reports confirm that schools where large numbers of parents are actively involved tend to serve students better. Imagine my surprise then, when while reading Elissa Gootman's article in Tuesday’s NYTimes I squrimed at one of the byproducts of a well heeled public school parent community.

Now as a scholar of African-American Studies I am not so naïve to believe that all forms of parental involvement are good and that there have not been instances where racism has been the inducement for parents springing into action. The civil rights movements throughout the 20th century offer countless examples, and not just in the southern hotbeds, but also in northeast corridors as the school desegregation efforts in Boston in the 1970s revealed.

What struck me about Gootman's article is how the black and Latino students/families, the real root cause of the issue, were virtually absent from this debate pitting a wealthy philanthropists and these less wealthy public school parents. In spite of their absences though, these students/families wer somehow omnipresent. With Morrison’s essay collection Playing in the Dark still fresh on my mind because I taught it this past semester, the accord between the writer, representatives of philanthropist Courtney Sale Ross and the NEST students and Parents, and I, the reader, in being able to catch the metonyms of urban blackness and Latino-ness. This pact is so pronounced, and so crucial to the exercise undertaken by all involved that when one of Ms. Ross’s lawyers appears to be on the verge of breaking this pact, it leads to an outburst from one of the NEST parents:

Brooks R. Burdette, a lawyer for the charter school, drew gasps from NEST parents when he said of the charter school parents, "They are some of the more colorful faces in your courtroom."

"What am I? What am I?" an outraged NEST parent, who is Indian-American, said during a break in the proceedings.

This eruption is the only instance where someone’s race/ethnicity is explicitly mentioned and reinforces the point that throughout the rest of the article we are expected to assume that when the reporter refers to a NEST parent or student that person is white. Similarly, metonyms such as “underserved” and “community activists” are the invocations for the black and Latino students and parents. The language itself is not the concern, but as Morrison suggests in Playing in the Dark, particularly in her chapter on Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, the acceptability of this language indicates how readers and writers are complicit in shaping the racial projects of their eras. In To Have and Have Not, Hemingway uses the appellations “nigger” and “Cuban” without any deliberation when referring to his black (I use black instead of African-American because the “Cubans” can also black—and therefore indistinguishable niggers in Hemingway’s treatment”) rather than giving them proper names like he does all the white characters in the novel. Morrison contends that “nigger” and “Cuban” become the proper names for these non-white American characters, thus while it may not give us any conclusive evidence on whether or not Hemingway was a racist, it vividly illustrates the racialized logic that enabled Hemingway and his reader to be on the same page as it were when it comes to this system of naming.

Assuredly if pressed to answer for themselves the NEST students and parents who wrote letters and offered appeals like the ones below, they would deny any allegations of racism:

"They're trying to destroy our school," cried Arianna Gil, 12, a NEST seventh grader, at the Cipriani rally, as she handed out gift bags embossed in silver lettering with the NEST logo and filled with publicity materials. She warned of "complete chaos" if the Ross charter school moves in.

As part of an assignment, students wrote letters to this reporter, warning of dirty hallways, overcrowded classes and a Ross takeover of the NEST cafeteria, with its round tables and purple neon sign.

I am willing to accept any ‘we’re not racist’ arguments if NEST students and parents can also provide enough evidence showing that they and their children have been subjected to a body of literature instructing them that “chaos” and “dirty hallways” are the byproducts of an increased ‘white’ presence in their schools. They will get gold stars if they can offer evidence that does not demonize poor or working class whites, but which illuminates the pitfalls of increased fraternizing with their “middle-class” white counterparts.

The “gifted” students and parents should not be ashamed if they find this task difficult because it is the problem facing American society as a whole, and it’s what allows for the reader, writer and the subjects of the article to understand the importance of eschewing direct mentions of whiteness, even though it permeates the article. This problem also engenders the strategic invocations of blackness and Latino-ness that are only there to amplify and highlight their presence for readers whose racial sight or hearing might be impaired (i.e. those in the “I don’t see color camp”).

If I were to offer a proposal for resolving this stand-off, it would not include any serious disciplinary action against the parents/students at NEST. The last thing that I want to encourage the NYC Mayor's office is to do is conjure up some draconian law for curbing parental involvement. I would however encourage the Chancellor's office to change the guidelines at NEST to increase its overall number of students. The logic being here if the campus could accomodate the incoming Ross Academy students, then it should be able to accomodate the same number of students from the local community--especially black, Chinese and Latino students--as well as students from low income and working class families. The committed NEST parents should be able to work in concert with the parents of these incoming students, especially if they know going in that failing schools are not only the result of inactive parents, but more often the government's willingness to let certain communities fall by the wayside.

I would then encourage Ms. Ross to redirect her efforts to one of the numerous under-funded schools in the city and working with the parents, teachers and the chancellor’s office to (1) help revive that school (2) bring her global academy to life without disrupting that school’s current mission to serve its students. One possible benefit from partnerships between schools and private benefactors is that it can relieve students and families from feeling as if they have to relocate writ large in order for positive changes to occur in their lives. Philanthropists and government leaders can not continue giving students and families in low-income and under-resourced communities the impression that only a select group of young ones are worth salvaging. Instead the goal should be to work with young people within their own communities and to give clear signs that already existing institutions are worth reviving.

These suggestions may appear elementary, but since the disease impairing the educational system/process is so fundamentally ingrained in this nation's conscience that it took every last bit of restraint on my part to not offer this curt response to the article: it's about time that the NEST students and their families (and might I add the nation as a whole) read the writing on the wall and learn to color outside the line.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Looking Towards the Préval Presidency

The United Nations

Association of New York’s

Young Professionals for International Cooperation


Looking Towards the Préval Presidency: A Reading and Discussion on Haiti's Future

with Journalist and Author Michael Deibert

Thursday, June 1, 2006

6 – 8 pm

Wollman Hall, The New School

65 West 11th Street, 5th Floor

New York, NY 10011

Drinks & light appetizers will be served

This is a free event for YPIC and non-YPIC attendees



With the inauguration of Haiti's new parliament and the government of President René Préval in May, Haiti opens another chapter in its often tumultuous history. Join us along with journalist and author Michael Deibert at The New School for a discussion of that history and where that Caribbean nation may be heading.

Michael Deibert's first book, Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (Seven Stories Press), has been praised by The Miami Herald as "a powerfully documented exposé," by The San Antonio Express-News as a "compelling mix of reportage, memoir and social criticism," and by the filmmaker Raoul Peck (director Lumumba and Sometimes in April) as a book that "manages to show in the most intimate details how a democratic movement went wrong and how a heritage of valuable victories and painful sacrifice was slandered by a charismatic leader and his cronies." A chronicle of Deibert's years spent reporting from Haiti, Notes from the Last Testament is a riveting narrative account of the events leading up to and including the overthrow of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004, an event which Deibert witnessed first-hand.

Author Bio

Michael Deibert first visited Haiti in 1997 and served as the Reuters correspondent in Port-au-Prince from 2001 until 2003. His writing on Latin America and the Caribbean has appeared in Newsday, The Miami Herald, The Village Voice, The Economist Intelligence Unit, Salon, and The Guardian, among other publications.