Issue: Is rape an integral part of Haitian culture?

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Issue: Is rape an integral part of Haitian culture?

Post by admin » Fri Aug 18, 2006 12:24 am

I conducted an informal survey among friends and associates on Mambo Racine's recent claims on the Corbett List, pertaining to sexual violence in Haiti and generally how men and women perceive their respective sexual roles in the society. I have separated men's views from women's, should there be any basis for a gender comparison of such views, considering how differently they may affect men and women in our society. However, the similarity or divergence of views that I have noted does not seem to be based on gender. Of course, there are multiple other factors that may have influenced those observations: nationality, social status, education, family values, personal values, religious views, work/career experience, amount or frequency of contacts with the majority class in Haiti, and personal experiences. Additionally, one has to be careful not to read too much from a sample this size. Yet, I do think that the responses bring to light a wealth of arguments and counter-arguments that can be useful in evaluating a sensible approach to the very real and complex issue of sexual violence anywhere, but particularly in Haiti.

When I first read Mambo Racine's post about Haitian men and women's attitudes towards sexual violence, I felt outraged by her blatant and repeated over-generalizations. I think that Haiti is vulnerable to such broad and negative assertions, disseminated to a list of thousands of individuals, in a way that another country, many times its size, population, and economic power would not be. If I said "every American is a born liar" or "every French woman is a whore" or "every Jew is a sadistic killer", I would be condemned and ridiculed, and rightfully so. Make such statements about Haitians though, and you will get some anonymous posts piously praising you for your perspicacity.

However, this is not the first time that Mambo Racine has made similar statements on the Corbett List, and I can very well imagine that this will not be the last time. On another occasion, it was that Haitians are liars and fundamentally dishonest (or to mitigate the statement, that truth and honesty simply do not fit into our system of values, the way they do in more virtuous countries). However, I will admit that those are hardly the only times I have heard such prejudiced generalizations. In the Dominican Republic, I have heard people maintain that "All Haitians smell bad, that is their nature." Some time ago, I even used to hear from some Haitians that all Black Americans were uneducated good-for-nothing. So, Mambo Racine is by no means the first to disparage so an entire people. Even Haitian people have been guilty of that on occasion (I believe that over the years, we have become more hip to Black American culture, to the point of embracing it and contributing to it.)

As outraged as I felt initially, I knew intuitively that it would not significantly advance the cause of the Haitian for me to simply vent my feelings. I also sensed that in her sempiternal provocative ways, Mambo Racine was also pointing to some very real problem in our society: the issue of sexual violence. I do not consider this typically Haitian, as Mambo Racine does -- at least not until this would be buttressed by a serious comparative study. The issue of rape is seriously real in the United States as well and in any number of other countries. However, our context is Haiti and there is no denying that there is simply too much sexual violence in Haitian society. That is an issue that deserves our policymakers and educators' attention. It should be approached with cultural sensitivity, based on knowledge and understanding. To approach it with disrespect will simply defeat the purpose, as you will not only fail but may fall victim to your perceived aggression.

My primary contribution to this debate has consisted of asking my friends and associates to relay to me their own reactions to Mambo Racine's post. Off list, some people would feel less inhibited to express themselves on the topic, and go beyond ranting to address squarely the issue of sexual violence and gender roles in Haitian culture. The answers have been most interesting.

With special authorization to cross-post discussion items from "The Corbett List" to the "Windows on Haiti" web site (and vice versa) through a longstanding agreement between the owners of those media, the following post from the List is reproduced here to elicit a frank discussion of multiple issues surrounding it. We have received many reactions to the article and will present them, without attribution to their originators.

With due Respect to the Women and Men of Haiti,

The Editor

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