Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Capitol Riot

If I were brave, I should write the following on Facebook.

If you love Donald Trump as a president, you and I cannot be friends. I would no more be friends with you than with someone who steals from his employer or routinely abuses his spouse. 

Before you accuse me of being holier than thou, it’s quite the opposite. I believe everyone can be a Donald Trump. I could be a Donald Trump, and that terrifies me. So by precaution, if for no other reason than to avoid feeding whatever part of me, big or small, that could become him, it's best to reject Trumpism outright. 

My objection to Donald Trump has little to do with policy. I have disagreed with previous presidents of both parties starting with President Clinton, but have never considered denouncing their supporters. 

Donald Trump, however, is different. With him, the objection is fundamental: I believe he is an indecent human being. 

I use that word deliberately, insisting on only the bare minimum for a peaceful society. 

Consider his exploits. He mocked folks with mental challenges, blindly accused immigrants of criminality, called Hillary Clinton "a nasty woman," declared he has no need for divine forgiveness, egged his supporters to berate members of the press corps, calling them "enemies of the state," labeled Nazi sympathizers "good people." He referred to (black!) athletes kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality "sons of b***" and "bastards." He went after the FBI. He attacked the post office. The. Post. Office. 

Please note these were all said openly. I did not include what he said about grabbing women (he thought he was speaking in private) or about Haiti (he denied saying it).

My stark rejection of this man as president does not derive from puritanical whims but from a practical concern. You see, it is human decency, above all other factors, that preserves human society and allows for a life that is civilized. We all need to pursue it, and a leader exponentially more. Should it be weakened, the wheels would quite literally come off our common enterprise. Life would then become "nasty, brutish, and short" in the words of British philosopher Thomas Hobbes.

To have voted for President Trump both times, to rejoice at his presidency, to sing his praises, to defend his bad acts or simply dismiss them as "fake," is essentially to say, “there are things that I want and as long as you give me those things, you can do anything you want. You can attack public institutions. You can traffic in lies. You can dabble in xenophobia, racism, and sexism. You can be abusive and vindictive. Ruthless. As long as I get what I want.” A most Faustian bargain!

Conservative sources mention, among other driving issues, a pro-life Supreme Court and something about Israel and the Second Coming. With no umbrage, I believe those are excuses. 

They might cause a vote for President Trump, but not veneration. Yet, that is where most of his supporters are. I suspect they love the President because he makes them feel good about who they are. (The left does not.) But I will leave it to psychologists and sociologists to decipher the real reasons.

The 85% of Christians who clung to Donald Trump in the hope of achieving some divine promise or purpose should re-read about Sara in Genesis. God promised her a son and she concocted a plan to make it happen. We know the rest of the story. 

God may well be aggrieved or angry over abortions; and perhaps he will not return until Israel has a new capital, but what is that to Christians? He asks us only to love, to practice mercy and humility.  Why were so many willing to wed their faith to a man who, by what we can see, is exactly the opposite? Is God unwilling to find a godly mean to a godly end?

The chaos at the Capitol reminded me that leadership rules. After more than 200 years, it might have been tempting to believe the US is just good, almost like breathing. But then Donald Trump came to power, and the country went into public, moral disarray that exploded in anger.  

Common, Haiti: let's elect a good leader. We need just one. 

Back to the beginning, if you support Donald Trump and would vote for him all over again, you and I cannot be friends. To be sure if you happen to be a family member or a fellow Christian, my duty, my calling, my commitment is to love you. But it will have to be from afar. I hope you will love me too, but let’s not pretend that friendship is possible. It is not.

And that was well before last Wednesday.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Noble Work

How on earth does one give thanks
for the coups of life,
the things unwelcomed?
It is like honey
to praise for family, pumpkin pie, and democracy,
a new hobby or grandbaby.
But what of the contrary?
To stand or sit sublime
when needled 
by folded dreams or rumpled possibilities,
friendships made rancid,
a backache that is chronic,
creditors’ queries,
a guilty verdict,
a call from an oncologist--
or simply a home unworthy of Architectural Digest
on a street of dust and litter.
That too is noble work,
and not just in this season
of giving thanks.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020


I am Haitian. I belong to that category of people known as Ayisyen natif-natal. And, not altogether incidentally, I live in Haiti. 

Some time ago, an INGO ex-pat appeared in my country, on the heels of a killer earthquake. She had of course no trepidation about openly declaring how much she is enjoying her work, how “fun” it was to mingle in the affairs of a country not her own.

That evening, as I drove home, her words haunted me like the night eye in the far away sky. Suddenly, it occurred to me that I, too, want to be an INGO expat living in Haiti. 

Why do I want to be an INGO expat in Haiti?

I want to leave my country in obscurity and land in Haiti an expert: Haitians have so little capacity.

Once here, I would like to make myself at home and wield all decision-making power about staff, projects and budgets.

I would like to come here without having to pretend to speak Creole, or know Haitian laws or care about Haitian sensibilities. I would like to impose, after cursory discussions, whatever practices I saw elsewhere or that I read about, no matter how different things are here. I would like to cut and paste proposals from those places; the important thing is to include a capacity building component.

I would like to be an INGO expat in Haiti because I would like to earn three or four times the salaries (and benefits besides) of Haitians with more knowledge and experience than I, who execute the bulk of the activities. I would like to treat them all as “national staff” and not as professionals deserving salaries based on their work.

I would like to pretend that such a system is justified.

I would like to be an INGO expat in Haiti because I would like to single-source friends and former colleagues, though they have never been here, to conduct local "base-line studies." Even before they land at the airport, I would like to designate a Haitian to meet all of their needs: explain why 1804 is important to the country; arrange logistics and meetings with government officials and “local partners”; translate and help "contextualize" conversations; recommend (perfect) maids, gardeners, drivers, etc. And take them to the grocery store or to the occasional Voodoo ceremony, should they like.

I would like to celebrate “success stories” in glossy reports, gloss over unethical behaviors, and label dreadful mistakes “lessons learned." Alternatively, I would like to blame my Haitian supervisees (they’re seldom supervisors) for all that goes wrong with the projects I designed: things would have gone much better, if only I had had the chance to build their capacity!

I would like to be an INGO expat in Haiti because I would like to attend “aid effectiveness” meetings and workshops to discuss how to “raise awareness” about Haiti’s many, many, many needs, and reject any language about the country’s strengths. I would like to continually call on the government to provide “services” to poor victims, while I spend much of the money given for those very poor on R&Rs and per diems.

I would like to avoid words such as free market, competition, efficiency, investment, risks, creativity, beauty, as applicable to Haiti, and replace them with food for work, rice distributions, t-shelters, clusters—disasters. I would like to dispense with parents and citizens and speak of beneficiaries. I will have to build their capacity.

I would like to be an INGO expat in Haiti because I would like to work in a sector where results matter little, and the art of complicating simple tasks is essential. I would like to pretend that concepts like autonomy or sacrifice or discipline cannot apply to the poor, that their extraordinary potential is a myth.

I would like to socialize with fellow expats at Friday night dinners in my I-could-never-afford-this-back-home house overlooking the city. Together, we can express our disdain for Haitians with middle-class affinities or upper-class means; we can discuss how they are part of the problem, using services and amenities not available to the masses.

In fact, I would like to adopt a "best interest of the poor" standard for Haiti. 

I would like to decide that they are entitled to everything for free. I would like to make sure the ones living in shredded tents on private property not their own understand their “right” to stay there until the government provides lodging elsewhere, complete with “infrastructure.” Such great opportunities for capacity building!

I would like to be an INGO expat in Haiti because I do not mean for my Haitian colleagues to lead. Ever.

After they explain to me the different roles of the President and the Prime Minister, or the basics of the labor code, I would like to circumvent the human resource department's performance evaluation process and decide who is “proactive” or “aggressive.”

I would like to not work with Haitians who flaunt their skills.

I would like to complain about how very hard my life is, while sitting, as usual, at my desk in Port-au-Prince, with fresh organic fruit, real coffee served with real milk and brown sugar.

I would like to tell the world how “complex” the Haitian situation is, located one hour from Miami. I would like to do so while using my wireless laptop on a Saturday afternoon by a pool or a beach, sipping Coke and Haitian rum, wearing flip-flops and flip-floppy clothes.

I would like to flirt with Haitians at will but be uncomfortable and indignant and terrified if one of them should initiate banter.

I would like to be an INGO expat in Haiti because I would love to play demi-god among mortals. I would like to repeat, often, that Haitians are resilient; it's just a matter of capacity building.

My God, but by your grace, who wouldn’t like to be an INGO expat in Haiti?


Cf.: See Judy Brady's "I Want a Wife"

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Defanging American Racism

The George Floyd story has caused much anger and anguish, and I have gone through both. Happily, my personality marches towards solutions whenever faced with pain or fear. It has done so in this case, and peace has come as a result.

The general outlines are clear: within two weeks, the United States saw and presented to the world images of two black men dying violent or barbarous deaths at the hands of white men. One was suspected of using a fraudulent 20-dollar bill, while the other had been jogging. They were both unarmed and outnumbered. Protests ensued, turning violent in certain places. Inexcusably, some protestors of all colors looted stores and businesses.

It’s almost over now. The men involved in those deaths have been arrested and face serious charges. And George Floyd has been buried.

The key question remains: what's next? The answer for me is to share the following with family members and others as feasible.

Let us first define the problem, for we risk looking to false solutions otherwise.

A white American racist says to a black person: “everyone in my racial group is naturally better than your kind. We have more value. You matter less, or not at all.” That attitude is, sadly, utterly human. At the turn of the century, it was the Irish and the Italians; during WWII, it was the Jews; in Rwanda, it was the Hutus against the Tutsis; in France, it was the North Africans; in some circles, it is women, or people with a certain accent. In Haiti, it is non-French speakers, with a splash of colorism on the side. There is something wrong with people. Contrary to what Jesus demands, we don’t love others the same way we love ourselves, especially if they happen to look, sound, or believe differently than we do. My husband says it’s the sin problem.

Racism is not an American invention and is not limited to white Americans. It is a human virus. As much as greed, envy, jealousy, lust, pride. This bears repeating, ‘there is something wrong with people.’

Second, African-Americans are blessed to be Americans. Their birthright places them in a better position than 80% of the world’s population. Around the globe, billions of people of all races would make any sacrifice to live, study, and work in the United States. I wonder if black American citizens give enough weight to that reality. They have contributed so very much to their country’s success!

On the other hand, no one should deny there is systemic racism in the United States. Beyond the rare and dismissible individual racist encounters, there are forces, laws, public policies, and entrenched practices that cause undue and unequal damage to black Americans. The justice system, for one.

A black conservative was explaining that black people commit about 43% of all crimes, although they represent 13% of the population. She spoke as if there was something called “crime” that fell from the sky like rain. But in fact, it is specific groups of (almost all white) people who decide what constitutes a “crime.” It is (almost all white) people who decide whether a crime will be less or more serious. It is (almost all white) people, God help us, who decide the vigor or leniency of prosecutions and sentences. Crimes are a bit like the corona virus: the more you test, the higher the numbers. And in the Unites States, there tends to be much testing of blacks.

For example, hundreds of thousands of black men and women went to prison for many years because of crack-cocaine in the 80’s. Not because they were committing robbery, or theft, or assault and battery, or break-ins, or rape, or murder. But because they were using or carrying crack-cocaine. This did not have to be so! Compare to methamphetamine, so common among certain white groups: where are the parallel draconian, life-destroying statutes?

Racism is human but some of its lethal expressions have been American, from slavery to lynchings to segregated public spaces to the denial of voting rights to “red-lining” of whole neighborhoods to disproportionate prosecutions and sentencing guidelines to not uncommon harassment of black men by police officers. 

Combating injustice will require admitting it exists and is unacceptable.

What should we do?

Let me start with black people. Whether whites are "responsible for the system" or not, we are the ones most affected. So we must act with intentionality. 

The great news is that we can defang much of the racism we are likely to encounter in the United States, blunt its toxicity on our lives. Here are some suggestions, in no order except for the first one.

Foremost, and most of us know this, we must recall we are God’s beloved children. Can anyone imagine someone attacking Ivanka Trump? And who is Donald Trump before God? God is our Father. Full stop. Let us then anchor our strength and confidence in that truth. No one is beyond His power. Not presidents or police unions or legislators or mayors or skin heads or prosecutors or judges or juries or bankers or human resource managers or classmates or average fellow citizens. We must turn to Him. 

Other things we can do: along with general lawful conduct, we can becoming financially astute: maintain good credit rating, start saving money early, learn about the stock market, etc. We can develop stable residence and work histories. We can study impressive historical or current figures, and not just black heroes: what do their biographies teach us about courage, personal discipline, excellence; outsmarting enemies; shaping public perception; forming happy families; building wealth; practicing healthy habits, etc. We can document and report suspected cases of police misconduct. We can dress the part (for the positions we want). We can learn a difficult foreign langue, like Arabic. We can go on learning tours to both wealthy and less developed countries. We can delay becoming sexually active and decide to marry before having babies. We can, in black homes, churches, businesses, schools, offer continuous training, especially to the young, on proper conduct when confronted with police officers. We can help create pro-bono legal centers throughout the country where people can call for immediate assistance (call it “1-800-justice” or “the other 9-1-1”). We can vote. We can give thanks regularly for being alive in the age of Oprah and Barak Obama.

How would black life change then? 

And now, for white folks of good faith who wish to take on the cause of justice. First, take personal stock: how white is your circle? Really. If you live in a state with a meaningful percentage of African Americans (Alabama vs. North Dakota, let’s say), are you close enough to know each other’s home? Were there African American guests at your daughter’s nuptials? Any of the wedding party? How about your church? How do your friends talk about black people when we're not around?

Second, and more importantly, the attitude of politicians towards your fellow Americans, does that matter to you, especially those you support? No excuses allowed. Please do not say, “oh, he didn’t mean anything ugly by it; I really think he has a good heart.” If he walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, you should not call it a butterfly. Hold local, state, and national politicians accountable for the attitude displayed towards African Americans. I believe this is the most concrete, helpful thing whites can do.

There is also the matter of back-pay. Some time soon or not soon, the United States of America will have to recognize they owe a lot of money to heirs of slaves, for their extraordinary contributions to American wealth: millions of unpaid hours of bone-breaking labor. Oh, yes, there is a sizable, quantifiable debt to be paid. But that discussion is for another day.