Maafa – the Catastrophe part II
“When there is anguish in Port au Prince
It’s still Africa crying
We are outing fires in far away places
When our neighbours are just burning.
They say the Middle Passage is gone
So how come overcrowded boats still haunt our lives?
I refuse to believe that we good people
Will forever turn our hearts
And our eyes…away… ”
– excerpt from Haiti, I’m Sorry by David Michael Rudder
The words of our poet/ griot/ calypsonian, David Michael Rudder, echoed through my head as once again, graphic images of human suffering shocked and distressed me in a classroom environment. I was simply unprepared to see what I saw or feel what stirred inside of me. Once again, I was devastated by needless pain and suffering. I looked at the brown-skinned, wooly-headed people who were echoes of me and my own countrymen and I felt the distance between their tragedy and my first-world reality contract to nothingness. It was a painful reinforcement of the emotions that Delia’s image had evoked in me, an echo of a dreadful past that remains relevant regardless of whether or not we choose to examine it. Several of my peers queried my strong and immediate reaction to the footage from the aftermath of the earthquake, so I sought to create a channel through which my perception of the event could be understood.
I lost myself in the calypso, again and again, asking if it’s truly over, why does it seem to be a continuation of the same story?
I pieced together images of refugees risking their lives on dangerous vessels to arrive on the shores of a wealthier, if hostile, nation, unwelcoming to these children of poverty and misfortune. I linked them with the pictures of my and their ancestors crossing the same ocean only to meet an ordeal worse than the crossing. One journey voluntary, one involuntary. The same myriad of Black faces, filled with despair and marked by anonymity, the hungry ocean transporting or swallowing another generation of dark-skinned immigrants. I masked-in the red and blue and the proud coat of arms of the Haitian flag; the jail and the keyhole; the problem and the solution. I imagined Dessalines ripping the white out of the French flag and declaring a liberated Haiti, the first Black Republic of the new world. I thought of Toussaint rallying his army to defeat the legendary troops of Napoleon. I wanted to share in the pride and significance of the first defeat of slavery. I wanted to tell the story of the the blind eye the world turned as Haiti was economically isolated and forced into debt, the price for that audacious, historic victory. I tried to explain just why it hurt so much today that it was Haiti that was hit so terribly. I made a picture, blue and red, filled with sadness and anger.