Below is a 2019 presentation paper from our KU Haitian advisor for KC Haiti Symposium, Cécile Accilien, Ph.D.
Director of the Institute of Haitian Studies The University of Kansas. She has taken a new position at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. We will miss her, but hope to stay connected.
“Building Respectful, Organic and True Collaboration with Haitians in Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora”
(Mèsi anpil, thank you to all of you for being here and a special thanks to Janice for all her work organizing this symposium)
Warning: As a professor my role is to help students think critically, to challenge them, to learn from them and to be challenged. I ask you to indulge me as I bring this role into today’s presentation.
1. Avoid the “industrial savior complex” (often referred to as “the white savior complex” or Savior Barbie. The white savior complex is defined in the following terms: “Western people going to “fix” the problems of struggling nations or people of color without understanding their history, needs or current state of affairs”. This includes being mindful when you photograph people and how you represent them in your social media accounts that you share with your family and friends.
2. Learn about the community where you plan on doing work; do your homework, learn about the people, their needs and what you can really offer in a sustainable manner; work with local people in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora who are working to better their communities and support them. Ask them what they need from you. Don’t assume you know better than the people who live in the community. That is not collaboration, that is arrogance and neo-colonization. [Ex: you may not be helping people if instead of hiring local people to do certain jobs such as welding you bring someone from the states and not putting money and resources back into that community].
3. Be mindful of your own positionally and think about the power dynamics between you or your organization and the local community. Do not come as the local heroes/heroines who go to save the community for a few days, weeks or months and then leave the community with false hope.
4. Compassion is good but do not confuse compassion with unrealistic feel good liberalism and heroism; check out your privileges.
5. Avoid the “Gospels of Goods”: many people become pastors because they think that that will give them access to material goods and have a Western type lifestyle; many Christian organizations use their wealth to control people and manipulate them into being saved. I witnessed that first hand in Haiti. You get a Bible and a bag of rice together. This is not ethical, respectful, caring, compassionate nor loving.
6. Be conscious of your own bias, stereotypes and prejudices and avoid microaggressions (microaggressions: a statement, action or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized groups; Examples: Are you sure you are really a professor? Maybe you are a GTA?) [About a decade ago I wrote an article titled “Congratulations, you don’t Look Haitian”] and in there I described some of the micro-aggressions I dealt with when people would “congratulate” me when they found out I was from Haiti and was a professor].
7. Do not be afraid to be vulnerable and accept that you are going into a space where you may be one of the only or the only white person. This demands humility, self-awareness and compassion. Many of us navigate the world daily where we are one of the only one or the only one. I tell my students that encountering other cultures is one of the most humbling and life-changing experience they will never have. Collaborating with others meaningfully demands respect, self-awareness, compassion, open-mindedness and care!
The Gospel of Trees: A Memoir by Apricot Irving (an insightful and powerful memoir that explores the challenges and consequences of missionaries who are well
meaning but unaware). Full-disclaimer: Apricot is a former student of mine and I have read many drafts of the novel and have participated a bit in its birth.
Ayiti, mon Amour by Guetty Felin (Film available on Amazon) Mèsi!!! MÈSI!!!! Thank you!