I’m gonna guess that her response was to karate-chop said woman in the throat. Or at least she thought about it. That’s how I always want to respond to those Upworthy article titles.
Welcome back to another edition of “When smart people say dumb/ignorant things.” This week, let’s explore a personal favorite of mine: “Ignorant things people say about my country.”
In high school, I remember telling someone that I was from Haiti and she responded with “That’s in Africa, right?”. I didn’t hold it against her because a) we were in high school and b) the American education system isn’t exactly known for teaching kids basic geography.
Case and Point:
Poor thing was set up to fail.
Plus, it doesn’t help that “the Iraq” has been stealing maps, which is why people don’t have maps.
She also made a valid point about the “Asian countries”. The “Asian countries” (she didn’t mention any specific ones, so we’re going with all of Asia) really need our help. They are like that 1 kid who skews the curve and they need the U.S to let them know what’s up. So Mr. President, we need a task force to inform the Asian countries to stop scoring above the 50th percentile and help the U.S out. Who needs math and reading anyways?
Then I went to college and still got some of those same comments. Again you make excuses. “You’re practically still a child in college” or “People are not expected to know on which continent every single country is located“. It wasn’t their fault that they were baffled that there was a Caribbean Club (CC) and African Student Organization (ASO). After all, same difference right?
It didn’t really help the confusion that most of the people who were apart of the CC, were also apart of the ASO. I know it was hard to imagine that there was a limited amount of Brown-skinned people, which created a lot of overlap. So again, my “sincere” apologies! We should have recruited more POCs (because you know, if they wanted to come to college, they would) and helped clear up the extremely confusing differences between the
continent country of Africa and the Caribbean Jamaica.
Then I went to grad school/entered the work force. At this point, I was excited. We’ve had 2 stages of learning at this point, entering a 3rd (or 4th or 5th) for some folks. This was going to be good. People were going to be more aware…
Boy was I wrong! I mean, they knew that Haiti wasn’t in Africa, so that was a step up. But professors would make such ignorant comments in class that people would literally turn around to look at my reaction. Some people LOVED to talk about these “sad, poor countries”, so Haiti was among the favorites. They would tell you about the 3 times they visited, repeat the 3 words they learned and try to convince you that they knew the country better than you did.
Hum…I see your “I’m only here for my education. That’s my home” and I raise you “Dude, once on a cruise, we went there and I got off the boat.” You’re right sir. That pretty much makes you fit to run for president.
And then things like this happen.
I was standing at the bus stop with one of my co-workers in December. (This was right before the holiday season and I spent the entire month of December telling anyone within earshot that I was going home for the Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/New Year festivities) As we’re waiting for the bus in awkward silence, she turns to me and starts trying to make small talk.
–So you’re going to Haiti for Christmas?
–Yes, I’m really excited. I can’t wait to get away from here and be home with friends and family.
–Oh! You have family there?
–Yes, my parents live in Haiti. I grew up there.
–So, like, do they live in a tent?
Let’s dissect this for a second. Let’s assume the last thing she heard about Haiti was the earthquake. 5 YEARS AGO, but still we’ll let it slide. In what world does this scenario make sense?
– Working girl with an apartment in Los Angeles, buys expensive plane ticket to live in a tent for 2 weeks.
Maybe she thought this was a camping-like situation and I was going to be one with the leaves and trees for 2 weeks. Maybe communicate with the ancestors and burn some incense.
I wanted to tell her:
Or play along and say “Yep. We’re all gonna sleep in the tent. And then at night, I actually turn into a fire-breathing tortoise. I make the sure the fire stays lit all night. My brother is a water-spouting cricket and he makes sure that there’s plenty of water when we wake up. My father is a dragon but he broke one of this wings. My mom is half-vampire/quarter-cricket and 1/16th Native American. It’s always such a good time when we all get together. Except when I forget that my brother is the cricket and I try to eat him. That can make family dinners pretty awkward the next day”
Alas I didn’t. I recomposed myself and took on the designated role of “Educator of Black and Black-adjacent things” that most of us Black folk have had to play from time to time. I’m actually thinking about buying a Merlin-like robe so I can look like some old wise wizard when I need to drop some knowledge on people.
This time, I awkwardly smiled and told her that I would be staying in a house.
Here’s the thing. She’s not completely to blame for her ignorance (although take note ladies and gentlemen, there is such a thing as a dumb question sometimes). The media portrayal of Haiti (or any impoverished country) is not favorable. The dominant narrative is “mud pies, trash-filled streets and beggars” and for just 35 cents a day, you can make a difference.
And yes, that is part of the narrative. I can’t write that there’s absolutely no poverty because that would be a lie. The poverty is overwhelming and disproportional.
But that’s not the entire narrative. There are natural resources, touristic attractions and (I know y’all don’t want to hear this) material wealth. Failing to understand the differences in lived experience and opportunity, continues to create ineffective policies and aid-dependent countries crippled by paternalistic approaches to foreign affairs.
So stop creating another generation of ignorant people, U.S.A.
We’re tired of checkin’ em. Unless you’ll let us claim that on our tax returns as community service. Then we could probably work something out.