As much as I would have liked to ignore what’s going on around me, this is something that caught my attention not so much because of what was said — but moreso because of the widespread reaction as a result.
On Friday morning, I got a text from a few of my Haitian comrades stating that Rosenberg of the HOT97 morning show had made a statement to the tune of “I’m HIV Negative because I don’t mess with Haitian Girls.” I’ve worked in radio too long to believe these kinds of things at face value. I’d worked at HOT97 too long to believe everything that came across my blackberry or email. I asked my friend if SHE actually heard him say this. She responded, “No, but 3 of her friends heard it and wrote to her immediately.” After making a few calls and asking some well placed questions, the truth came out that something was indeed said – by Cipha Sounds, not Rosenberg. Here’s exactly what went down in that few seconds. K. Foxx was talking about a benefit she attended where they introduced Sir Richard Branson’s new condom, designed to bring awareness and stop the spread of AIDS in Haiti and that she brought them some of the condoms from this function. A quick chuckle and under his breath (but into the microphone) Cipha quips (this is the actual quote people…) “Well, I don’t mess with Haitian girls, so I’m fine”. Immediately his co-hosts reprimand him for being disrespectful, Rosenberg makes a joke about the condoms themselves and everyone moves on.
Now, having worked there for many years and having interacted with Cipha Sounds, I know that he was just doing what he thinks he does best – being the class clown. What he doesn’t realize is how very old and painful a wound he stuck his salty finger in and twisted in that moment. So in case you’re reading, Ciph – here’s why my people are seriously enraged at what seems to only have been “a one-liner”.
Flash back to the 1980s (I’ll do a truncated version because I know how the attention span can go pretty quickly). AIDS awareness is on the rise and is striking fear in many a good red blooded American’s heart. They’re trying to pin the blame for AIDS wherever they can find it. And it seems most logical to pin the source and nexus of the disease on the places that seem to be most heavily affected. Back then, various countries in Africa and my dear homeland, Haiti. It was widespread in the news and media that these were the places to place blame for this scourge ravaging our planet (oh, and Gays. right). Well – who doesn’t believe what’s in the media? Or at least – how much less was it questioned back then. In 1989, I attended St. Francis Preparatory HS (GO TERRIERS) and there was a massive blood drive. 13 years old and excited to do something to help my fellow man, I had my parents sign off on the permission slip and marched proudly into the auditorium where they had me fill out another form before sitting down to submit my donation. The form, in triplicate was about 8 1/2 x 14, mostly demographic information and 2/3rds of the way down the page there was a section that stated “Ethnicity”. First question in that section: “Are you of Haitian Decent?” Me, back then? I PROUDLY checked off “YES”. I was never NOT proud of my heritage. But I was also a little slow on the draw. When I finally got up to the nurses they shared every reason with me why I shouldn’t give blood. “Oh… it looks like you’re coming down with a cold.” “Your blood iron is a little low.” “You seem like you’re feeling under the weather, maybe you should sit this one out.” I almost thought nothing of it until my friend Jean came and told me they said the same thing to him… and a handful of other Nouveau Haitians (1st Gen American Born) stated they got the run around too. Then it made sense to me. We had been “profiled” by that little question on the form. It was so ingrained in the masses minds that we were to blame that it had made it on to a form that designates willful giving to help save lives. I was so hurt, I vowed NEVER to donate blood in this country ever again.
In another instance in my life that burns this sentiment deep in my heart, walking into my building one day, I saw a man talking to someone outside before entering the building. I caught a hint of a familiar accent, but I’d never seen this particular man before. The Haitians in my building were all “family” – everyone watched each others kids. As far as we were concerned, all the kids were “cousins” and the moms and dads were “aunts” and “uncles”. I figured he was coming up to see one of our families. We both got into the elevator alone and as the doors closed, I asked him shyly and with respect “Hello sir, are you Haitian?” His reaction will never leave me. He started to back into the corner…. as if I was going to do something to him. I had to quickly allay his fear, “No, no no…. I’m Haitian too…. I heard your accent…” Immediate relief washed over him and he said ‘Yes! yes I am! Oh, wonderful – where are your parents from, do you speak Kreyol…. ” all the regular parts of the conversations between countrymen.
We weren’t always on Eastern Parkway waving our blue and red on Labor Day (think about it – those of you who’ve been around long enough). For a VERY long time, Haitians on a whole were ASHAMED because what the media had pinned on us and we kept to ourselves. I hate to hear that Haitians only come out now because Wyclef made it cool to be Haitian. We come out now because America’s memory of the pain they inflict is a short term one. And we were finally allowed to just live and be proud of who we are and where we came from.
My post is not directed at Cipha, really. I don’t agree with what he said, but I also don’t believe that he understood the magnitude. My post is more so to those who have reacted with “It was just a joke, get over it.” My question to them is – then when is enough enough? At what point do a people rally against insult and injury? When they start to stone us in the streets? Burn our houses? Bomb our land? Then? Then is it alright to rally together to tell the world, “HEY – STOP IT. WE ARE A PROUD PEOPLE and will NOT stand for your slander.” No. I think this is enough for us to be angry. And now, those of you who read my blog know why. Especially after the year we’ve had. Truly in poor taste to kick a people while they’re down. But… some places have a history of that.