On Wednesday, televangelist Pat Robertson made a tragic situation worse by suggesting that Tuesday's devastating earthquake in Haiti is evidence that the small Black nation has been "cursed" for making what the minister calls "a pact with the devil."
A spokesman for the conservative minister tried to clean Robertson's comments up by explaining that the minister believes rituals associated with the Voodoo — or vodou — belief system were practiced before the Haitian revolution led to the end of French rule in the nation once called Santo Domingo.
As Robertson tells it, oppressed Black Haitians "got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.' True story. And so, the devil said, 'OK it's a deal.'"
Keep in mind that this is the same ecumenical leader who suggested that the September 11 terrorist attack was God's way of punishing Americans for legalizing gay marriage and abortion and that Hurricane Katrina was a message from Heaven that the Big Easy needed to change its heathenish and hedonistic ways.
Is it any wonder why so many white Christians find it difficult to deal with the issue of racism or the idea of America electing a Black president?
Isn't it amazing that it took the devil to free Blacks in Santo Domingo from oppression, but it was God who led American colonists and French revolutionaries to say, "Give me liberty or give me death"?
The God Pat Robertson professes to serve appears to have an insatiable hunger for wrath, anger and vengeance and very little patience, compassion or tolerance for those who disagree.
Fresh out of a hospital with his own health issues, conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh did his part to appeal to white racists by criticizing efforts by the Obama administration and others to encourage contributions to aid in Haiti's relief. "We've already donated to Haiti," he said last week. "It's called the U.S. income tax."
Limbaugh added that this latest Haitian crisis was "made to order" for President Barack Obama who could use it to score points with "both light-skinned and Black-skinned" African Americans.
All of this just in time for the observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday. My, how far we've come since the days of night riders and lynch mobs.
What was the real sin to which Pat Robertson referred?
Was it being Black, poor and oppressed? Could it have been this proud but impoverished Black nation in the Western Hemisphere's possession of the audacity of hope? Or could it have been something much more sinister, like Haiti's Black ancestors' thirst and hunger for freedom?
If whites like Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh can't forgive Haiti for seizing its freedom by any means necessary, they must be really upset about the French and American revolutions, both of which were no less bloody or violent than Haiti's uprising. What it boils down to is the refusal by some to recognize the humanity of Black people and their God-given, inalienable right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Toussaint L'Ouverture addressed this contradiction when he said, "I was born a slave, but nature gave me a soul of a free man...."
Many have argued that Western Powers — France and the United States in particular — have never forgiven Haiti for successfully rising up and overthrowing white oppression more than 200 years ago.
That revolution, led by the great freedom fighter Toussaint L'Ouverture, paved the way for a number of revolts in North America by enslaved Africans on plantations across the south. Enslaved Africans in Louisiana, Virginia and other states were inspired by stories of Black freedom fighters throwing off the yoke of oppression to establish the first free Black nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Word of their courage and heroics spread like wildfire after white and mixed-race plantation owners fled to cities like New Orleans to avoid the wrath of the oppressed.
More than two centuries later, France still hadn't gotten over Haiti's victory, requiring the impoverished nation to pay it 90 million gold francs in 2003 before it would even acknowledge Haiti's independence.
The Unites States, a major ally of France, has stood by and did very little to right the historical wrongs committed by France against Haiti and has refused to show Haitian immigrants the kind of compassion and protection it routinely shows Cubans and others seeking political refuge in the U.S.
Even though he was able to eventually capture and kill Toussaint L'Ouverture, Napoleon Bonaparte never could extinguish the revolutionary fires the Black freedom fighter ignited in Haiti. Shortly before his death, L'Ouverture said, "In overthrowing me, you have done no more than cut down the trunk of the tree of the Black liberty in St. Domingue. It will spring back from the roots, for they are numerous and deep."
As we reflect on the importance of the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday, let us remember that freedom has never been free and that millions have fought, marched, bled and died for the rights we sometimes take for granted today.
We must use our voices to demand that Haiti receive fair treatment in the global village and that the United States does everything in its power to assist Haiti in its efforts to recover not only from last week's tragic earthquake, but also from more than two centuries of being shunned, mistreated and neglected for daring to do whatever was required to achieve its independence.
Haiti deserves to not only receive aid from other free nations around the world, but also to be treated as an equal by the most powerful nations of the world.
We must all do our part to aid Haiti by not only telling our elected officials that we expect them to do whatever they can to ease the suffering of Haitians, but also to ensure that Haiti is treated fairly by the United Nations and other groups committed to protecting human rights across the globe.
Edmund W. Lewis is a contributing writer for The Louisiana Weekly.
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