Monday, December 12, 2005

A Quiet Sunday Evening With A Hard Question:

While eating supper, we heard scattered gunshots all around the hotel, which is scary but not as scary as the heavy artillery sound of automatic weapons. We could also see some small fires burning in the mountains around Port-au-Prince. John asked one of the waiters about the gunshots. “It’s probably just people shooting their guns in the air,” said Eduardo. John whispered to me, “I think the waiters are told to tell the guests that so they don’t get scared.”

As the gunshots continued, John went down to talk to the guard. Normally, the entryway to the hotel parking lot closes at 10 pm. Tonight, though, the guard had slid closed the heavy metal doors about 4 hours early. When John returned he reported to me that the guard doesn’t have a weapon—is a gunless guard an oxymoron?—and that he didn’t seem particularly scared by the gunfire, though they both jumped when they heard a shot that seemed as close by as one of the crowing roosters. The guard told him that the big, muscular grandsons of the owner of the hotel, who are in their mid-20’s, have military guns. “They wouldn’t hesitate to mow the bad guys down,” said John.

I continued working on the computer for awhile, and John went down to the hotel room. When I joined him and Jackson, they were watching “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” I remember what a TV event that show was when it first aired in 1973—the greatest made for television movie ever. “This is really good,” said John, as Cicely Tyson in the title role and the entire cast bring alive the history and injustice of American’s “racial relations” from the lynchings of the Reconstruction era to the hard start of the modern Civil Rights movement.

Watching this movie in Haiti adds to its relevance and poignancy, especially watching it with one of the descendents of Haitian slaves. Perhaps no where in the new world were slaves treated as cruelly as in Haiti. They were killed in such numbers that the birth rate didn’t keep up with the death rate, and a new supply had to be constantly kidnapped from Africa. Today, no country more than Haiti, with its scandalous poverty rooted in past and present exploitation, embodies the poor treatment of people of color by whites.

“The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” contains violent scenes, including one where a white Louisianian shoots a black man who has been advocating for his people's rights. After watching this, Jackson asked John a question prompted by the movie and also, I’m sure, his own experiences, “Why don’t white people like black people?” John gave the only answer he could: “I don’t know.”

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