Friday, November 21, 2008

An Open Letter to Obama from Alice Walker

Nov. 5, 2008
Dear Brother Obama,
You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us. Us being the black people of the Southern United States. You think you know, because you are thoughtful, and you have studied our history. But seeing you deliver the torch so many others before you carried, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, only to be struck down before igniting the flame of justice and of law, is almost more than the heart can bear. And yet, this observation is not intended to burden you, for you are of a different time, and, indeed, because of all the relay runners before you, North America is a different place. It is really only to say: Well done.

We knew, through all the generations, that you were with us, in us, the best of the spirit of Africa and of the Americas. Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength. Seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about.I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance.

A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters. And so on. One gathers that your family is large.

We are used to seeing men in the White House soon become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate. One way of thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is all that so many people in the world really want. They may buy endless cars and houses and furs and gobble up all the attention and space they can manage, or barely manage, but this is because it is not yet clear to them that success is truly an inside job. That it is within the reach of almost everyone.

I would further advise you not to take on other people's enemies. Most damage that others do to us is out of fear, humiliation and pain. Those feelings occur in all of us, not just in those of us who profess a certain religious or racial devotion. We must learn actually not to have enemies, but only confused adversaries who are ourselves in disguise.

It is understood by all that you are commander in chief of the United States and are sworn to protect our beloved country; this we understand, completely. However, as my mother used to say, quoting a Bible with which I often fought, "hate the sin, but love the sinner."

There must be no more crushing of whole communities, no more torture, no more dehumanizing as a means of ruling a people's spirit. This has already happened to people of color, poor people, women, children. We see where this leads, where it has led.

A good model of how to "work with the enemy" internally is presented by the Dalai Lama, in his endless caretaking of his soul as he confronts the Chinese government that invaded Tibet. Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies.

And your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.We are the ones we have been waiting for.

In Peace and Joy,Alice Walker
© 2008, Alice Walker

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Media Relations

HAITI-DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Media Unites to Fight Stereotypes

By Elizabeth Eames Roebling
PEDERNALES, Dominican Republic, Nov 18 (IPS) -

The contrast between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola, is nowhere so stark as on its common border.Pedernales, in the remote southwest desert, is poor by comparison to the rest of the Dominican Republic. Nevertheless, it has continuous electricity without the blackouts that often plague the rest of the country. It has a regular supply of running water and well ordered, paved streets with solid concrete houses. Across the river in Haiti, Anse-a-Pitre has no paved roads, and only a few wells. Only the small barber shop with a solar panel and the small hotel with a generator have electricity. Fishing boats with large outboards line the rocky beach on the Dominican side while in Haiti, only one of the few dozen boats has a motor, the others must fish under sail.

It is easy for citizens of a country which has running water, electricity, gas stoves and plentiful food to assume that they are superior to citizens of a nation that does not have these modern conveniences.

"I do not blame Dominicans who hold negative views of Haitians since that is how they were taught since they were young," said Giselda Liberato, coordinator of Intercultural Programmes for the development agency Plan International. "We were told terrible things. We were told that they were savages, even that they were cannibals. So it is not the fault of Dominicans who have been misinformed."

"Many Dominicans do not have an opportunity to meet people of a high level of education. They do not meet their peers. We wanted Dominican journalists to meet Haitian journalists who are at the same level of education, so that they can meet one another as professionals," she told IPS.

With help from Plan International, six Dominican journalists who run as volunteers recently organised a three-day meeting of Haitian and Dominican journalists. Their website carries news articles from both Haitian and Dominican news sources translated respectively into Spanish and French in order to promote better cross-cultural understanding.

The Nov. 14-16 meeting drew 50 representatives from newspapers, radio and television -- 25 Haitians and 25 Dominicans. All agreed to work towards better understanding between the two nations, draw the attention of their respective governments to the needs of the border region, and focus on specific human rights violations rather than allowing individual aggressions to escalate into disputes between their two nations. A group of eight media representatives was selected to form an ongoing network, the "Dominican-Haitian Binational Press Network."

Liberato is a rare Dominican so fluent in Kreyole that she was able to serve as translator for the event. She said that PLAN supported the project to give Dominican journalists an opportunity to meet their peers from the Haitian press, to perhaps help counteract some of the negative images of Haitians held by Dominicans, and vice versa.

Ruben Silie, sociologist and former general secretary of the Association of Caribbean States, explained to the group the history of the island from the discovery by Columbus to the present day. When questioned particularly about why Dominicans do not identify themselves with any African heritage despite the obvious racial characteristics in their appearances, Silie explained: "Under Trujillo, the history books were written to eliminate all mention of slavery. The people were told that they were descendants of Spanish colonists and Indians."

The information caused a stir among the Haitians in the room. Marie Keetie Louis, a Haitian interpreter who lives in Santo Domingo, said, "But they were taught a lie. That explains so much about them."

Jose Seruelle, ambassador from the Dominican Republic to Haiti responded: "One must remember that Trujillo was a fascist dictator, that he used the issue of Haitians for his own benefit. He did this to maintain himself, as a pretext to combat his opponents, his Dominican opponents. There was always the pretext of the blacks, the Haitians, who had to be put out of the country. But it should be remembered that this same Trujillo used the Haitian workers to exploit them and to enrich himself. There was hypocrisy there."

"But in the interior of the Dominican soul, there is no racism," Seruelle added. ¨There is a racism that is present at the level of the schools, but this is fought more and more by the Dominican people and by the Dominican government because the Dominican government does not accept racism."

"President Fernandez is a man who is anti-racist. He does not accept racism or discrimination on the basis of religion or the colour of the skin because we a people who are truly diverse, We have blacks, whites, people who come from Arab countries, from European countries, the United States, Canada, Cuba, Caribbean, how then, could we be racist? It is not possible. This is not the Dominican mentality. It is true that there are some historic events that have been badly explained. We must try to understand one another better."

"If two people respect one another, they will get along. We are two people, the Dominicans and the Haitians, who are married to one another, in the sense that we share the same island, a common history, and a shared ecosystem. We must respect one another. We must preserve our island, we must love it," he said. (END/2008)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC-US: Exorcising the Ghosts of SlaveryBy Elizabeth Eames Roebling

On the island where the African slave trade was first introduced to the western hemisphere in 1520, the United States embassy in Santo Domingo hosted more than 1,000 people to view the possible election of the son of an African to the U.S. presidency.While the current ambassador, Robert Fannin, is from Arizona and a close friend of Republican Sen. John McCain, there was a clear pro-Barack Obama sentiment in the room.

At the entrance to the elegant Jaragua Hotel, Dominicans could cast mock ballots for either Obama or McCain and have their photographs taken next to cardboard cutouts of the candidates. The gathering reflected the skin tones of the Dominican Republic, whose population is described as 15 percent white, 15 percent black, and 70 percent mixed race. For Dominicans themselves, the issue of race and skin colour is more subtle than the simple "black-white" line in the United States, with six different shades of skin tones, including "blond", "wheat", "indian" and "negro (black)". Few Dominicans self-identify as "negro" or celebrate any historic relationship to Africa. The majority refer to themselves as "indians" despite the fact that historians estimate that the indigenous Taino Indian population fell from over 400,000 to less than 3,000 within the first 30 years of Spanish domination.

The Dominican Republic has been accused of racism against Haitians, both by human rights activists and representatives of the United Nations. However, most Dominicans insist that any animosity is not based on race but on nationalism. The Dominican Republic celebrates its independence from Haiti, which it won in 1844 after 22 years of occupation. The differences between the two nations are much deeper than racial tones and encompass respective preferences for soccer and baseball, as well language and culture. Nevertheless, last year the U.S. embassy issued a directive that none of its employees could patronise two of the upscale discotheques in the capital which had denied entrance to several African-American embassy employees. Subtle reminders of racism are evident in most Dominican women's hairstyle, straight and long like Indians, referred to as "good hair", not curly like Africans, called "bad hair". Hidden racial tag lines in job advertising, such as "good presence", indicate a national preference, reflecting both the larger regional and global preference, for whiter skin.

Ramon Martinez Portorreal, trade ambassador to Eastern Europe, who attended college at Columbia University in New York and whose own skin tone is darker than Obama's, discounted the issue of race both inside the United States and for Dominicans. "I think that the black-white issue was one for the 1960s. Today the issue is the economy, just that. I think the U.S. needs closer relations with the Caribbean in general, not just the Dominican Republic. We need closer relations with the United States -- both political and business relations -- and I think that Obama will be better for that." "I have family in the United States, as do many Dominicans," he said. "This country receives a lot of money from the United States, both in trade and in money that is sent home." Remittances from Dominicans who live abroad usually account for 10-12 percent of the annual GDP. Although there are Dominicans in many European countries, primarily Spain, the majority of the Dominican diaspora, of 800,000 to one million people, live in the United States, concentrated around greater New York City, Lawrence, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island.

Predicting that the majority of Dominicans would vote for Obama, Jedeon Santor, who serves as a governmental advisor on Central America, observed: "Dominicans feel more comfortable with the Democrats in power. The Democrats have more tolerance, both for immigrants, racial minorities, and cultural differences."

"Latinos also believe that when the Democrats come into power, they grow the economy from below, increasing incentives, lowering taxes, and better redistributing the wealth, more aid goes to immigrants and minorities," Santor said. He noted that this is a contradiction for Dominicans since the Dominican Republic was twice invaded and occupied by Democratic U.S. presidents, first from 1916-1924 under Woodrow Wilson and then again briefly in 1965 under Lyndon Johnson. A group of police officials said that they had been invited to learn about the U.S. electoral process. One of them said: "There is a feeling in people to imitate the positive in the United States. So this shows us that things are possible and that the democratic system works. This shows that the democratic system holds the key to resolve our differences, that the people can simply vote. This is a very important lesson." He noted that the electoral process is different in the United States than here in the Dominican Republic. While this nation has had five different presidents in the past 44 years, one of them, Joaquin Balaguer, served for 24 years.

The ambassador from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, Fritz Cenas, was also in attendance. "I cannot speak officially as the ambassador, since in that post I represent the government," he said. "And of course, the government of Haiti will work with any American president who is elected. But personally, I can say that I support Obama."

"However, I can say that historically for Haiti, as the world's first independent Black nation, the fact that the United States may have a Black president is thrilling to us," he added.

The results of the mock vote were announced even before the state of Ohio was called for Obama. There was one write-in vote for actor Jack Nicholson, two for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, three for Hillary Clinton, 53 votes cast for John McCain and 448 for Barack Obama.