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Haiti / Afro-descendants: Getting out of the mental chain maintained by clichés

17 February 2020
Professor Jacques Michel Gourgue in conference on mental and colonial stereotypes in Haitian textbooks

Port-au-Prince, February 17, 2020 --- At the initiative of the Citizen Movement for the Decade of Afro-descendants, professor and researcher Jacques Michel Gourgue delivered on February 13, 2020, in Port-au-Prince, a conference around the theme “Mental and colonial stereotypes in Haitian textbooks” treated in his most recent book.

After having carefully analyzed the contents of about twenty social science textbooks from the second year of primary school to the third grade of high school, the former Secretary General of the State University of Haiti called for the rewriting of the history of Haiti and a cultural revolution to get the country out of the mental chain. According to him, the concept of race, very present in the said manuals, is the starting point of this mental chain. This notion is an intellectual construction and a result of modernity, he added.

Besides the term race, Jacques Michel Gourgue has noted in the textbooks in use several other terms and expressions which legitimize the domination of certain groups to the detriment of others. Civilized, semi-civilized, rudimentary or very advanced civilization, African heritage versus French heritage, modern cities of Europeans versus thatched cottages of the native, primitive, savage are among these clichés.

The speaker calls to decolonize all the perspectives of knowledge in order to get out of this coloniality. Coloniality refers to a theory (Modernity / Coloniality) developed by a group of Latin American intellectuals which theory highlights an overlap between racism and capitalism notably through the racialization of work.

According to Jacques Michel Gourgue, “this decolonization passes by the decentralization of the zero point so that the place of enunciation of knowledge is no longer European-American, but that it is found in other subordinate places recognized as producers of knowledge, new indigenous discourses on and for an “indi-endogenous” development showing the diversity of solutions to problems”. The zero point refers to a Eurocentric vision which delegitimizes all forms of knowledge other than those produced by modern Western science, according to the authors of the decolonial option.

This conference which was attended by several intellectuals, researchers and students, is part of a vast action program that the Citizen Movement intends to implement for the Decade of Afro-descendants throughout this year, in particular to strengthen Haitian identity and highlight the contributions of Haiti to the construction of a fairer and more fraternal world. Among these activities is a week of the decade to be held in Port-au-Prince.

With the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, the Citizen Movement and several other civil society organizations participated on January 16 and 17, in San Juan de la Maguana, in the Dominican Republic, in a high-level binational meeting. This meeting was intended to position Haiti and the Dominican Republic within the Decade of People of African Descent by highlighting the particularities of this heritage in each country.

Texte et Photo: Vario Sérant