Judie Yuill: Reaction today to President Trump reportedly using vulgar language with regard to Haiti and countries in Africa. With us on the line to discuss how Haitians and others are reacting to the president's alleged description of their countries is Prof. Regine Michelle Jean-Charles. She is a professor at Boston College focusing on Francophone and African-Caribbean literature and culture. She is Haitian-American, and she teaches classes on Haiti. Thank you for joining us Prof. Jean-Charles.
Regine MichelleâÂÂ Jean-Charles: Thank you so much for having me.
Yuill: So how did it hit you when you first heard reports of the president's words?
Jean-Charles: I was quite frankly disgusted, but not shocked. I was disgusted because it's just so graphic, and it's very insulting and degrading. I wasn't shocked because, unfortunately, this president has a history of making very vile remarks about specific groups of people.
Yuill: Have you spoken with fellow Haitian-Americans and Haitians about this? I mean what are you hearing from them?
Jean-Charles: Oh I have. You know, my parents live in Haiti, and I actually spoke to my dad this morning. He was very upset as well, but he was also unsurprised. You know, he kept saying that this president is ignorant. And then of course I'm very active on social media, and so a lot of my friends — other Haitian scholars both in Haiti outside of Haiti — have been commenting all day. And you know, the thing that is really hard about this is today is the eighth anniversary of the earthquake, and so on a day when we should be commemorating our dead, a day when we should be trying to honor the memory of those who we lost on that day and thinking about ways for us to progress in the future that this is something that's taken up a lot of space.
Yuill: You know, for I think for many people it's not just the word itself that is troubling some. It was the president's remarks, in general, because he reportedly said, ‘Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out’ — meaning, he did not want protections for Haitians included in the immigration legislation being discussed. Now what do you say to that?
Jean-Charles: Exactly. Well, I mean, I think again this kind of illuminates what has been going on with the TPS, right? So when they decided to end that for the Haitians, and I mean there are 60,000 Haitians that now will have to go back because of this. This really helps us to see that, okay, he specifically did not want these groups of people in this country, and so it lines up with his views about immigration. And you know, to be honest with you, I have to tell you a lot of people have been saying, ‘Oh, Haitian immigrants have contributed so much to this country.’ I don't think that's even the point because I think just from a human perspective, it shouldn't matter what you've contributed. Your worth should be based on the fact that you're a person.
Yuill: Well you know, your work focuses on some of the countries that the president was allegedly disparaging, so do the president's words fit with the ways that some people have thought about and spoken about these countries, historically?
Jean-Charles: You know, there is a long history because I think this is really — I want to make sure to say that these are racist remarks, right. And so this anti-black racism is something that Haiti has been targeted by for centuries. So if you think, for example, of the Haitian Revolution and the fact that after the Haitian Revolution many countries, including the United States, did not recognize Haiti's independence and that Haiti had to pay a debt to France for winning its independence, and so part of this is because people were appalled that a group of formerly enslaved Africans would deign to take their freedom. And so I think that this racism — it's being said about the African continent and Haiti specifically because these are places where black and brown people live.
Yuill: Does this lower the bar when it comes to our national discourse? Do you think it makes it easier for people to use slurs and foul language when describing other countries and other cultures?
Jean-Charles: I am afraid of that. I mean to be honest with you, I have four children, and this morning I took the older two aside and I said to them ‘Look this is what was said. What do you think about that? And I want you to know before you get to school just in case somebody else tells you this.’ And, you know, they were shocked. Their dad is from Ghana, so my husband from Ghana, so they've been to Ghana, they've been to Haiti, and they're like ‘That's not true at all - these are great places.’ So that does give me some hope, but I am afraid of what these children will be exposed to as a result of this.
Yuill: Well what would you say to President Trump about his alleged remarks?
Jean-Charles: I would tell him that he is allowing — the reason why what happened in Charlottesville happened, the reason why these white supremacists have these rallies, is because of this kind of thinking — this racist, bigoted thinking — and that if this is his idea of making America great again that — I don't even have any words! I don’t think I even have any words, because I really think that when he says 'make America great again’ he’s really saying ‘make America white again.’ I'd tell him to be quiet. I’d say stop talking. Stop tweeting. Listen. Read.
Yuill: Professor thank you for joining us.
Jean-Charles: You're very welcome.
Yuill: That's Regine Michelle Jean-Charles, she is a professor at Boston College where she focuses on Francophone and African-Caribbean literature and culture. This is All Things Considered.