The New York Times last weekend published a front piece spread, “Haiti’s Lost Billions” (headlined in print as “The Ransom”) chronicling how for generations, the descendants of enslaved people in Haiti paid the descendants of their former slave masters, with money that could have been used to build schools, roads, clinics or a vibrant economy. Haitians are the only people in the world who were forced to compensate their former owners with hard cash for the audacity of demanding their freedom, or as the French put it, the loss of “their property”.
The Times piece is harrowing to read: The demand was for 150 million French francs, to be turned over in five annual payments, far more than Haiti could pay. So France pushed Haiti to take a loan from a group of French banks to start paying. Imagine that double debt – a bill on Haitians own bodies, plus an interest-bearing loan.
However, the Times claimed that no one had ever uncovered this story or told this story before, which wasn’t true – numerous Haitian historians, journalists and activists had been doing the work over the years, and little of that work was cited in the Times article. It also made plain the politics of what is considered “a story” and what isn’t: as Amy Wilentz writes in The New Republic: “[It seems] that still today, nothing is considered true until the Times says it is.”
For me, the big lesson here is never to claim that “no one” is talking about this or paying attention to that. Chances are, someone — usually those directly affected by an injustice — are obviously talking about what they are living through, because they are experiencing it everyday. Journalists are frequently latecomers to an issue. The difference though, is who gets listened to. Quoting Wilentz again: “Haitians—including some of Haiti’s foremost historians and political scientists—have felt for years, decades, and centuries that their voices are unheard, their country ignored, their ideas and analyses about Haiti disregarded.”
As media practitioners, we must always be careful making declarations that we are the first or the only ones “raising awareness” through our work. The best we can do is perhaps document it more thoroughly and amplify the voices of those already doing the work. My years in journalism have taught me that very seldom is work truly groundbreaking, in the sense that we are the first to ever talk about this.
In the meantime, here’s:
- What We’re Reading: Alexander Onukwe recently wrote on the casual racism perpetuated by foreign news outlets leaning on negative stereotypes, that assign calamity to Africa and privilege and immunity to the other races, in his latest article where he urges Western media to stop using black people to illustrate monkeypox stories.
- What We’re Watching: Will you vote in the 2022 Kenyan election?’ Generation Africa recently brought together voters and non-voters to have real, honest conversations on why they have decided on their stance, what voting means to them, and their thoughts on the disconnect between youth and politics. You can watch the first part of the discourse here on YouTube.
- What We’re Listening To: In the latest episode of “The Podcast Sessions“- Rutendo Nyamuda speaks to Melissa Mbugua (Co-Director of Africa Podfest), Vanessa Gathecha, (Research Lead from Baraza Media Lab) and Maurice Otieno (Executive Director and Baraza Media Lab) about their in-depth analysis report of the African podcast scene titled the “Discovery Tour Data Edition” compiled by Africa Podfest and Baraza Media Lab
Curator | Baraza Media Lab