Ask April-Observational Wisdom- How to Stop thinking like a Colonizer

Welcome to Ask April, a no-nonsense advice column focusing on what it is you can do to correct things that need correcting.  While we all know much in life is out of our control, and sometimes, our reaction is all we CAN control- we really do have a lot of personal power, thankfully. Our will is just as important as the wills of others around us, and while we need to be considerate, we also need to make sure others are equally considerate of us. It is my hope that when you write in to me, asking advice,  that I can help you make a good decision that somehow improves whatever situation you’ve found yourself in. As with anything I share, I recommend people don’t automatically take my word for anything, but include my advice in with the rest of the things that help them make a decision. I wish you well. Read on.

Every other week, I answer a call for advice, and every other week, I share my views on something I observed- I call this Observational Wisdom.

Dear Readers,

I read an article today written by a white American and it was all about how they felt the issues in Haiti would best be solved.

The writer cited Christianity, henceforth written as Xtianity as the source of all the problems both there and in the world in general.

It reminded me of conversations I’ve had with people FROM Haiti.

I would not expect said white writer who is obviously very unhappy with the Xtian faith- which I do not belong to, btw, to understand that some people willingly belong to that religion. If said writer actually knew what things had been told to me by these folks, said writer might not have humiliated themselves with publishing such an uninformed article.

Americans in general are fascinated with Voodoo as well and Non-Voodoo  things decorated with cool skulls be they Mexican Day of the Dead style or some skateboard or rock n’ roll motif. What few know, however, is that beyond Halloween in New Orleans and things we see in gift shops and the movies, Voodoo is an ancient faith that originated in and is still practiced all over Africa. The American and Haitian version is a mix of Catholicism and the indigenous African faiths.

While those who study and learn are aware Voodoo is not ALL about curses and blood magic, I have listened and read testimonials from people from Africa as well as Haiti telling me how they deliberately converted to Xtianity because it is a widely held belief Jesus protects against any curse or magic somebody would work against you.

I knew a Haitian man who believed this who met with a harsh fate. I always got along with the guy, but some of the spirits apparently did not. He told me  Xtianity saved him from the Voodoo sorcery. He told me a friend of his was not so lucky. He said she got involved with something, and ever after that, she could not sleep. He said every time she fell asleep, she was pulled out of her body and travelled to distant places, and thus , never rested. This man also had men from Haiti in and out of his house doing two hour long drumming and chanting sessions, which he called Xtian prayer meetings. Another time, I observed him pacing, and shouting and gesturing in the parking lot. When I asked him about it later, I discovered he was doing what we refer to as a space clearing and blessing procedure.  Unfortunately, nothing helped, and one night, he was overheard fighting with somebody, but was alone in the apartment. Nobody had come in, and nobody exited but him. Neighbors heard somebody else fighting him. That night, he disappeared. That week, maintenance went in, and found the entire apartment destroyed.

I don’t know what he had been involved in before he converted, but I always sensed the spirits disliked him. Strongly. None of us ever heard what became of him or if he was ever found. Two months later, his family was still searching for him. All I know is that Xtianity did NOT protect him from whatever his fate was.

Another story I was told is how human remains are used in Haitian Voodoo. This is hardly glittery and glamorous, or some cool, cute love spell type thing the white folks in the States are fascinated with. I knew a man who went to Haiti to get initiated in Voodoo as a priest, and a friend of his also went. A common practice in Haitian Voodoo is to dig up human remains from cemeteries there to use for magic. Well, the friend of the guy I knew got caught with a human skull he stole out of a graveyard,  and was thrown in prison.

Another story is about a man who dedicated himself to a certain Vodun  lwa- or spirit. He swore to be chaste certain days of the week for her, but then broke his vow. Soon after, he became impotent.  He had to go see a professional Vodun clergyperson and PAY quite a lot to find out how to appease the lwa and reverse the punishment.

Besides Haitian Voodoo, African traditional practice is where Voodoo originated and is where it would still be limited to had it not been for the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. While it is true Haiti is not Africa, a lot of white Americans glamorize the traditional African faiths as well, and deserve discussed.

I have spoken with African women whose bodies were maimed during traditional female genital mutilation when they were small. This is a traditional practice girls cannot escape from in some villages. One man immigrated to the United States just to keep his daughters from going through this. He watched his sister die from the procedure when she was only four years old.

This is a traditional practice in parts of Africa, and one of the practices that drive people to convert to Xtianity and/or immigrate. A white person living in the United States who has neither been to Africa or spoken to people from there may be completely unaware of this.

The LGBTQ right movement has uncovered the fact that in various parts of the world, including parts of Africa, homosexuality is punishable by death. Many Xtian groups say homosexuality is a sin, but today’s Xtians do not execute people for it.

There is also a deeply held belief that physical deformity is a sign of demonic possession. So children with impairments or disabilities are sent away or abandoned.  One man’s story and his quest to change that is told here.

Various stories of how innocent people are banished from their family can be found in this groundbreaking book available on  Something like having a dream before somebody’s death earns a witchcraft accusation and banishment in some places.

From just these few things, it is obvious that some convert for very good reason.  Being unaware of these things can lead some to believe conversion is forced, like it was for the native Americans. This is not always the case.

White folks in general in their country are overly fond of speaking for people of color and deciding what is in their best interest. This attitude was prevalent during the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, during Jim Crow Times, and the Civil Rights Movement did not end it.

In regards to our Indigenous brothers and sisters here, our ancestors removing them from their homes and shipping them to Reservations as well as the business owners encroaching on their current properties for various ventures shows we’re still actively doing this.

It seems we are born with this innate desire to colonize and then micromanage every population we come into contact with. It is said these days the Vikings were savages and raped and pillaged their way across Europe. How is that any different than what we are doing today? We are not killing people, but we are putting ourselves in charge of them and hijacking both their cultures and lives.

I once witnessed a discussion. One African American man- I swear I am NOT making this up- said he was glad of slavery because he is thankful to be in a modern city now as opposed to back in Africa, just playing the drums someplace. Another African American man responded with  something like ’Maybe I would be HAPPY just playing a drum in Africa.’

In a nutshell, it is easy for the uninformed to assume Xtianity is evil and Voodoo is sparkley and fabulous. For some people, it is, but for others, it simply is not, and they want out. While Xtianity is not my religion, it works for plenty of other people, and none of us has the right to criticize them for that. Spitting at those who convert from Voodoo to Xtianity is assuming we have the right to make a decision for the converts as to whether they ought to or not. That’s not our right, nor do we know each individual and their reasons.

Instead of trying to control everybody else, we need to take a step back and accept a few things.

  • Our way of life is not the ONLY right way to live. Yet, we have different kinds of groups that go on missions to Americanize people in other Nations. I was once tearfully told that children a woman had seen in a village had NO SHOES!!!!! I pointed out to her that nobody wears shows unless they are going on a long foot journey in that village, so if they don’t want to wear shoes, they don’t have to. I was furthermore told people in an African village do not use toothbrushes. I asked if all their teeth are rotted out, and was told no. So I pointed out that they must use a different style of tooth cleaning. I have been told that it is a shame people live in huts when missions can go build houses. I pointed out that European indigenous people lived in huts in some points of history as well. I have also been told that it is sad how some people do not use the same forks and spoons we do- but sometimes eat with their hands- and I remind them there is only ONE right way to eat fried chicken. Then, there are people who are horrified some wear penis gourds and want to “teach” them to “dress properly” in “real” pants, and cover up women’s breasts in some places where they go topless. One of these days, I am going to whip a boob out in front of one of those squeamish people just to see them faint. I don’t understand the urge to go in and try to make people who are perfectly happy with how they live to change everything so they are just like us. We need to butt out.
  • Just because we can dress up like their ancestors did does not mean we have the same ancestry. Misappropriation of the tribal and sacred practices of people whose genealogy we do not share is very PC for white Americans. My mother’s family, for example swore up and down we had a great grandparent who was 100% this or that tribal Native American. So, I got the DNA test and I found out that I am 100% European. I also found out that statistically, white Americans are more likely to have African Heritage than Native American. When I told two of mom’s relatives about this, one got mad at me, and the other refused to respond. A lot of white folks just need to believe they have an “Indian Princess” ancestor. It is both disrespectful to try to steal other people’s heritage and a slap in the face of our own ancestors to state we are descended from people we are not. 60,000 plus years ago, we all had THE same ancestor, but now,  we don’t discuss ancestry in quite those terms.
  • I disagree with groups that go to other countries to Americanize people, or try to convert people to a different religion. But not EVERY group that goes in provides self-serving “services”. Medical and Human Rights groups like Red Cross save lives.
  • If you are concerned about what you perceive as a racist against people of color, don’t ASSUME that you have a solution. ASK the people you feel are attacked what they would like to see done, and what you can do to help.  It is both disrespectful and insulting to assume that others are incapable and helpless to advocate for themselves. The mindset that we are qualified to make everybody else’s decisions for them when trying to help them is the same mindset that leads people to assume that colonization is acceptable. It assumes we are superior to the poor, unfortunate, pathetic people who just can’t do a damn thing for themselves, and they need us to do it for them. We really need to get over ourselves, and respect people who are different from us enough to validate their worth and personal power. There comes a time to reach out and help- YES, but it needs to be done on the terms of the people we are seeking to help, not on the terms we decide for them.

We all have our own baggage, bullshit, and problems we deal with every day, and thus have our hands full. We have no business putting ourselves in charge of other people’s lives and decisions, nor do we have any place saying they should not make certain decisions such as converting to the religion they choose to. White Americans in general are very prone to presuming they know best what people of color ought to be doing, and trying to dictate religion is only one of the ways we demonstrate this.  Colonization needs to stop one mindset at a time. Why not start with backing off Haitians right to choose their own religion?


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