In addition to writing literary fiction and poetry, I am a spoken word artist. At Sunset House in Seattle last winter, I performed a spoken word piece criticizing America’s news coverage and treatment of Haitians after the last major earthquake there. The spoken word piece/poem also criticized France’s oppressive history and present with Haiti. I drew connections between America’s treatment of the Black communities of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, slavery/Jim Crow, and Haiti.
A white woman approached me during the intermission after I performed. She was at least two feet taller than me and she identified herself as a French native, saying she had been living in the U.S. for a few years.
“I am from France. The country that colonized Haiti,” she said proudly, tossing her head. Her accent was very distinct. I had no reason to believe she was lying about being French, although she could have been pretending. The French woman continued, “And I have a problem with what you performed in there.”
I politely tried to address her concerns, not really giving two shits if she had issues with what I read because that didn’t make it any less true in my book.
She said, “Poetry is supposed to be pleasant. Its supposed to make you feel good. Your poem didn’t make me feel good.” She continued, “You are probably no different than the white kid coming out of the Starbucks here”. Then proceeded to light a cigarette and smoke it down into my face. “You mixed too many things together that you cannot compare.” So I can’t lay out the similarities between Haiti and New Orleans, both which have suffered two terrible major disasters, both of which have been failed and oppressed by France and the United States? Why? Because it offends her white European sensibilities to racism?
At most, seven of my friends and guests were with me. I wanted to look PC and polite. One Latino/Chican@. All the rest were white. I wanted to cuss this woman out for sounding so arrogant about the actions of her country. I also wanted to make a good impression on my guests since we were all in a social justice organization together. In short, I didn’t want to look like a rude, profanity-slinging, ghetto Black woman.
Later, I found out from them that they totally expected me to verbally rip that woman’s head off for everything she said to me. A missed opportunity.
I pretty much suggested that she school herself on Black history. Though I said it much more politely.
Maybe I will record this piece and post the audio if I get the time…..
Le Cliche au France (This is not the piece I read at the open mike but it is related)