By Guy Antoine
September 19, 1998
Most Haitians have felt justly indignant, and none more than I, about the casual association of Haiti with AIDS in the McMillan movie, HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK. The response has been overwhelming. However, some introspection is in order. Is our response pure, or is it tinged with the deep sense of apartheid that separates most rich Haitians from poor Haitians, and our general antipathy towards homosexuals, who as a group have been prominently associated with this disease. In Haiti, "homosexual" is a dirty name, "masisi" is the worst insult leveled at a fellow Haitian. As far as wealth is concerned, granted AIDS is no respecter of anyone's social status, but rich people who become afflicted with the disease, do their very best to hide the "dishonor", to cover it up with fancy names of imaginary diseases. Sooner or later, the cat is out of the bag, but sometimes not before the death of the individual. Photographs of the ravages of AIDS are much more likely to depict very poor people than wealthy ones. One could superficially deduce that the well to do and heterosexual population groups are less susceptible to the disease, but I do not know of any research done in Haiti that would indeed support those conclusions. In any case, the disassociation with AIDS does have a social significance in a society that is deeply divided against itself.
To the astonishment of many, Haitians ARE persevering in their efforts to have the offense edited out of the movie, but let this not be a collective denial of the fact that AIDS is a very serious health problem among Haitians (and Jamaicans, and other peoples of the Caribbean, the United States, and Africa). So while we combat prejudice, ignorance, and discrimination against Haitians, we should also remember that much work needs to be done back HOME. Cuba did so much in the field of Public Health, why can't Haiti seem to get started?
The offending line in Stella, and the current ravages of AIDS in Haiti are two distinct issues, but they can be related in a way, because the best public health initiatives are always hindered by social prejudice and general ignorance. So it is not unreasonable to ask Health organizations and our own health professionals to get involved in this campaign, and provide the facts about AIDS without undue prejudice to Haitians. The truth need not be comforting, in fact we know that it is not! If we should make a sustained commitment to reducing the rate of AIDS in Haiti, and make that commitment a high priority of our government, in collaboration with (and not in opposition to) non-governmental organizations, we will give the lie to our detractors in more ways than one. That will certainly take time, but committing to this additional goal is perhaps the only way we can turn a disastrous movie dialogue into something positive in the long run.
Together, we can help Haiti Get Her Groove Back, and Terri McMillan too!
Guy S. Antoine
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