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Haiti, voodoo and the Daily Mail

Dawn Butler’s new fortnightly column in The Voice newspaper opens with a broadside at the Daily Mail over their shocking feature about Haiti, headlined “Rape, murder and voodoo on the island of the damned.”

The Labour MP for Brent South lays into Mail columnist Andrew Malone, Butler writes:

Reading the article, one cannot help but feel that the writer is nearly salivating at the prospect of describing some of the country’s recent bloody and painful incidents in lurid detail.

“There is a particular focus on allegations of witchcraft and cannibals and not one, but two mentions of removed hearts. No one would deny the evil of those years, but why has the Mail chosen this inappropriate time to raise the horrors from Haiti’s past?”

Butler is right to raise these questions. Although many Voice readers will probably hazard a guess at the answer; the same answer, most probably, as to why right-wing US evangelist Pat Robertson described Haiti as reaping the consequences of it’s’ “pact with the devil.”

As the first nation to successfully rebel against enslavement, Haiti has indeed been cursed – by the interference of the very powers that Toussaint L’Ouverture defeated 200 years ago. It is this imperialism, aligned with an effective blockade on the kind of investment that would have allowed Haiti to thrive – that is ungodly.

And for the Daily Mail – who championed the cause of an British Airways Christian employee’s right to wear a Crucifix – their attitude to Haiti now seems more reminiscent of the early missionaries in Africa rather than the example Jesus set.

The Mail has always had a certain fascination with voodoo, going back as long as anyone can remember, and last week they saw the opportunity to fuse this with their geo-political view of Haiti.

What emerged was an extremely nasty piece lacking in humanity, and indeed lacking in faith.

By Lester Holloway

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One Response

  1. MY COMPLAINT TO THE PRESS COMPLAINTS COMMISSION TODAY

    First and foremost, I believe the article was extremely offensive and in extreme bad taste, published as it was at the height of the Haiti earthquake relief effort and humanitarian crisis, where up to 200,000 Haitians may have lost their lives.

    For the Daily Mail to dedicate this amount of column inches to perpetrating stereotypes about voodoo when many thousands lay dead or dying, was an editorial decision that was bereft of basic humanity.

    The dubbing of Haiti as “the island of the damned” transgressed from journalism to Hollywood scriptwriting, and the heavy emphasis on voodoo and cannibalism throughout the piece betrayed a clear and strong undercurrent of racism.

    There was no attempt to present a balanced view of Haiti’s history; no mention of Western political interference such as toppling the island’s leaders, or its’ crippling debt, or its struggle to attract investment.

    Instead, the article sought to portray Haitians as a primative and savage people – imagery that has strong echoes of the stereotypes that underpinned enslavement and that existed in the British media until around 20 years ago.

    This article was a throwback to that time, when black people were regularly depicted in this demeaning and insulting fashion.

    I believe the PCC has a duty to uphold general standards of behaviour regarding the treatment of race and culture, and not give a green light for such shocking articles printed merely under the cloak of an historical perspective (just as papers in the 1960s and 70s sought to justify such articles at the time).

    The association between black Haitians, voodoo and cannabilism is both prejudicial and pejorative, in addition to being utterly tasteless and racially discriminatory. Further, I do not believe this article was in the public interest as it could only decrease sympathy for a national that was at its most desperate for aid donations at the time of publication, and as such I believe the paper and its editor fell short of professional standards.

    There is already evidence of widespread disquiet about the article within black communities, referenced in yesterday’s Voice newspaper and many conversations I had at the time of publication with outraged black friends.

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