Poverty. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Orphans. These are words much of the world associates with Haiti. As I contemplated writing this reflection, I scrolled through my Instagram feed to see another natural disaster in the form of Hurricane Matthew swirl towards this country.
In response to such national devastation, Lakou Mizik, a Haitian roots band, narrates their nation’s story differently: through song and dance. As The Guardian put it, Lakou Mizik is “a joyous antidote to Haiti’s hard times.” The group of multi-generational musicians travel throughout the United States and Haiti sharing their songs and in their own words “using Haiti’s deep well of creative strength to shine a positive light on this tragically misrepresented country.”
I attended one of their performances at the Nectar Lounge in Seattle this past July where I got glimpses of people and a country to which I have never visited. Yet as I swayed on the periphery of the lounge to their upbeat tunes, I reflected on my own journey of awareness of cultures and how I and my white dominant culture engage with diversity in the form of “ethnic” entertainment.
Ten years ago…
My thought would have been: What are people here thinking of me?
My motivation for attending: to experience another culture’s song and dance.
Five years ago…
My thought would have been: Who cares what people think? Let’s all dance and bring the crowd along too!
My motivation for attending: same as ten years ago although I would have been more relaxed. Also, to have fun and maybe flirt with some cute guys.
In the summer of 2016…
My thoughts were: Why are so many white people here consuming Haitian song and dance, taking up the center space directly in front of the stage, while people of color in attendance are hanging back on the outskirts of forum? Does this scene represent what my African American friends have been complaining about online recently: white liberals who embrace the trend of protesting, tweet #BlackLivesMatter and consume other cultures as entertainment but do little to actually change systems and structures? This feels like acculturation.
My motivation for attending: to reconcile after a fallout with a business partner and get paid for a contract gig I did in February.
I have by no means “arrived” in my awareness, or what some may call my awakening, towards diversity. I’m sure in a few years or even a few months I’ll look back at naive notions I hold today. I’m glad that people countries such as the United States have opportunities to experience the song, dance and culture of live musicians, to expand our view of the nation-even if ever so slightly-beyond scenes of flooded homes and starving children as portrayed by news and international aid organizations. But if we want to move beyond pity to partnership with people of other cultures, we must first show appreciation. And true appreciation begins with listening. It starts by taking a back seat, and leaving room in the center for people to dance to their own music until we on the outside are invited to join.