By Savannah Daniels
Not long after Donald Trump controversially called Haiti “a sh*thole” country, the island nation's internationally renowned songstress Emeline Michel paid tribute to Haiti on the stage of UC Santa Barbara's Multicultural Center Theater.
"Dreams are the mothers of our reality," she said as she closed a set that charismatically blended pop, jazz, blues and traditional Haitian folk music.
Michel's performance was a part of the Center for Black Studies Research's annual Haiti Flag Week, dedicated to celebrating Haitian culture and marking the country’s independence and the creation of its flag on May 18, 1803.
Other events included the screening of “Charcoal,” a short film by Haitian filmmaker and photographer Francesca Andre, which captures the parallel stories of two Black women and their lifelong journey to overcome internalized colorism as they find self-acceptance and ultimately redemption.
Colorism is a term for prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among those of the same ethnic or racial group. The screening ended in a conversation with UCSB psychologist Meridith Merchant as Andre discussed her creative process, including her choice to focus on the theme of colorism. She said it is an epidemic stemming from the white supremacy of mainstream media globally.
“I knew so many Lupita Nyong’os before Lupita,” Andre said, referring to the female star of the recent break-out hit Black Panther. Andre said a lack of representation of women of darker complexions in the media results in tokenism, or just the appearance of equality, in the film industry.
A day later Jana Braziel, from Miami University, spoke about her book “Riding with Death: Vodou Art and Urban Ecology in the Streets of Port-au-Prince.” Braziel highlighted the ways that artists who live precarious lives in Haiti’s capital, specifically after the devastating earthquake in 2010, transformed street materials for creative projects. In her book, she focuses on the urban environmental aesthetics of the city’s main boulevard, Grande Rue. She explained how beautifully constructed sculptures designed from salvaged automobile parts, rubber tires, wood, and other recycled materials, redefine ideas of consumption and waste, while simultaneously voicing problems associated with poverty. “They challenge ideas of refuse,” she said of the sculptors.
The week concluded with a celebration honoring 37 years of service by Haitian professor Emerita Claudine Michel, who retired this spring. Michel served in the Department of Black Studies as a professor and former Chair, as well as Director of the Center for Black Studies Research. She also formerly served as Acting Chair of the Department of Chicana/o Studies, Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs in the College of Letters and Science, and she edited The Journal of Haitian Studies.
Speakers included Chancellor Henry Yang, Vice Chancellor Margaret Klawunn, as well as others from the Center for Black Studies Research and Haitian Studies. They announced the Claudine Michel Fund, which will make awards to diverse faculty, staff, and students to support initiatives that aim to improve the campus climate and generate action to uplift communities. “Teaching is informing, forming, and transforming,” said Dr. Michel.
Savannah Daniels is a UC Santa Barbara alumna, who graduated this spring in Communications and History. She was a Web and Social Media Intern with the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts.