The first and only time I went to Haiti, on the first day I was in the country after crossing over the border from the Dominican Republic, I saw a child starved and dying on the side of the road. That was 17 years ago. I have not forgotten that moment and never will.
Ever since that trip it’s been a life goal of mine to learn Haitian Creole. I want to connect with my Haitian brothers and sisters in their heart language. It’s a beautiful language. I haven’t learned yet, but there’s still time — and Rosetta Stone.
In November, I hired my young company’s first employee — my chief of staff, Natasha. Natasha’s parents were born in Haiti. She was born here in the United States and grew up, like many of her peers, under the dual challenges of being black in America and being from an immigrant family. She’s incredible.
So when the news broke of what the President said, it hit me in a deep place. What Donald Trump said about Haiti, and nations like her, was wrong. But it’s not just these words, this time. It’s all his words. And it’s not just his words. It’s all the words of other inflammatory politicians, activists and voters who continue to support political leaders who use this language. It’s all wrong.
Divisive and derogatory language has been part of our American political landscape for a long, long time. People said things about Abraham Lincoln that I can’t even repeat here. I’m not naive to this fact. But the rhetoric we’re hearing right now, most notably and most damaging from our President, is different in kind. The volume of it, the response to it and its normalization is truly dangerous to the future of our society. Moreover, it is deeply and tangibly affecting real people in very real ways.
Those of us who believe you should not talk about people and nations — any people or nation — like Donald Trump did about Haiti must stand up and say that it is not acceptable. It is not who we want to be as a nation. We must reclaim a sense of decency and respect and compassion in the way we talk to and about one another. Perhaps most especially about those with whom we disagree.
There’s only so much you or I can do about Donald Trump. But you and I have 100% control over our own tongues. Over what we laugh at or refuse to laugh off. Over what we say about people with whom we don’t agree. We also dohave a lot of influence over people like congressmen, state legislators, city council members, party chairs, precinct captains and TV pundits. Exert your influence with your vote, your money, your viewing hours, your volunteer hours, your social media.
But perhaps the most important thing we can do is to refuse to look away and ignore it.
This image of a Syrian boy dead and washed up on a beach sparked an outpouring of compassion and action by millions of people, many of whom uprooted their lives and gave their resources to go and serve the most vulnerable and the broken. Don’t look away from the dead child. See him. I had to see a dying child on the side of the road in Haiti and I cannot unsee it. I don’t want to unsee it. I don’t want to unfeel it. These emotions are human — wired into us by the Creator to help guide us. Seeing and feeling the evil, the brokenness, the pain — that’s what helps us keep reaching for what is good and right and true. Sometimes it is only in seeing what is broken, even in our own souls, that we can truly know and understand what is beautiful.
So today, don’t look away. Do not look away from what the President said. Do not dismiss it as overblown or “just the way he is” or “locker-room talk.” Nothing offensive he’s ever said has been any of that. It all matters. His words and those of so many other divisive politicians matter. They all have meaning. Our words have the power to give life or to destroy it. This kind of rhetoric drags our nation further into a politically divided morass from which I fear we may not escape unless we act soon.
Don’t look away. Today I refuse to look away from Natasha’s pain. The tears that flowed this morning were not out of anger at Donald Trump but from a place of deep sadness that so many have looked away. I will not look away. Don’t look away. See it. Feel it. In so doing, maybe we can draw on this dark and poisonous moment to inspire a new way forward. Speak up, lock arms, and let’s unite America one friendship and carefully spoken word at a time.