HATE OF Haitians has come from across the country into my mailbox. One Florida letter, in response to a recent column criticizing the United States' rejection of thousands of Haitians who tried to flee on tiny boats to Miami, said:
"Thank God there are men like President Bush who have the moral strength to take a stand. Haitians are worthless, genetically inferior scum . . . The elimination of the nigger with the AIDS virus is the greatest thing that has happened to the world . . . The U.S. Navy should use the Haitian boats for target practice."
vTC Another letter from Florida read, "Thank God they are being taken back, the quicker the better." One from Brockton, Mass., said, "Send the garbage home." A Florida woman wrote, "While Haitians, in themselves, are a peaceful people, most of our crimes are committed by refugees."
A man from Ohio noted what I said about Haitian immigrants' taking jobs most U.S. citizens do not want, such as cleaning toilets. He responded: "I can't clean out that toilet. Your head's in the way."
The purpose of printing these excerpts is not to dignify bad taste with an individual response. Neither does this imply that most Americans are quite so warped. I received an equal number of nice letters supporting the refugees.
But equal voice was not enough. This is an election year, a political year. Isolationist and thinly veiled race-baiter Pat Buchanan has racked up 20-plus and 30-plus percentage showings in Republican primaries, saying, "If we had to take in a million Zulus, next year, or Englishmen, and put them in Virginia, what group would be easier to assimilate?"
Never mind that, because of colonial history, many Africans, let alone Zulus, speak better English than many Europeans. Bush, fearful of losing Buchanan's right wing, made Haitians his altar sacrifice. This nation slid right back to the ignorance of 1865.
That year, writer E.L. Godkin said political conservatives, "in nine cases out of 10, assure us that it is foreign immigration" that was responsible for corruption. Theodore Roosevelt urged people of "native American stock" to have more babies than immigrants. He said a person of such stock who chose not to bear children "merits contempt as hearty as any visited upon the soldier who runs away in battle."
Francis A. Walker, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1891 to 1897 and a superintendent of the census, blamed immigration for class division, for "destroying property, and working violence." Walker said this should cause the "gravest apprehension and alarm . . . They are beaten men from beaten races . . . They have none of the ideas and aptitudes which fit them to take up readily and easily the problem of self-care and self-government."
One hundred years ago, a poem appeared in the Atlantic magazine. In part, it read: "Wide open and unguarded stand our gates and through them presses a wild, motley throng . . . flying the Old World's poverty and scorn; in street and alley what strange tongues are loud, accents of menace alien to our air . . . Oh Liberty, white goddess! Is it well to leave the gates unguarded? . . to waste the gifts of freedom?"
The ultimate answer then was that most of Europe's "wild,
motley throng" was allowed to rise above poverty and scorn, despite strange tongues. Today, Bush has painted Haitians as the alien menace that will waste the gifts of freedom.
On the front of the building of the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami, an artist has drawn a picture of the Statue of Liberty. At her feet is a cage, filled with Haitians. The lock on the cage says, "Made in USA."
At the top of the drawing is the simple question, "Why?" A woman from Hampton, Va., wrote: "We are the dumping ground for all these types with their weird culture, disease, roaches, etc., pregnant women . . . Send them back!!"
This woman did not mention the disease, rats and alien religion her forebears once brought to these shores. But she is precisely whom Bush listened to. We have sent most of the 16,500 Haitians home. The ignorant have won.
Derrick Z. Jackson is a columnist for the Boston Globe.