This paper presents an anthropological examination of touristic representations of Haiti throughout the 20th century. I dentify three main themes – Racism and “The Negro Question,” Haitian Revolutionary Intrigue, and Voodoo Mystique – that illustrate a dominant discourse, but later transform these touristic sights into bona fide tourist sites. Despite its emphasis on voodoo and possession, the touristic discourse effectively dis-possesses Haiti, whitewashing its people and culture, and subsequently re-possesses it with Western values in a way that commoditizes not only what it means to experience Haiti, but what it means to be Haitian as well. Today, an interplay between the “development” and touristic discourses brings the discussion full-circle: from primitive people to primitive culture to primitive conditions. These representations have a certain mobility all their own and over time move farther from Haiti itself. Examining these sources does more than chart the rise and fall of the country’s tourist industry. Anthropologically speaking, the touristic genre offers an important resource in understanding the construction of Haiti’s place in the world.
In 2013, the Dominican Republic’s highest court ruled to revoke birthright citizenship for over 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent. Ruling TC 168-13 prompted dialogue about race and racism in the country, breaking the racial silence that accompanies mestizaje (racial mixture). Scholars viewed this ruling through the lens of “Black denial” whereby Dominicans’ failure to adopt Black identities, despite being largely afrodescendant, fuels the racialization of Haitians as Black.