Barely 18 hours after the earthquake on January 12, the Rev. Pat Robertson said Haiti has suffered because its rebellious slaves “swore a pact with the devil” to overthrow the French 200 years ago.
The slave revolt that brought Haiti independence relied on voodoo, the New World version of ancestral African faiths. To this day, by various estimates, 50-95 per cent of Haitians practice at least elements of voodoo, often in conjunction with Catholicism.
“The media has reported a lot about voodoo but not much of it very insightful or intelligent,” said Diane Winston, a professor of religion at the University of Southern California.
“Voodoo is one of those flashpoints for Americans because it’s exotic, unknown and has strange connotations. It may be a matter of underlying racism because voodoo is African and Caribbean in its origins, or because voodoo seems so different from Christianity that it’s the perfect Other.” Prof Leslie G. Desmangles of Trinity College in Hartford says.
“There’s been a degrading, derogatory language about voodoo,” he said. “It’s language that goes back to the 19th century.”
In American political rhetoric, “voodoo” functions as a synonym for “fraudulent,” going back to George Bush’s description of supply-side economics.
Would any public figure dare use “Baptist” or “Hindu” or “Hasidic” in the same way?