Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Flatbush, Ditmas Park) today demanded an apology from a noted Caribbean activist/political operative and close associate to City Councilmember Jumaane Williams for emailing her and her staff a note containing disparaging remarks against the Haitian community.
The brouhaha comes over the escalating controversy surrounding the recent designation of the Flatbush/Prospect Park-Lefferts Gardens/East Flatuch corridor as the “Little Caribbean.” Bichotte, who is Haitian-American and a number of other notable Haitian-Americans feel there should be a double designation and part of the corridor should be dubbed “Little Haiti.
In a follow-up to the controversy, Ernest Skinner, who heads the Earnest Skinner Political Association Democratic Club, and is the staff photographer for Williams office and a longtime family friend, fired off an email to Bichotte asking when did Haiti stop being part of the Caribbean?
“This is the same insularity which sunk the fledgling Caribbean Federation. Sowing division may be why Haiti has never been able to reach its full potential and why it is considered a Fourth World country despite the noble start it gave to the Independence movement among people of color,” wrote Skinner.
“In Brooklyn, for many years now there has been TALK of a Little Haiti along lower Nostrand Avenue. What have you Haitians done to advance THAT?” he added.
Bichotte replied in a letter back to Skinner yesterday saying she found Skinner’s comments not only highly disrespectful, but ill-informed and she demanded an apology.
Bichotte penned back, “The fact of the matter is that there is a “Little Haiti” that has been in the making for decades that covers a wide geographical area including Nostrand Avenue. The Haitian community has accomplished a number of things leading up to the designation of “Little Haiti” such as the:
- street naming of Toussaint L’Ouverture Boulevard on Nostrand Avenue
- annual Toussaint L’Ouverture Symposium and Business Expo (2005)
- Haitian parades down all of Nostrand Avenue (10 years)
- Haitian Flag Day
- Haitian Unity Day (Albany)
- Haitian Selebrayson Week
- Haitian street fairs
- establishment of the Haitian Studies Institute (HSI) (Spring 2015)
- designation of Haitian Day (October 7, 2016)
- passage of a civil rights resolution (New York State)
- introduction of legislation for Haitian Creole-speaking poll workers and translators and for the translation of voting materials into Haitian-Creole
- certification of a number of Haitian-owned businesses as Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises
Bichotte wrote that many in the area already refer to the neighborhood around Nostrand Avenue, Clarendon Road, Flatbush Avenue, Church Avenue, and Ocean Avenue in East Flatbush/Flatbush, as “Little Haiti.” East Flatbush/Flatbush has one of, if not the largest, Haitian populations in the country.
“As previously stated we acknowledge that Brooklyn is diverse and we do not advocate for “Little Haiti” in opposition to a Little Caribbean designation,” she wrote.
“We support the Caribbean community. We are part of the Caribbean community. In recognition and in support of our heritage we advocated for placing the Haitian Studies Institute at Brooklyn College; not instead of “Little Haiti,” but in continuance of cultivating “Little Haiti’s” foundation.”
Williams, who has Caribbean roots – as does Skinner, clearly sided with Bichotte in the dispute.
“My office is looking forward on working to pursue both an official “Little Caribbean and a “Little Haiti. The words in the letter were hurtful; I understand the community’s concern and I certainly hope an apology is forthcoming, and deservedly so,” said Williams.
Sources in the greater Flatbush community were split with one saying Bichotte often is unduly divisive, and it hurts her as an elected official and the community at large.
“Rodneyse has had a long history of being combative for no reason, beginning after she was first elected when went on Talkline Communications [a Jewish radio show] and said these Jews didn’t vote for me,” said a prominent Flatbush activist.
But another political source said is doesn’t make sense for Skinner insulting the Haitian community considering the viscous discrimination against Haitians in the area dating back to the 1980s and 1990s, when many alleged openly that it was Haitian-American spreading AIDS.
The source said there are much bigger issues to confront such as affordable housing and the increase of gentrification along the corridor.
“It doesn’t make sense for people to be insulting each other’s culture. Let’s just have both designations and move on,” said the source.