Well, I am celebrating today.
After years of pressure from KOSANBA, the Scholarly Association for the Study of Haitian Vodou at UC Santa Barbara, the Library of Congress has agreed today to change its primary subject heading for the establishing religion of Haiti from the old derogatory term “Voodooism” to the more anthropologically and linguistically sound “Vodou.”
This marks a historical moment and important change in the relationship between the United States and Haiti. What you call something matters. The word “Voodooism” is a throwback to colonial times in the Western Hemisphere, and it resonates with even more condescension than the old term “Mohammedanism” for Islam.
The word “voodoo” has traditionally been used to isolate, demonize, and primitivize the religion of the people of Haiti and West Africa. Voodoo is an Anglo outsider’s word for the religion. Voodoo is the religion that white people thought Haitians were practicing, but vodou is what Haitians practice.
Note: My new book about Haiti is called Farewell, Fred Voodoo. The Fred Voodoo of the title is the old foreign correspondents’ tongue-in-cheek name for the Haitian man in the street, like Joe Sixpack here in the U.S. In fact, I perversely but purposefully retained the spelling “voodoo” in my book precisely because the book is, in part, about the relationship between outsiders and Haitians, and about how outsiders view Haitians and vice versa. I thought it was important to let that strong pejorative word resonate.
Farewell to it now!! And by the way, Tumblr, it’s time to stop correcting me to “voodoo” when I type in vodou!!