Archive for July, 2009

The restavec complex and its impact on success

I just finished reading the book “Outliers,” and the author Malcolm Gladwell makes the point that success could be linked to one’s “cultural legacies.” Specifically, he mentioned how the cultivation of rice, which is year-round in Asia, had an impact in instilling the notion to Asians that with hard work, they could achieve success.

Although I agree with most of the points made in the earlier part of the book, I certainly would also agree that the arguments made by Malcom Gladwell that cultural legacies are at best controversial. However, this has led me to ask to what extent are there any parts of my own “cultural legacies” that may give me an edge to be successful or may be an impediment? Personally, I believe that whatever limited success that I have had is attributed to my Haitian background.

Unfortunately, I believe that there is also a part of the Haitian legacy which may negatively affect the level of success that we can reach.  If you’re not Haitian you may still be affected by it, as I believe that all of us who are descendents of African slaves are affected by it. If you’re not a descendant of African slaves, there may still be other aspects of your own “cultural legacy” that may play in, as I will discuss later.

The cultural legacy that I want to address is what I called the “restavec complex” or “not your slave complex.” Before I defin this complex and its symptoms, let me explain where it comes from. In Haiti, restavecs are children mostly from poor families who are informally “adopted” by more economically able parents. But these restavecs are not treated as sons and daughters, for the most part they are children slaves or at best second-class children.

What is the legacy of restavec on the Haitian psyche? I believed that it has had the unfortunate impact of poisoning relationships between us and made us a more hierarchical society. Even within the same social classes, in terms of personal relationships, there is this distrust where one doesn’t want to be perceived as being inferior to the other “I’m not his or her restavec.”

What’s the impact of the restavec legacy?  The biggest manifestation is less social cohesion or social networking, which translates into having less social capital. If you measure social capital based on the number of social clubs/groups, the level of interaction between members of the group, there is no question in my mind that those of us of Haitian descents would be at the bottom and not at the top.

What it means in terms of success is that our Haitian cultural legacy has pushed us to be “lone wolves” instead of working in a “pack.” It doesn’t mean that we cannot be successful as “lone wolves” but that our success will be limited; that we will not be able to go after the big “preys.” Concretely, what does it mean? That our cultural legacy might push us to be more averse to entering into a partnership with others to do something that none of the partners could do on their own. Specifically, I think this cultural legacy would tend to push us against entering into a partnering relationship where we are a minor partner even when our position as a minor partner in that relationship is fair and commensurate with the contribution we bring to that partnership. Other manifestations of the restavec complex:

  • Less likely to help someone to move ahead (because this could put us in a situation of perceived inferiority once that person has moved up or the person might become less dependent on us)
  • Less likely to rejoice in the success of others (Sadly, I heard someone once said that this phenomenon is part of we are since “Haitiens” stand for “Hai le tien” in French that is to hate one of your own). The perceived success could be seen as putting us in an inferior position.
  • Personal conflicts are more likely
  • Personal honor becomes very important

As I mentioned earlier I don’t think the “restavec complex” is limited only to Haitians. Because of the persistence of quasi-slavery in Haiti with “restavecs,” along with a perpetual dictatorship, I believe we have been more affected compared to other populations. I think the “restavec complex” or “not your slave complex” is likely to affect populations that have been under long periods of dictatorships, periods of enslavement, economic oppression or mistreatment by a “majority” group. Hence,  symptoms of the “restavec complex” would not be limited to African countries or countries with people of African descent (think Eastern Europe).

July 4, 2009 at 7:17 pm Leave a comment

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July 2009