Herby Duverné, 48, runs a $12 million security firm in Boston--but he began his career cleaning bathrooms in Port-au-Prince. While he acknowledges that his native Haiti has its issues, he would never go so far as to characterize the country as a "shithole."
The U.S. president appears to have just done so.
On Thursday afternoon, Trump alarmed lawmakers when he used vulgar language to describe Haiti and some African nations, reports The Washington Post. During a White House meeting discussing a potential immigration deal, which would include protections for Haitians and Africans, Trump asked his advisers why the U.S. should accept immigrants from such "shithole countries," according to at least two sources with direct knowledge of the conversation. He further suggested that the U.S. welcome more immigrants from Norway--the northern European nation with an overwhelmingly white population (83 percent), whose president had met with Trump earlier that day.
The remarks, which the president somewhat denied on Twitter, drew the ire of many across social media and beyond. At least one lawmaker of Haitian descent referred to the comments as "unkind, divisive [and] elitist" in a statement. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D.-Conn.), meanwhile, called them "blatantly racist."
For many U.S. entrepreneurs from the nations in question, the remarks weren't entirely surprising. When reached by phone, several expressed sadness, more so than outright anger. "It's very disappointing that the president would make such a comment about people from specific nations like Haiti," Duverné says. His company, Windwalker Group (formerly Taino Consulting), provides cybersecurity services for government agencies, as well as commercial clients, landing on Inc.'s list of the fastest-growing private companies in America at No. 1,063 in 2017.
"I came here and have made this country better, by following the rules, paying taxes, and being a contributing member of society. Immigrants [like me] have created jobs, and moved the economy further," Duverné adds. "Honestly, there's not much to respond to."
Joe Duran, the founder of wealth management firm United Capital in Newport Beach, California, feels similarly. Duran is of Spanish descent, but grew up in war-torn Zimbabwe, where he witnessed firsthand the transition from white colonial rule to independence in the early 1980s. Trump's characterization of Africa "is really disappointing," he says.
"The remarks show a lack of respect for what made this country [America]," Duran tells Inc. "Immigrants are net contributors to our [U.S.] growth and evolution as a country, and color--or where you come from--should not be a filter."
Duran, whose business manages north of $20 billion in assets, does agree with one aspect of the underlying message Trump seems to have been making. "There should be an expectation that when you come to America, you become an American. There's nothing wrong with having a requirement for a set of standards," he says.
Still--inasmuch as immigrants very often create jobs, learn the language, and contribute to the American economy--Duran emphasizes the unjustness of the president's remarks. And as an ethnically non-black person himself, the entrepreneur admits that he himself saw things through a color lens as a child. Growing up in what was then-known as Rhodesia, he's quick to point out another troubling aspect of the Trump controversy.
"The thing that I found most offensive is the fact that he's OK with Norwegians," Duran continues. "It doesn't appear to be about anything other than that they happen to be from a Nordic country, and therefore are probably white."
On Twitter, Trump acknowledged that he used "tough" language during the meeting but that "this"--presumably the vulgar term--"was not the language used." In a follow-up tweet, he added that he "never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country."