The Haitian Revolution and the Question of Race

I recently acquired some new books on the Haitian Revolution for an upcoming conference. I will be given a paper at UTD’s Graduate School Symposium in April. I will look at the Haitian Revolution from a race relations perspective. I will argue that the Haitian Revolution anticipated universal emancipation and gave birth to ( universal) human rights and dignity in the Western Hemisphere. Further, I will suggest that the idea of 1804, which preceded a tremendous racial divide, then subsequent racial harmony & reconciliation between the two groups: African blacks and mulattoes in Saint- Domigue, could serve as a model for race relations and the celebration of racial equality.

Acquired Book List:

Tree of Liberty: Cultural Legacies of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World, Doris L. Garrawy (ed).

From Dessalines to Duvalier: Race, Colour and National Independence in Haiti, David Nicholls.

Slave Revolution in the Caribbean 1789-1804: A Brief History with Documents, Laurent Dubois and John D. Garrigus

Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution, Laurent Dubois

Before Haiti: Race and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue, John D. Garrigus

The Renaissance of Haitian Poetry, Naomi M. Garrett

Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, Sibylle Fischer

Haitian Revolutionary Studies, David Patrick Geggus

Anthologie de la nouvelle poesie negre et malgache de la langue francaise, Leopold Sedar Senghor

Universal Emancipation: The Haitian Revolution and the Radical Enlightenment, Nick Nesbitt

Facing Racial Revolution: Eyewitness Accounts of the Haitian Insurrection, Jeremy D. Popkin

The Other America: Carribean Literature in a New World Context, J. Michael Dash

The Making of Haiti, Carolyn E. Fick

The Libertine Colony: Creolozation in the Early French Carribean, Doris Garraway

The Idea of Race: Readings in Philosophy, Robert Bernascomi and Tommy L. Lott

Race: The History of an Idea in the West, Ivan Hannaford.


Who do you say you are?

Who do you say you are?
By Jean H Charles

This famous sentence uttered by Jesus the Christ “who do they say I am? “is at the heart of the Christian doctrine. The connection with God is a personal faith- driven discovery and manifestation that lead to love one’s God and to love thy neighbor as thyself. Who do you say you are? This question is at the heart of the issue of double nationality raging these days in Haiti, in the Diaspora and in fact in the whole Caribbean.
Rudolph Henry Boulos a Haitian American by birth (he was born in the United States of Haitian parents) and Ultimo Compere a naturalized American of Haitian origin have been on trial in the Haitian Legislature and in the public opinion for holding their seats in the Haitian Parliament while not being fully vetted for their nationality credentials. This issue seems a legal one but it is in fact a political one. The true question is whether Haitishall continue to treat its 2 million citizens in the Diaspora and its 7 million in the rural areas as niggers with no consideration for, no responsibility towards and no connexion with its mission of nation building. Haitirecovery from the status of a failed state to one of a vibrant democracy, and prosperous nation rests on its political will to tackle this gangrene on both sides.

As said Pogo, I have been looking for the enemy. It is within me. The chatting on the internet in the Diaspora has been heavily towards the prosecution and the expulsion of the two legislators. The reason may have to do more with alleged hubris (extreme arrogance that may lead to your demise) than to a reasoned discussion of the issue. Senator Boulos is a member of a Lebanese-Syrian scion family, prominent in commerce and in industry in Haiti. He has little sympathy from a radical politically vocal constituency that sees his class as an impediment to Haitidevelopment.
Yet the issue of double nationality in Haitiis bigger than the Boulos family and the Boulos case. It is reminiscent of the United Statessaga some two hundred thirty years ago withholding the right to citizenship to the Black population after a Black regiment has helped George Washington win the independence from the British government. The Haitian Diaspora is sending almost 3 billion per year to Haiti, yet it has no political power out of this goodwill self taxation. There is no movement to initiate the process of double nationality, under the best conditions will take at least 11 years to become a full fledged law.
In 1860 Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were confronted with the dilemma of taking side for the voice of reason, the sense of moral patrimony and the common heritage of white and black in America. Lincolnin the end, after consulting his Cabinet has satisfied his conscience and said to this best friend: he would not wait for a constitutional amendment to declare: “I have made up my mind about Emancipation, now help me with the timing.”

On the other side Frederick Douglass debated the proposition that forging full speed ahead in securing the Black Emancipation would help not only the Black people but will also emancipate the women (black or white). Dividing the issue in gender and in race will prolong the domination of the white male on all segments of the society. Against the advocacy of feminists such as Sojourner Truth, Douglass forged ahead in convincing Abraham Lincoln that the Black Emancipation was a sine qua non condition to construct a more perfect society, an Americathat would be hospitable to all.

Haiti, at this juncture must make a choice if she wants to stop being the poorest, the most vilipended, the least desired country that one (including its own citizens) would like to live in. From time immemorial, it has been found that the countries and the cities that prospered the most, have been those who have been the most hospitable to their own people and to the foreigners. New York Cityis the best example in our times. It is constantly rated (in spite of its large population of 8 million people) one of the best places to work, study, grows your children and enjoys life. Athensand Corinthin ancient times were known for the same reason; their reputation for the mother of civilization will endure for posterity.

The European Community is embarking into that mode. It is delivering the European Community passport to young American citizens whose parents have left Europeseveral generations ago, usurping the right to use the talents, the skills and the wealth of this new created class of citizens. It is the way of the future to maintain and continue the wealth of nations.
I used to question the loyalty of the Syrian Lebanon community established in the whole Caribbeanfrom Guyanato Cubato their new country in the Antilles. I had an epiphany when I have observed the patriotism, the devotion of the Hosang family of the Caribbeanfood and delights Company to Jamaica. They are Jamaican with Chinese roots migrated to the United Statessome forty years ago. The incubator of the famous Jamaican patties, their generosity towards their fellow Jamaicans and towards Jamaicais without limits. It is up to the country to create an atmosphere of hospitality for the national and for those who want to belong, the rest will be topping on the cake.
Haitiwas created as the most hospitable nation in the globe; when the whole world was inhospitable to Blacks, Indian, women, and people of color. In its first Constitution of 1805, it did provide full citizenship to any black or Indian who could step foot on the land. With the assassination of its founding father Jean Jacques Dessalines in 1806, Haitihas reverted into a land hospitable only to the sons and the daughters of the generals and to the mulattoes. Social cohesion was maintained only with the concept of noblesse oblige; those who have much and still practice the Christian doctrine of charity would tend a hand to those who have less.

This doctrine of noblesse oblige has been catapulted around 1946 with the concept of noirisme championed by President Dumarsais Estime to counteract the supremacy of the mulattoes in all aspects of the administration. Dumarsais would seek out and try to promote a few dark skin Haitians leaving in fact the large majority of the black population not better off than before. That doctrine has been intensified and abused for political reasons by Francois Duvalier during his regime of terror cementing the stratification of the nation. Jean Bertrand Aristide has completed the circle by promoting open warfare between not only the mulattoes and the blacks but amongst the few blacks that have entered into the middle class status and the rest of the population.

Salvation for Haitican only happen with the concept of the shared vision of the future for all. All segments of the society shall try to create a country that will become hospitable to all: the mulattoes, the blacks, the peasants, the Diaspora, the tourists and the foreigners. This can only happen if we start by investing in the rural areas where the large majority of the Haitians still live and work and by instituting the concept of double nationality as soon as possible.
Senator Rudolph Boulos was a champion of that doctrine. His political capital with the rural mass in his district was becoming a major threat to those who want to remain in the ill conceived doctrine of noirism as the motto for a prosperous Haiti. The easiest solution was to use an expedient and chase him from the Senate as a foreigner. The Senate and the Haitian government will succeed only for a while. Senator Boulos as well as the 2 million Haitians in the Diaspora along with the 7 million from the rural areas are part of the solution for a prosperous Haiti. As soon as the Haitian Parliament, the Haitian government and the Haitian civil society will understand this truth, the closer Haitiwill become a nation rich, democratic and peaceful.

Quote du Jour

En me renversant,on n’a abattu à Saint-Domingue que le tronc de l’arbre de la liberté des nègres ; il repoussera par les racines, parce qu’elles sont profondes et nombreuses.–Toussaint Louverture

Garraway on Haitian Revolution

Tree of Liberty: Cultural Legacies of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World by Doris L. Garraway is supposed to be an adequate treatment on the importance of the Haitian Revolution. Professor Garraway is an excellent writer, having published a major work on The Libertine Colony: Creolization in the Early French Caribbean (Duke University Press, 2005). We expect great things from her latest book, that will soon be available to order in May, 2008.

Book Description
On January 1, 1804, Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared the independence of Haiti, thus bringing to an end the only successful slave revolution in history and transforming the colony of Saint-Domingue into the second independent state in the Western Hemisphere. The historical significance of the Haitian Revolution has been addressed by numerous scholars, but the importance of the Revolution as a cultural and political phenomenon has only begun to be explored. Although the path-breaking work of Michel-Rolph Trouillot and Sibylle Fischer has illustrated the profound silences surrounding the Haitian Revolution in Western historiography and in Caribbean cultural production in the aftermath of the revolution, contributors to this volume argue that, while suppressed and disavowed in some quarters, the Haitian Revolution nonetheless had an enduring cultural and political impact, particularly on peoples and communities that have been marginalized in the historical record and absent from the discourses of Western historiography.
Tree of Liberty interrogates the literary, historical, and political discourses that the Revolution produced and inspired across time and space and across national and linguistic boundaries. In so doing, it seeks to initiate a far-reaching discussion of the revolution as a cultural and political phenomenon that shaped ideas about the Enlightenment, freedom, postcolonialism, and race in the modern Atlantic world.

ContributorsA. James Arnold, University of Virginia * Chris Bongie, Queen’s University * Paul Breslin, Northwestern University * Ada Ferrer, New York University * Doris L. Garraway, Northwestern University * E. Anthony Hurley, SUNY Stony Brook * Deborah Jenson, University of Wisconsin, Madison * Jean Jonassaint, Syracuse University * Valerie Kaussen, University of Missouri * Ifeoma C.K. Nwankwo, Vanderbilt University –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Quote of the Day

“In overthrowing me, you have cut only the trunk of the tree of liberty. It will spring again from the roots for they are numerous and deep.”
— Toussaint L’Ouverture, 1802