“My poor, un-white thing! Weep not nor rage. I know, too well, that the curse of God lies heavy on you,” W.E.B Dubois writes in the Souls of White Folk. For, he understood the great burden of what being black in America carried. But the matter of race stretched far beyond the borders of America and globally it comprised of varying representations.
In history, black and slave became synonymous with one another. For hundreds of years, the blacks have been enslaved by ethnocentric, imperial capitalists who justified the unethical bondage of the African peoples by claiming that a biological trait automatically makes them inferior. Black skin condemned billions of people to a lifetime of subordinate legal and social and economical status (Soderland). This essay endeavors to examine race in postcolonial Haiti and its impact on the island today.
The history of Haiti is one plagued by racial division and great economic difficulties. Presently, Haiti is a small island occupied by a predominately black population. Hundreds of years ago, pre-colonial Haiti was inhabited by the Taino indigenous people. When Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the island (1451-1506), he claimed it on behalf of Spain, renaming Haiti, Hispaniola. The indigenous groups were forced into slavery but the introduction of European disease proved fatal to the un-immune natives. In order to satisfy their slave shortage, the Spanish turned to the Atlantic slave trade, introducing the Africans to the island of Hispaniola. As a result of buccaneering activity of the French, the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick by Spain ceded the western half of Hispaniola to France. Off of the back-breaking labor of its slaves, newly dubbed Saint-Domingue became the world’s wealthiest colony (Girard, 2008).
Unloading flour ships from Miragoane, Haiti, betwwn 1909 and 1932. (Library of Congress)
Due to increase of production in sugar, coffee and cotton, the slave importation greatly intensified. By 1789, the colony was now made up of approximately 40,000 whites, 30,000 mulattos and freed blacks, and 450,000 slaves (Munro, 2005). Given the African dominance in population, revolution was essentially inevitable. The economic wealth of Saint Domingue relied heavily on slave labor so the capitalists regulated actions of slaves and slave owners through a series of laws called Code Noir
Established social barriers spurred racial and political struggles between the inhabitants of the colony. The poor whites were at odds with the rich whites, battling for political power meanwhile the mulatto population was striving for equality against their white counterparts. They pushed for the Declaration of the Rights of Man 1789 that would preserve the equal rights of all men. The black slaves rebelled against their capitalist owners ending slavery in 1793.
Many have tried but on January 1, 1804, Haiti became the first black republic to gain their independence.
The following years were marked by the massacre of remaining whites, hostility
and suspicion of the colonial powers, and the consequent need to maintain a war
ready army. Politically the new republic was un-unified and moreover, after
almost 200 years of independence, the country is in ruins (Munro, 2005).
Dubois, W. E. B. Darkwater: Voices from within the veil. (p. 35). Atlanta, GA: Two Horizons Press.
The declaration of rights of man and citizen (1789). (n.d.). Retrieved fromhttp://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/americanstudies/lavender/drmanwom.html
Girard, P. R. (2008). Code noir. Africa and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History, Retrieved from http://www.credoreference.com.ccny-proxy1.libr.ccny.cuny.edu/entry/abcafatrle/code_noir
Sunderland, J. R. (n.d.).
(2008). In A Historical Companion to Postcolonial Literatures: Continental Europe and its Empires. Retrieved from http://ccny-proxy1.libr.ccny.cuny.edu/login?url=http://www.credoreference.com/entry/edinburghpc1/haiti
Munro, M. (2005). Haiti. France and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History, Retrieved from http://www.credoreference.com.ccny-proxy1.libr.ccny.cuny.edu/entry/abcframrle/haiti
Soderland, J. R. (n.d.). Creating a biracial society 1619-1720. In W. Scott & W. Shade (Eds.), Upon these Shores (p. 63). New York: Routledge.