Pride and Prestige: Haiti’s Legacy

A week ago this time myself along with others in my program were returning from our weekend in The Republic of Haiti. I honestly never thought that I would have had the chance to go to Haiti so early in my life but I am not complaining. I can say it was one of the best experiences of my life so far. The world tends to view Haiti for all its negative things such as the earthquake and political corruption but I am going to talk a little about the history of Haiti and how this country that occupies one third of the the island of Hispaniola was able to shake the foundation of the world; also, how Haiti has impacted my life as a black man.

During slavery Haiti was the most profitable Caribbean colony when it came to the production of sugar, it essentially was France’s crown jewel. In order for Haiti to have reached this position they had to keep their fields filled with slaves. Sugar production was extremely intense leading to high mortality rates and low infant birth rates, and in order to keep Europeans’ sweet tooth satisfied there had to be a continual supply of slaves. Therefore when the Haitian Revolution took place there were more black Haitians than white ones. I cannot get into the reasons why the Haitian Revolution was successful because this is a blog post not a book but let’s just say that all the ingredients preceding it helped to create a perfect storm that made Thomas Jefferson terrified. 

Now why did I talk about all of that and what does it have to do to me. Here is your answer, the fact that these slaves could overthrow one of the most powerful empires at the time is amazing. Most of the slaves were illiterate aside for some of the leaders of the Revolution. The sheer will of the people helped to topple the French slavery regime and establish the first free black Republic in the New World. Now this did not settle well with many. For example, the United States and countries that thrived on slavery were terrified while black slaves around the world especially in the Western Hemisphere were given hope. It was so bad that residents in urban cities feared that slaves were poisoning the city water supply. Also any word of insurrection made white citizens fear. Slaves were prohibited from gathering in certain places and militia men essentially became the protectors of the white people and tormentors of the slaves.  Nat Turner’s rebellion was perhaps one of the best examples of how the Haitian Revolution had embolden slaves to take their freedom. The first black republic was so frightening that  Thomas Jefferson impose an embargo on the new republic hoping to cripple the economy.This seems contradictory considering the similarities between America and Haiti. The fact that it was a government operated by blacks overshadowed the fact that like the United States, Haitians had fought to overthrow their oppressor.

Yes so Haiti sent shockwaves through the world the day they became independent and again when they were able to defeat Napoleon who had been conquering all over the place. So why is Haiti looked at with such disgust today? After all this nation gave black people everywhere hope that they too could be free. I remember when I was in about fourth grade and I was talking to this Haitian boy and a boy who’s mother was Jamaican later asked me “What kind of Jamaican are you?!” So I didn’t respond I was confused as to why I as a Jamaican shouldn’t talk to a Haitian (apparently there is some beef between the two but this only appears to be in America because in Jamaica they don’t have bad feelings toward Haitians and vice versa in Haiti).  In my city there was a negative stigma ascribed to Haitians for whatever reason and I can say that it is not just my town. I also admit to falling prey to the same thought about Haitians when I was younger. I feel that people tend to look at Haitians for the negative and often forget how they changed the world. When I was younger I did not know of Haiti’s influence and of course that is how people would like it to stay. The struggle against Haitians is no where more apparent than in their neighbor Dominican Republic where for many the idea of blackness is embodied by Haitians. Since many Dominicans shy away from their African roots it make sense why they would not have positive thoughts about Haitians. Another example, this past weekend I was in Santo Domingo with my friend who is Dominican and I received several stares some very angry. One guy told my friend not to walk with me because when I see my friends we would attack and rape her. Yes he said that. I am not surprised by this and coming here I expected it but I am glad something like this did not happen when I arrived it would’ve have ruined the experience. I know all Dominicans do not think this way I have met some really amazing Dominican friends who prove the country is changing =D.

The trip to Haiti really opened my eyes. This country was very hated at one time and today it is viewed in an extremely negative light but is for sure Haitians are still some of the proudest people I have ever known. Going to Haiti gave me the opportunity to understand why they are so proud and why when I went to Jamaica, my pride increased tremendously. So I celebrate Haiti and Haitians because I finally I can say I understand what gives them their strength when almost everyone tries to tear them down. Until next time,

 

Peace and Love,

 

Khemani G 

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