Whitewashing Haiti’s History

Sidney Mintz – The Boston Review

Copyright The Boston Review
Every medium of communication in the world is now overrun with pronouncements about Haiti. Many have been ill-informed, and a few maliciously intemperate. The extreme comments have the effect of making those that are mildly reasonable in tone seem more reliable; some, more so than they deserve. The New York Times, for instance, editorializes about Haiti’s “generations of misrule, poverty and political strife,” as if those nouns were enough to explain the history of Haiti.
Nations have beginnings, and then national histories, and the history of each is unique. I know how obvious that is. But the penchant among journalists and political scientists for creating phony categories such as “kleptocracies,” “developing nations,” and “failed states,” and then using these categories to obstruct serious talk, in this case about Haiti, immobilizes us and conceals the need to uncover the weight of local and particular history.
The New World’s second republic has indeed known political strife, bad leadership, and poverty. But to judge Haiti fairly, it is essential to remember that the country won its independence under the worst imaginable circumstances. The Haitians declared their freedom in 1804, when the New World was mostly made up of European colonies (and the United States) all busily extracting wealth from the labor of millions of slaves. This included Haiti’s neighbors, the island colonies of France, Great Britain, Denmark, and The Netherlands, among others. From the United States to Brazil, the reality of Haitian liberation shook the empire of the whip to the core. Needless to say, no liberal-minded aristocrats or other Europeans joined the rebel side in the Haitian Revolution, as some had in the American Revolution.
The inescapable truth is that “the world” never forgave Haiti for its revolution, because the slaves freed themselves.
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