Haiti Awareness Day Celebration
Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at the College of Alameda
During Spring Break 2010 Professor Wanda Sabir went to Haiti. She visited schools, orphanages, and other organizations devastated by the January 12, 2010 earthquake. She saw crumbled and severely damaged national monuments in Port-au-Prince and just north on her way to Cap-Haïtien. She met wonderful people like Rea Dol whose school Sopudep was damaged and the neighborhood so severely damaged that she decided to rebuild in another city nearby where the stench of death isn’t as powerful and the PTSD triggers absent. Of her staff of 50 over half were homeless three months after the quake, yet, each day they showed up along with students the week the week she was there to help build a wall around the perimeter of the new school site. The former major of Petionville also came by. He is a structural engineer and is consulting with Mrs. Dol on the new structure. Later that week Professor Sabir got a tour of Cité Soleil with a young activist, Jean Ristil Jean Baptiste, who showed her bullet ridden buildings where many more recently orphaned children’s parents were killed by the government.
In an event co-sponsored by ASCOA join us in a celebration of Haitian culture and resilience as we look at a nation which can use our assistance in its move towards liberation and self-determination. We will have a blessing in the Haitian tradition with drumming and song, a slide presentation, along with a history of Haiti in the context of the rebuilding efforts headed by this government (Clinton/GW Bush). There will also be information about grassroots organizations one can assist with money and in-kind donations. Professor Sabir would like to return early June for two weeks this time to visit Port-au-Prince again and Southern Haiti: Jacmel, Les Cayes, Port Salut.
I am so excited to be here with you celebrating the legacy of the Haitian Revolution, specifically General Jean Jacques Dessalines, who on May 18, 1803, at the first Pan African Congress created the Haitian flag. Flag Day is such a misnomer; it’s like calling King Tutkhanamun: King Tut—as Professor Siri says its like saying Hey Dude to the pharaoh, god’s representative on earth. May 18, 1803 was so much more!
Jacob H. Carruthers’s The Irritated Genie is such a fine work, a preview not just for the Haitian Revolution, but for black revolutionary struggle. The Irritated Genie is an examination of the pre- and post-colonials transfers of power which are not really transfers of power if we look at the state of the Pan African Diaspora and how freedom and liberty and justice are defined outside the elite circles, those “field negroes,” whether literal or figurative.
Carruthers’says in his essay, The Irritated Genie: An Essay on the Haitian Revolution, General Dessalines used that moment 207 years ago to reconcile factions and to end the national identify crisis. His “[removal of] the white bar from the red, white and blue tri-colors under which both Toussaint’s army and the French expedition had been fighting” represented an abandoning of support for the Europeans and a reliance on black sovereignty and independent. Toussaint had been kidnapped and starved to death in a French prison (1803), the French were trying to re-enslave free Africans. The racial and class divides between free blacks and enslaved blacks, Kreyol and pure blacks was seen as it was, a way to keep Africans weak and divided. I can’t imagine the spectacle of Africans and Europeans, both marching to the “tune of La Marseillaise and other French songs under the French flag proclaiming ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.’ It was quite confusing when the enemy was doing the same. Both sides were trying to save the French Republic. Dessalines removed the white bar symbolizing the white people and the French nation in particular. He then joined the blue which symbolized the Mulattoes (or mixed race Africans). Thus, the united sons of Africa were fighting against their common enemy” (77).
Dessalines was not afraid to be misunderstood or vilified. He loved his people enough to accept their misdirected disdain. This is how Victor Schoelcher, in Colonies: Etrangeres et Haiti, 1843, cited in Steward, p. 231), a contemporary white scholar describes Dessalines:
“He did not wish to borrow anything from the whites. He repelled all civilization; he would not agree to learn anything beyond rudely making some mark which represented his name. he affected to speak only Creole and to not understand French; and although born in Saint Domingo he vaunted himself as being only a ‘savage African’” (Carruthers 77).
Today we look at the victory of Haiti, its successes and its failures as a microcosm of Pan African suffrage or independence movements. After reading the Irritated Genie which looks at the Haitian Revolution at a war with white supremacy, the French and by extension the Americans or Spaniards, who were not about to agree to rule where black and white, that is, formerly enslaved Africans and they are equal. Toussaint L’Overture believed the French could and would eventually see Africans as their equal, when nothing was further from the truth then and now. At its basic level, the Haitian revolution was a fight for human rights. Dessalines never said Africans were superior to another race or culture. He just said “liberty or death.”
I am so happy on the eve of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz’s birthday that I am at the College of Alameda, a part of the Peralta College District, a place where Malcolm X is not only recognized, he is given a holy day. The Peralta College District has a history of black powere and black liberation with the birth of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, and many of its student leaders enrolled here. The Peralta College District is also the first college district in the nation to have a black student union.
Malcolm X, Stokley Carmichael or Kwame Ture, gave a speech at Merritt College when Huey P. Newton wasn’t feelin’ too much love for the brother after COINTELPRO whispered in his ear that Ture was out to get him. Ture, named for two revolutionary African leaders, post-colonialism, Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Turre, presidents of Ghana and Guinea, showed up to countradict that rumor in person.
I mention these leaders, now ancestors, because they walked in the footsteps, they stood on the shoulders of General Dessalines and the Henri Christophe and Petion and of course Toussaint L’Overture. CL James, another scholar and author of the book, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Overture and the San Domingo Revolution, “views Haiti as the first link in the chain of Pan-African revolts that led to independence throughout Africa.” (113).
Frederick Douglas says in 1893 that the Haitian Revolution laid the foundation for the vindication of the Black race. He says: “Speaking for the Negro, I can say, we owe much to (David) Walker for his Appeal … But we owe incomparably more to Haiti than to them all. I regard her as the original pioneer emancipator of the nineteenth century” (111).
The independence movements in Africa do not mention the Haitian revolution. Revolutionary blacks, Curruthers says, and I agree, tend to cite Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Cuban revolutionaries before they reference General Dessalines.
This week around the country and the world, Africans are celebrating African Liberation Day. A day instituted by Kwame Ture when he created the All African People’s Revolutionary Movement, similar to Malcolm X’s Organization of African Unity.
This is what Dessalines in the footsteps of Bookman and Mame Fatiman intended when the “irritated genie” is satisfied. On January 1, 1804, Independence Day, General Dessalines says, “It is not enough to have expelled from our country the barbarians which have stained it with blood for two centuries. It is not enough to have stopped the factions which have always reviewed each after its turn, a phantom of liberty that the French exposed to your eyes” (90). True freedom is uncompromising—it is 100 percent or nothing at all.
Black history really is world history—the mistakes of the past echo in the present—Katrina wasn’t a mistake. It was intentional, just as the response to Haiti’s January 12, 2010, earthquake and subsequent tremors is intentional. The earthquake of economic sanctions and global or at least western nation nods to military coups and dictatorships resemble the policies of the 18th century when Caruthers’s states: The white phantom masquerade as Black Power (53).