Sunday, August 24, 2008
The blackness of Dessalines posted by Richard Seymour
In the comments to the post below, it is pointed out that the early outstanding strike against white supremacy was the Haitian revolution. It was also pointed out to me that when it comes to subverting the racial order, there is no better example than Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the first ruler of an independent Haiti:
All Haitians, - Ayisyen yo - "shall hence forward be known only by the generic appellation of "Blacks." (See, Dessalines' 1805 Constitution).
Thus, in Dessalines' Haiti, "Black," is deracialized. We all now know that race is purely a social construct with no scientific grounds. The truth is there is just one race, the human race. But back at its creation, the country of Haiti was based on this truth.
For, Dessalines defined those who fought for the abolishment of chattel slavery in Haiti and against colonialism, including the few whites that did fight on the side of the Africans, as "Blacks." To study Dessalines' life, achievements and first Constitution is to come to know that a "Black" is a person (no matter his/her skin color, European or African) who stands for freedom, human dignity and against slavery, colonialism and imperialism. No ideal in this modern world so directly confronts and conquers the biological fatalism of white privilege. In Dessalines' 1805 Constitution, all Haitians are "known only by the generic appellation of "Blacks." And "Blacks" included even the Polish and Germans who fought with the African warriors on the side of liberty and equality, not slavery, plunder and profit. Black people in Dessalines' Haiti are "lovers-of-liberty" who are willing to live free or die. To reiterate, there is no modern philosophy or ideal that has so directly provided the world with an ALTERNATIVE to the manufactured "race game," based on skin color, as this Dessalines ideal.
The Constitution of 1805 declared that no white, of whatever nation, could set foot on Haiti as a master or owner of property. This was reasonable enough: the last time they came in that guise, they totally wrecked the place and turned it into the most miserable slave colony in the world. But white people were in fact permitted to stay and be naturalised as Haitians - namely, those who had fought alongside the indigenes. But they would be referred to as "black", not white. This was partly a domestic strategy to defuse the tension between newly freed black Haitians (nouveaux libres) and those mulattoes who had been freedmen under the French empire (ancien libres). Indeed, it was Dessalines attempt to redistribute the estates confiscated from the French to the nouveaux libres that raised the ire of the ancien libres and led to his assassination in 1806. But in effect as well as in intent, it subverted the very idea of 'race' by interpreting blackness as a mode of social equality, not of natural hierarchy.