By the Department of African & African American Studies at Duke University
Jan 29, 2010
At the same time, as scholars of the African and African-American experience, we are dismayed by the inhumanity of those who have used this tragedy as an opportunity to espouse groundless explanations for Haiti's troubles. The events unfolding in the Caribbean are the result of neither a supernatural curse nor of a cultural pathology. And we hope that as the relief efforts currently underway turn their focus to rebuilding, Haiti's international partners will draw more appropriate lessons from the history of Haiti's unique predicament in the world of nations.
Until 1791, Haitians suffered under one of the most brutal regimes of slavery ever known to mankind, generating astronomical profits for France at an equally astronomical cost in African lives.
Yet the enslaved Africans of Haiti accomplished the first successful slave revolution in recorded history. In its commitment to human equality, it exceeded that of the American Revolution. With donations of money and arms, Haiti helped to liberate what is now Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, and Panama from the Spanish Empire. For such reasons, Haiti has long served as an inspiration to the enslaved and the oppressed. This inspiration is likely the source of the name of Durham's own Hayti neighborhood, like that of its counterparts across the United States.
And Haiti paid a dear price for its exemplary ambition to freedom. For example, as a precondition of diplomatic recognition in 1825, Haiti paid France an indemnity equivalent to roughly $22 billion in today's dollars, burdening the Haitian state with a crippling debt for generations. In fear of the example set by Haiti, the US denied diplomatic recognition until 1863, for over half a century. Thus, the slave-holding powers laid siege to the island nation. Despite an official economic blockade against Haiti by the US and the European powers, the Haitian peasantry secured a profitable place in the 19th-century coffee market. However, the US occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934, 20th-century patterns of land acquisition by foreign corporations, a series of US- and French-backed dictators, and shifts in the global economy have set Haiti back, without, however, extinguishing the enormous hope, energy, and skills that Haitians bring to the building of a new future.
The Haitian people are heirs to a stunningly beautiful culture of collective labor, self-help, spiritual wisdom, musical performance, and indefatigable perseverance. The people of Haiti, their energetic diaspora, and their friends abroad can and must roll up their sleeves and work together for a better tomorrow.
Duke's Department of African and African American Studies commits itself to making the gifts and the travails of the Haitian people a continued inspiration to the entire world. With Haiti we stand united in the pursuit of clean water, nourishing food, life-sustaining shelter, good health care,
and freedom for all. At this moment of crisis, we focus our prayers, our donations, and our efforts on saving the lives of our beloved Haitian brothers and sisters.
--The Department Faculty
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