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53 C h a p t e r 3 “Unhappy Haiti” U.S. Imperialism, Racial Violence, and the Politics of Diaspora In the first quarter of the twentieth century, people of African descent in the New World argued about what Africa could mean to its people in diaspora. These arguments took the form of speeches, essays, poems, newspapers, music, and visual art. By and large, much of this discourse operated within the same assumptions about the nature of culture and parameters of black public space that structured the PanAfrican rhetoric of W. E. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey: black ethos was frequently expressed in terms of a spiritual unity, founded in Africa and distributed among the African Diaspora. Although many people of African descent did locate a part of their sense of personal identity in Africa, this identity did not extend to coherent political positions or an appreciation of shared political contexts. At the close of the 1920s, however, social circumstances in the United States and developments in the meaning of “culture” among the black elite enabled a rhetoric that simultaneously redefined Africa and the scope and style of black American participation in U.S. democracy. This rhetoric employed a new resource as well: U.S. foreign policy. Foreign policy issues like the occupation of Haiti by U.S. troops were perceived as crises in many black communities, and these crises provided an opportunity for black people to articulate a new collective identity based on an explicitly political affiliation with the African Diaspora, to pursue alternative strategies for progressive politics, and to oppose white supremacy both at home and abroad. 54 Ch apt er 3 Haiti has a long history in U.S. rhetorical culture and black America. During the nineteenth century, Haiti and prominent Haitians figured in descriptions of the political potential of black Americans. For example, the leaders who achieved Haiti’s independence, Toussaint-Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, appeared in U.S. discourse as two paradigms of black agency. Louverture represented the potential for republican government in the African Diaspora, and Dessalines embodied the power of violent revolution to establish cultural integrity.1 In this allegorical register , mythic Haitian individuals provided political and moral ideals whose celebration inspired black people around the globe. The actual state of Haiti, however, was a source of ambivalence in black America; the country’s political instability and its legacy of French colonialism complicated how black Americans identified with the Caribbean nation. During much of the nineteenth century, Haiti struggled to accomplish peaceful transitions of political power and to maintain its economic and political autonomy in the face of European and U.S. imperial ambitions. Nineteenth-century emigrationist James Theodore Holly, who became a resident of Haiti in 1862, blamed this instability on the crippling legacies of the related evils colonialism and slavery, but he also argued that Haiti’s French language and culture, Catholicism, and pagan voodoo had retarded the country’s development. Holly lobbied for increased U.S. black emigration to create a more “Anglo-African” Haiti, imagining black America as an agent in Haiti’s approach to the modern: the “Black AngloSaxon ” would speed the cultural transformations necessary for Haiti’s empowerment. Holly’s complicated perspective saw intertwined destinies for black America and Haiti; nevertheless, these destinies would be possible only through the agency of the civilizing influence of black America. For Holly and many black Americans in the nineteenth century, Haiti was both a source of “expectation, pride, missionary zeal” and “embarrassment, despair, and irritation.”2 When the United States occupied Haiti in 1915, many black Americans reinterpreted their relationship to the country. Unlike U.S. imperialism in Mexico and the Philippines, the invasion of Haiti generated moments of widespread, passionate response.3 Many black Americans initially supported the occupation, because they believed that a military presence in Haiti was the first and necessary step in the country’s transformative evolution toward a modern democracy. “Race” was largely an absent or ancillary dimension of these arguments about Haiti; the intervention itself was "Unhappy Haiti" 55 described as a matter of foreign policy rather than a policy that affected black America directly. As the occupation became increasingly violent and exploitative, however, black Americans saw it as being motivated by the same racism that perpetuated social inequality at home. The turning point for black American attitudes toward the occupation was the 1929 massacre of Haitian protestors by U.S. marines at Aux Cayes. This event shocked and angered many...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781613762219
Related ISBN
9781558499775
MARC Record
OCLC
830023591
Pages
168
Launched on MUSE
2012-12-20
Language
English
Open Access
No
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