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  • Beyond "America for the Americans"Race and Empire in the Work of Demesvar Delorme
  • Marlene L. Daut (bio)

In his 1866 book La Démocratie et le préjugé de couleur aux Étas Unis/Les Nationalités Américaines et le système Monroë, the nineteenth-century Haitian author and politician Demesvar Delorme observed that the US Civil War (1861–65) had done little to disrupt the racism that had impeded American democracy from the origin of the US nation onward. "The blacks," he explained,

cannot become citizens. They are considered a separate and inferior race. That is the sacramental explanation of the contradiction of color prejudice in the United States … And this self-serving fiction has helped them to perpetuate the prejudices whereby the black man, even when liberated from slavery, lives without the rights of citizenship within American democracy.1

For Delorme, the fact that the United States had not immediately outlawed color prejudice after the Civil War, as Haiti had done in its first constitution in 1805, issued one year after independence from France, [End Page 189] signaled a lack of seriousness about integrating formerly enslaved Africans into the nation. Delorme wrote that despite "a long and fierce civil war" (18) the elimination of color prejudice "has not been accomplished by the great struggle that the government of the Union has just so gloriously supported against the States of the South, in the name of the liberty of the blacks" (24). Delorme's argument that eliminating slavery would not be enough to rid the United States of its corresponding "slavery of color prejudice" (25) implies that equality needed to be supported by an actual legal policy requiring it. Alongside this observation Delorme identified ongoing domestic racism as indelibly connected to US colonial conquest. Delorme's very title affirms that US color prejudices ("le préjugé de couleur") must be understood alongside US expansionism in the Americas ("le système Monroë"), indicating the mutually reinforcing nature of racism and empire.

Although not usually included in genealogies of Latin American or American hemispheric anti-imperial thought, Delorme's visionary entwining of racism and imperialism as corollaries to capitalism's threat to democracy (the subject of Delorme's later 1873 La Misère au sein des richesses) deserves recognition. Delorme's analysis intersects with earlier critiques by radical intellectuals like Haiti's Baron de Vastey (1781–1820), as well as with later nineteenth-century writings by anticolonial activists like Puerto Rico's Ramón Emeterio Betances. Placing Delorme in a genealogy that includes these more well-known critics of empire reveals the origins of postcolonial studies, as the study of the history and consequences of racism and colonialism, to not only intimately involve the region called "early America"2 but to derive from hemispheric American writers themselves. What I hope returning to a nineteenth-century Haitian writer like Delorme will allow us to see as we contemplate the ongoing life of American racism, then, is that the strategy of discourse analysis used by nineteenth-century Caribbean and Latin American writers to expose the consequences of US imperialism set the stage, in many ways, for later twentieth-century critics of racism and empire like Aimé Césaire, whose Discourse on Colonialism (1950) is considered one of the foundational texts of anti-colonial resistance.

This essay, in fact, is a part of my larger interest in the way that the writings of nineteenth-century Haitian intellectuals prefigure and inaugurate a number of critical theories that govern understandings of the modern world. In many respects, the seemingly commonsense idea, espoused by today's postcolonial theorists, that anti-imperialism and anti-racism [End Page 190] are democratic imperatives, descends from revolutionary Haiti's refusal to engage in empire-building. Delorme, for example, contrasted Haiti's long-standing anti-imperial stance to the white US American nativism and hemispheric imperialism associated with the so-called Monroe Doctrine. Although Delorme's faith that adherence to Enlightenment values could bring about an end to both racial and imperial domination was unduly optimistic, I suggest that his critical analysis of the way that domestic racism and colonial expansion were wholly intertwined, even in the absence of formal slavery...


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