My favorite professor ever introduced me as an undergrad to the concept of “impossible history” – histories that can not exist, even though they happened. His example was the Haitian Revolution. The Haitian Revolution cannot exist within the logics of capitalism, imperialism, and white European dominance. Enslaved black people liberating themselves without the help of “friendly whites?” A tiny island in the Caribbean, with an army of the aforementioned former slaves, defeating multiple global superpowers? Impossible! So this cannot be allowed to have happened. Haiti must be economically victimized forever, moreso even than other former slave colonies in the Caribbean, just so that we can point to it and say “look, how sad,” so that no one gets to see Haiti’s very existence as the triumph it is. We teach extensively about the American and French revolutions, but only mention in passing the Haitian Revolution which occurred at the same time. Most college courses on Latin American history exclude Haiti even if they cover the rest of the Caribbean. The Haitian Revolution was impossible, a dangerous fantasy that just so happens to have actually happened. So it must be forgotten, the name of Haiti must be made synonymous with poverty, ignorance, and suffering, while never mentioning that those are all the products of 200 years of political and economic warfare and subterfuge against the island, beginning with the presidency of Thomas Jefferson!! Because we cannot have anyone thinking that even the most poor and downtrodden people. when united and organized around a common cause, can make history and change the world for the better
This is the thesis of Michel Trouillot’s book, ‘Silencing the Past’. I am sure that’s where this professor got this from.
Yep! Sorry, I just wrote this post as a ramble and didn’t expect it to spread much. The professor who relayed this to me is Alexander Aviña, a fantastic historian of Mexican radicalism who teaches at Arizona State now
One (of many) examples of how they were screwed over, from wikipedia
“Haiti’s legacy of debt began shortly after gaining independence from France in 1804. In 1825, France, with warships at the ready, demanded Haiti compensate France for its loss of slaves and its slave colony. In exchange for French recognition of Haiti as a sovereign republic, France demanded payment of 150 million francs. In addition to the payment, France required that Haiti discount its exported goods to them by 50%. In 1838, France agreed to reduce the debt to 90 million francs to be paid over a period of 30 years to compensate former plantation owners who had lost their property. The modern equivalent of $21 billion was paid from Haiti to France.
For a popular (non-academic) account, see here.