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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Friday, January 19, 2007

emancipation

LCC has links to articles about Representative Barbara Lee’s bill to open a truth commission about the facts surrounding the political claustration of Aristide, which is further explained here. As it happens, LI is writing a review of Madison Smartt Bell’s biography of Toussaint L’Ouverture (who was, like Aristide, kidnapped by a hegemonic power with malign intents towards Haiti). We are great fans of Bell’s three volume trilogy about the great slave revolt of Saint-Domingue, which is still mostly a blank in the American eye. In the biography, Bell translates and prints the first Emancipation Proclamation in the New World – this one composed by the leaders of the slaves themselves. It was sent as a letter to S-D’s General Assembly in July 1792, signed by Biassou, Jean-Francois, and Belair – and not, significantly, not by Toussant a Breda, as he was known at this time.

Toussaint very probably had read the Prince, and in any case, he had an appreciation amounting to genius of the uses of invisibility – a way of merging into the very air of the kalfou, the crossroads. The uninitiated, unaware of the paths down which they were walking, usually had already passed through him before they realized their mistake. To be underestimated was power. Thus, at this time Toussaint may well have claimed to different persons he did not know how to read or write. There is a story that Toussaint was once confronted about reading a book by a white manager – of the class of petits blancs – and beaten. That man latter was killed by Toussaint.

So Toussaint might well have had a hand in the composing and sending of that letter. Surprisingly, the letter isn’t well known outside of Haiti. Here’s two paragraphs:

For too long, Gentlemen, by way of abuses which one can never too strongly accuse to have taken place because our lack of understanding and our ignorance – for a very long time, I say, we have been victims of greed and your avarice. Under the blows of your barbarous whip we have accumulated for you the treasures you enjoy in this colony; the human race has suffered to see with what barbarity you have treated men like yourselves – yes, men – over whom you have no other right except that you are stronger and more barbaric than we; you’ve engaged in slave traffic, you have sold men for horses, and even that is the least of your shortcomings in the eyes of humanity; our lives depend on your caprice, and when it’s a question of amusing yourselves it falls on a man like us who most often is guilty of no other crime than that he is under your orders.

We are black, it is true, but tell us, Gentlemen, you who are so judicious, what is the law that says that the black man must belong to and be the property of the white man? Certainly you will not be able to make us see where that exists, if it is not in your imagination – always ready to form new phantasms so long as they are to your advantage. Yes, Gentlemen, we are free like you, and it is only by your avarice and our ignorance that anyone is still held in slavery up to this day, and we can neither see nor find the right which you pretend to have over us, not anything that could prove it to us, set down on the earth like you, all being children of the same father created in the same image. We are your equals, then, by natural right, and if nature pleases itself to diversify colors within the human race, it is not a crime to be born black nor an advantage to be white….

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