Alice Backer: Blackness Contextualized in Haiti

In the following excerpt from AfrolatinTalks hosted by The Afrolatin@ Project (a series of scholarly, relaxed conversations held at Cubana Social during the second day of Afrolatino Festival NYC 2015), Alice Backer responds to the question: How is blackness contextualized in Haiti?

Reflection: Afrolatino Festival NYC 2015

First watch the video. Then read the transcription while listening to the excerpt. Later reflect on these questions.

Alice Backer: Blackness Contextualized in Haiti

One thing is that I think that all Haitians are proud of is to be the first black republic, to have defeated slavery. So, that aspect of blackness is definitely in the Haitian psyche, but that doesn’t mean that… though in very many ways the Haitian Revolution was the ultimate fight against white supremacy, an actual military battle against white supremacist armies, I think Haiti still struggles with not really understanding exactly how white supremacy works.

So, for example, if you look at one of our founding fathers, Toussaint Louverture, he actually got captured by the French because when he wrote to Napoleon, was writing letters saying this is the letter from “the first of the blacks to the first of the whites.” He actually believed because he was a high ranking general in the French army that the French were going to accept that he freed all the slaves and that they were then going to accept them as part of France. But that was not the case. And Napoleon showed it, that even though Toussaint was very trusting of his equality to Napoleon, he actually fell right in a trap of showing up without a guard to a meeting that Napoleon’s commissary set up with him and ended up being captured and dying in a French jail.

That I think is very much how Haitians still think. I think it’s not a coincidence that to this day the French make this big deal out of Toussaint Louverture because he’s kind of this very trusting person who actually believes that white supremacy will negotiate with blacks and especially blacks like him.

That’s still part of the Haitian psyche unfortunately. I think that’s also the part of why Haiti is facing a crisis of sovereignty. We’ve kind of allowed all of these people to dissolve our army, to come in. We have 6000 or whatever number of UN troops on the ground now. So that’s still our challenge with white supremacy, something about not understanding that white supremacy doesn’t negotiate.

Of course, there are colorism issues, as well, in Haiti. The fact that we’re the first black republic doesn’t mean that we don’t have colorifications. It is true that in Haiti that the word “black” still means a very dark-skinned person. There are all sorts of other words, just like in the rest of Latin America, for people who are more or less racially mixed.

So, we’re still grappling with white supremacy like most black people on the planet, like Africa itself. We still don’t quite understand it and how serious it is. [see How Do We Educate On & Debunk White Supremacy?]

Additional Resources

To learn more about Alice Backer, visit her official profile: Alice Backer. Come back each day throughout August to see new interviews carried out during the Afrolatino Festival NYC 2015.

Related Unit