Heartbreakingly, the spirit of Haitian independence has been replaced by a menage of new ways that white powers attempt to reassert their grip on my homeland. When I was younger, the new year always began with a trip to my grandmother’s.
It is clear that the cultures of Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples are incredibly significant because of how much white people fear them.Throughout history, cultural traditions have been used to mobilize groups of Black and Brown people together against a common threat—white supremacy. People of color have survived centuries of endless white violence and, at many turns, have used the power and reverence for our many cultures as a means to fight back. It is crucial that we preserve our cultural roots as much as we can, especially in these times when white supremacy and nationalism are so blatantly on display. White supremacists and nationalists have historically used the concept of “culture wars” to demonize people of color and paint themselves as victims, usually of some form of the white genocide mythos. Racists and xenophobes yelling at people of color for not speaking English, even threatening to call ICE, is one of the many hills they choose to die on. Their fear of other cultures—languages, traditions, religions, ethnicities, ideologies—is apparent in their actions, on both small and large scales. During the build-up to the 2016 presidential election, National Review’s Reihan Salam described culture wars as the “fight over the future of American national identity in the face of rapid and accelerating demographic change.” Culture wars are, more or less, a seemingly endless contention over who can and who cannot be considered a “True American,” with white, cis straight, conservative, Christians being the ones with the most ability to lay claim to this title and, therefore, also the ones with the ability to determine who else has access to rights in America. “In almost every case, these culture wars have been conservative projects, instigated and waged by people anxious about the loss of old orders and the emergence of new ones. Their anxiety finds expression first as a complaint about a particular policy, and second as a broader lament about how far the nation has fallen from its founding glory and how desperately we need to restore whatever is passing away.” —Stephen Prothero, Washington Post It is clear that the cultures of Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples are incredibly significant because of how much white people fear them. Therefore, we cannot forget how our ancestors have used their various cultures as weapons against white supremacy, as tools to work towards their own liberation, and as mechanisms to cope in their positions as marginalized peoples. We cannot forget how the many children of the African Diaspora have used cultural traditions to combat and subvert white supremacist violences as they waded in the devastation of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Bois Caïman is where the seed that would grow into the 18th century Haitian Revolution and slave insurrection was planted. At this site, the organized resistance began to take form when a traditional Vodou ceremony was performed. Vodou is a religion and philosophy with deep cultural roots and significant meaning that was birthed in Haiti (once called Saint-Domingue) when an amalgam of religious beliefs were carried to the island with the ships harboring people stolen from Africa. During this time, Haiti was under French colonial rule. The island was rich in sugar, coffee, and indigo, which the enslaved were forced to harvest and maintain. Their revolution was a fight against the harsh labor, as well as the dehumanization and incremental genocide at the hands of the French colonists.
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The Haitian Revolution was and is significant. How can we apply it to today's resistance?
As we approach the one year anniversary of the inauguration of arguably the most punitive and draconian administrations in the history of American presidential politics, it is crucial that black people in the United States and across the diaspora keep our eye firmly on the light that will guide us out of this dark period.
Wear Your Voice (WYV), in partnership with artist and DJ Sabine Blaizin, a.k.a. Oyasound, are committed to doing just that, healing our community of readers on the light by drawing from the ancestral wisdom of the past that can be gleaned from The Haitian Revolution.
In fact, within the broad history of black freedom struggles around the world, the significance of the legacy of the Haitian Revolution — a 13-year struggle against French colonizers that resulted in the birth of the first and only black republic in the Americas — cannot be overstated. And the fact that it was lead and won by enslaved black people is all the more inspiring, for it became the model for enslaved black populations everywhere eager to agitate for their liberation.
“The Haitian Revolution was the catalyst for all revolutions in the [black] diaspora,” Oyasound reflects, before noting, disappointingly, that this mass black revolt, the only one to know success (however short-lived), is little celebrated outside of Haiti.
WYV and Oyasound are determined to help change that, joining forces to host “Lakay Se LaKay: The Revolution: Transformative Healing Through Haitian Tradition,” which will be held at the Starr Bar in Brooklyn, New York, on January 20th, 2018. As the name suggests, LaKay Se LaKay is both a celebration of the fact of the revolution itself and the spiritual traditions central to Haitian culture, as well as an opportunity to dig into our past for insights that may aid and guide us in our current resistance movements.