“Claude Ribbe, a French human rights commissioner and noted historian, reports in his book The Crime of Napoleon that the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte carried out a campaign of genocide against the rebellious Haitian slaves by gassing them,” writes Randell Robinson in An Unbroken Agony, Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of A President. “In response to the slaves’ quest for their freedom, Napoleon ordered the extermination of all Haitian blacks over the age of twelve… Many of the victims were gassed to death in ships’ holds with sulphur dioxide before Napoleon’s humiliating defeat at the hands of Toussaint’s and Dessalines’s armies.”
In reference to a 2011 English translation of a book on Adolf Eichmann, columnist George Will in American Happiness and Discontents states: The Holocaust is “proof of the power of the most dangerous things—ideas that denigrate reason.” It’s an interesting phrase. Ideas that denigrate reason. An idea that another group of people actively seek to replace a group in power. In such an idea, there is no room for the idea of democracy.
Hitler shared with his supporters the idea that Jews were seeking to replace Aryans. Pure whites of Nordic blood! The Jews, in turned, needed to be removed. Permanently. How, he thought? And he looks to the US where the white citizens, claiming the superiority of the white race, enslaved millions of Africans. Breed them as well. And yet, controlled these Africans and their descendants in order to exploit their labor and expand US capitalist enterprises within its borders and beyond. The US had pogroms of torture and terror. Besides control over millions of Black people, the US continued its campaign to marginalize, if not exterminate the Indigenous people. For Lebensraum.
It’s written about what happens over there. Somewhere else. In Germany. Genocide and terrorism happens somewhere else. The ideas offered in America are purely about equity, valuing difference. Above all, democracy!
What do these Americans on horseback know when they take out their reins and grab at people trying to reach the makeshift encampment in Texas? Did they care? Have they been taught to care about the well-being of Black people?
Returning to Will, he notes as many know now, that Philosopher Hannah Arendt misread Eichmann. In Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, she characterized Eichmann as “‘terribly and terrifyingly normal.’” A “‘typical functionary.’” In fact, writes Will, Eichmann served “as leader of a ‘campaign’ of ‘mass murder.’” Nothing banal about Eichmann! Nothing banal about his beliefs. I think I would have recognized Eichmann without either Arendt or any new book confirming Eichmann’s complicity with fascism. Those ideas that made him, a full-grown man, say yes, to the Nazis! Yes, I will be a part of the torture and extermination of other human beings. Yes. It’s a good idea to stay in power when these others are trying to replace us! Me!
Did these men on horseback think the same thing when they encircled Haitian’s fleeing hunger, homelessness, and violence? Those Texas border patrol on horseback, using their reins against men, women, and children—when they looked on at these Black people, what did they see? Defenseless people trying to move their children out of harms way. Trying to hold on to what little belongs they have in the world. Did these men, in their official capacity as border patrol (with such a long history in the violence suffered by Indigenous and escaping enslaved Blacks from torture sites known as plantations), recognize in these Black people a set of beliefs about how the enemy is to be treated? Invaders and occupiers! And who could accuse the European stock that arrived on Indigenous-inhabited land of being invaders? Occupiers?
It’s “a public health imperative,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas tells the world, without blinking an eye. Is he there? He says he was “horrified,” but he refers to policy. Title 42! It’s “not a matter of immigration policies.” Not immigration policy. Health policies. A policy to hide behind so as not to respond to a human crisis! A policy to avoid making an exception! To gaslight! You think you see the good guys being inhumane—but no! It’s a concern for your health and their health! It’s COVID! Not our history of mistreating Black people.
Terribly and terrifyingly normal? I see Emmett Till, a child, in that barn with full-grown white who thought themselves rational and racially pure! What idea justified the killing of Treyvon Martin, Micheal Brown, Amadou Diallo, Botham Jean, Breanna Taylor, George Floyd, Andre Hill and so many others? The almost 5,000 lynchings? The whole enterprise that was the Atlantic Slave Trade?
Haiti dared to elect its first democratic president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He wanted to change life for the economically poor. But a president of Haiti, Randell Robinson writes, Aristide had his priorities all wrong. Citing the then Senator Christopher Dodd, Aristide “wasn’t going to be beholden to the United States,” and he adds, Aristide “was going to be trouble.” So he had to be removed. In a coup. A US-backed coup.
And long before Aristide, there were other leaders with ideas of freedom and democracy shared with a people who had enough of men who shared dissimilar ideas. That revolution for independence has never never been forgotten by Europe or the US. January 1, 1804. A people who fought back against enslavement and exploitation challenged the idea of white supremacy. In turn, the Haitians had to be punished by the Europe and the US, writes Randell Robinson. And the idea of an embargo, an embargo of billions imposed on an economically poor country and a people recovering from enslavement and war with Europe—the idea was accepted as the most rational thing to do when a people think they can replace others who have declared themselves human and free!
The Haitian, writes Robinson, are singled out from other Caribbean neighbors for “special animus.” They are Black, but Haitians are also, “to American eyes, culturally distinguishable (indeed stubbornly so), unaccountably proud of themselves, and, it would seem, unmanipulable as well.”
And Americans would know. In 1915, some 330 US Marines landed at Port-au-Prince. Ideas of empire controlled the hearts and minds of Americans keen on claiming more land (for a possible military base). Gold. Whatever reserves the Haitians possessed. And Haitian lives, for Black bodies meant cheap labor for American businesses thinking of expanding. Thinking of wealth, of course! Capitalizing on being racially superior helps when a few miles away sits a powerful nation to support such an expression of freedom.
As Robinson writes, “The Haitians knew their history. The Haitian peasants may have had a few material possessions to speak of, but they knew what their slave ancestors had done to the French, to the English and to the Spanish.” Dreams of empire, of free labor, of practicing cruelty, of mastering torture. Of giving life to an idea so contrary to America’s idea of “democracy”?
But what do these Americans on horseback know when they take out their reins and grab at people trying to reach the makeshift encampment in Texas? Did they care? Have they been taught to care about the well-being of Black people?
Black Americans would have declared Eichmann a liar! In America, there would have been no need to even consult a texts on the Eichmanns operating in a foreign fascist system! The images from Texas, the encampment, the law enforcement on horseback, the squalid living conditions—all would have reflected the familiar way Americans believe Black people should suffer. And die!
President Biden says he’ll take responsibility. I wish he would and do more to undo 45’s racist policies toward Haitian immigrants. At least, try doing that!