Posts Tagged ‘Toussaint Louverture’

The Trump Statues: Nudity, Castration and the Punishment of Slaves

April 9, 2018

I sent this piece below off to the left-wing American website and magazine, Counterpunch. It’s a reply to a previous article they put up about the satirical statues of Trump, which appeared when he was campaigning for the presidency. These showed him naked, with a small penis and no testicles. One of their female writers compared this humiliating portrayal with the way nudity has been frequently historically used to punish women. She also cited the Fantasy series Game of Thrones and one of the punishments inflicted on a female character in that. But the statues’ genital deficiencies point to another way nudity was also used. Along with castration, it was also used in South American colonial society to punish captured runaway slaves. The Statues’ portrayal of Trump thus seems very fitting, given his aggressive masculinity and support for racists and White supremacists.

The magazine hasn’t used the article, and I don’t think they ever will. So here it is.

Nudity, Emasculation and the Humiliation of Slaves:
The Hidden Politics of the Anti-Trump Statues

Remember those statues of Trump which appeared in various cities across America about a year or so ago, when the Orange Generalissimo of reality TV was strutting about stadiums across America trying to get people to elect him? These were life-size statues of him, naked, with a tiny penis and no testicles. Today, Wednesday 28th March, the British papers reported that the last remaining one of a set that wasn’t destroyed, was put up for sale at Julien’s Auction in New Jersey. The statues were a subversive comment on a man, whose personal behaviour and style of government is one of aggressive masculinity and misogyny. One of the female contributors to Counterpunch published a piece a year or so ago when these statues first appeared. Written from a feminist perspective, it commented on this sculptural humiliation of the future president, and in particular its similarity to the methods used in the past to humiliate women. The statues’ nudity recalled the way errant women were also humiliated by being paraded naked.

It’s true that public nudity has been most used to humiliate women, but it wasn’t exclusively so. Men have also been humiliated on occasion by being exhibited naked by their enemies. In the culture of the Hebrew Bible, nudity was a badge of shame, and there’s a plaque from ancient Egypt showing a group of Asian prisoners being led, naked, by their Egyptian captors. And during the 18th century heyday of the transatlantic slave trade, public nudity and mutilation, including castration were used to humiliate enslaved Africans, who ran away or otherwise resisted their White masters. The slave societies of the New World was gripped by the fear of slave resistance, which itself took various forms. Enslaved Africans revolted in armed rebellions. They also ran away from their masters, or confined themselves to less dramatic forms of resistance, such as eating dirt, sabotage, or finding ways not to perform, or perform badly, their allotted work. To combat this, the slave masters punished their slaves with a variety of brutal measures, ranging from whipping to execution. These included various forms of mutilation, including castration.

This fear intensified during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, when the British and other European colonial nations feared that the slaves would follow Toussaint L’Ouverture and Black Jacobins of Haiti, and rise up against their masters to found free Black states. And so they resorted to increasingly brutal methods to discourage them. In one British Caribbean colony, one enslaved man was forced to sit on a cannon as it was fired, which understandably left him shaken and terrified. A female planter was also awarded five pounds by the local legislative assembly in another British colony, for having her male slaves castrated as a deterrent to further resistance.

It wasn’t just in the British colonies that emasculation was used to crush rebellious slaves. The Spanish slave code provided that runaway male slaves should be punished through the amputation of their member, and then exhibited naked to the public, a further punishment intended to humiliate them further after the horror of the mutilation itself, as well as dire warning to others also considering absconding. And it is this punishment, which the Trump statues, with their nudity and lack of genital endowment most closely resemble.

As a caricature of the President, it’s very appropriate indeed. Not only is Trump keen to project aggressive masculinity and sexuality, his regime is also notorious for its racism and connection to White supremacism. Trump tried and failed to pass legislation banning Muslim immigration from specific countries, largely those where he has no business dealings. He’s promised to build a wall to stop Mexicans and other Latino/as getting into the country illegally. And his supporters and staff have included members of the Alt Right, determined to preserve White dominance as America rapidly becomes racially diverse. One of the most notorious examples of this racist support base came when Richard Spencer, the founder and leader of the Alt Right, greeted Trump’s election at a meeting at the Ronald Reagan room with the cry of ‘Hail Trump! Hail our race!’ and a raised right arm in something that looked very much like the Fascist salute, despite his claims to the contrary later.

And some right-wing extremists in the Republicans have gone further. Not only do they defend slavery, but some of them have advocated it, or something close to it. A few years ago, one Republican politician recommended that illegal Mexican immigrants should be held captive by the state, and forced to work on public works. This is forced labour, which comes under the UN definition of slavery. Michelle Bachman, during her 2011 presidential campaign recommended a biography of General Robert E. Lee by J. Stephen Wilkins, which blamed the ‘radical abolitionists’ of the north for starting the Civil War, claimed that Southern slave masters treated their slaves with respect, and gave them enough food and personal possession to live a ‘comfortable but spare’ existence. The book even claimed that American slaves were fortunate in being brought out of their own, pagan homelands, and their godless brutality to Christian America. The Victorian English explorer, Sir Richard Burton, made the same argument nearly 250 years ago in his Wanderings in West Africa. It was also repeated by a number of Trump supporters during his presidential campaign back in 2016.

The disgraced former anchor of Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, also repeated it, claiming that the slaves, who worked on the White House were well treated and fed. The Texas school board also tried indoctrinating their children with a carefully sanitized view of it. Back in 2015 one Texas mom was horrified to find that her child’s geography textbook described the enslaved people ripped from their homes in Africa to toil in American plantations as ‘workers’. The protestors, who turned up to demonstrate against the removal of the statue to Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, also argued that slavery had been beneficial. And some Libertarians also resent anti-slavery legislation. One confused Libertarian caller to Sam Seder’s internet news show back in 2013 also tried arguing that the anti-slavery laws were a tyrannical infringement of his liberty. Why? Because they deprived him of his right to own slaves. It’s an argument which shows how dangerous and demented at least some Libertarians are.

This shows there’s considerable nostalgia for slavery amongst some Republican supporters, who were very encouraged by Trump’s election and his racist policies. It’s true that during the 18th century some paternalistic slave masters, like George Washington, were concerned to treat their slaves well. Archaeologists working on Benjamin Franklin’s estate found that many of his slaves had very good material possessions. Some had fine china, and played the violin, for example. But for others, the reality was grinding poverty and the tyranny of the whip. In the British Caribbean, the slave codes provided only that male slaves should be given a pair of drawers, and women shifts once a year. Even in the 19th century visitors to these colonies remarked on seeing slaves toiling naked in the fields. As for benefiting from being taken to America, many Africans instead naturally desperately yearned to return to their homes. Some threw themselves into the sea on their arrival in the Caribbean in attempts to swim back to Africa. And if they couldn’t return to Africa, some of them dreamed of recreating an African society in the New World. In one late sixteenth century rebellion in the British Caribbean, the slaves planned on creating a new social order based on the type of monarchies, with a king and queen mother, they had known in Africa.

The subversive statues of Trump not only comment on and invert his projected image of potent masculine leadership. They also attack and undermine the racism at the heart of his administration by subjecting him in image to the humiliation meted out to runaways in the Latin south. Since then, the statues have nearly all vanished, while unfortunately their real-life model remains at large in his occupancy of the White House.

Counterpunch on America’s Long Racist Hatred of Haiti

January 17, 2018

I blogged earlier this week about how Haiti was the first Black republic, where its enslaved people threw off their chains under the Black revolutionary, Toussaint Louverture, and threw out their French colonial overlords at the time of the French Revolution. The country became an inspiration to slaves struggling for their freedom in America and the Caribbean, and created panic among the European masters. They feared that their slaves were in contact with the Haitian revolutionaries, and that the next Black revolt would succeed where the others had been suppressed. And from the late 18th through the early 19th century, there were a series of revolts in the Caribbean by slaves, impatient for their freedom.

Mark Schuller, the Associate Professor of Anthropology and NGO Leadership and Development at Northern Illinois University, and affiliate at the Faculte d’Anthroplogie, l’Universitat d’Etat d’Haiti, wrote a piece discussing Haiti and America’s obsessive hatred of the country. Put simply, it’s because the American plantation masters were terrified of the example the Black republic gave to their slaves, and so they did everything they could to limit discussion of it and ultimately to conquer and dominate it. And not just America, but also France, and the exploitation and class rule imposed by the Americans under neoliberalism after the overthrow of the last Haitian president. He writes

What is behind Trump – and white America’s – obsession with Haiti?

Haiti has been targeted for its decisive role in challenging what Southern planters – including eight U.S. Presidents – called a “peculiar institution.” The Haitian Revolution was the first time slaves were able to permanently end slavery and forge an independent nation. It also was a tipping point in U.S. history, leading to the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, paving the way for U.S. “Manifest Destiny” stretching from sea to shining sea and eventual dominance. Chicago, the country’s third largest city, was founded by a Haitian, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, who Haitian historian Marc Rosier called an “agent” of the Haitian government to pursue a pro-freedom international policy.

Haiti’s contribution to U.S. “greatness” has long been unacknowledged. The pivotal Haitian Revolution was literally “unthinkable,” as Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot argued. The demonization of Haiti was so strong, its inspiration to slaves so dangerous, that Congress imposed a gag order in 1824, preventing the word Haiti from being uttered in Congress, a year after the imperialist Monroe Doctrine.

White supremacy was not defeated in the Appatomox Court House in 1865, nor the 13th Amendment that allowed for a back-door legalization of slavery, nor in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, nor in the 1965 Voting Rights Act following “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, nor in the 2008 election of the first African American President.

Through it all, as Haitian anthropologist Gina Athena Ulysse analyzed, Haiti has served as the “bête noir” in a deliberate smear campaign against the descendants of the people who said no to white supremacy.

These narratives of Haiti continued throughout the initial response to the 2010 earthquake, from the likes of televangelist Pat Robertson and the New York Times’ David Brooks. As New Yorker contributing writer Doreen St. Felix pointed out, this obsession with Haiti has to do with white society’s rejection of black self-determination.

These discourses have definite and powerful material consequences.

France, which in 2001 declared slavery a “crime against humanity,” extorted 150 million francs from Haiti as a condition of recognition of Haitian independence, plunging Haiti into a 120-year debt that consumed up to 80% of Haiti’s tax base. Socialist president Jacques Chirac scoffed at Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s demand for reparations before being the first to call for his resignation in 2004.

Calling Haiti “ungovernable” provided justification for U.S. intervention: The United States invaded Haiti twenty-six times from 1849 to 1915, when U.S. Marines landed and occupied the country for nineteen years. During the U.S. Occupation, the Marines set up the modern army, opened up land for foreign ownership, solidified class and racial inequality, laying the groundwork for the 1957-1971 Duvalier dictatorship.

Incorrectly blaming Haiti for its role in the AIDS epidemic killed the tourist industry, which, along with the deliberate destruction of Haiti’s pig population, sent the economy in a nosedive. Neoliberal capitalist interests seized the opportunity to take advantage of the massive rural exodus to build sweatshops, exploiting people’s misery by offering the lowest wages in the world. With poverty wages, and a crippling foreign debt that according to the IMF’s own recordkeeping went to the paramilitary tonton makout, Port-au-Prince’s shantytowns had no services and no government oversight. These foreign interventions were the main killer in the 2010 earthquake.

He also makes the point that the accusation that indigenous Haitians were ‘looters’, along with other racist claims, meant that the efforts of the Haitian people themselves in combating the disasters that beset their country were ignored. The Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission was chaired by Bill Clinton, and the humanitarian aid coordinated by the UN. Native Haitians were excluded from these meetings either by foreign soldiers, or by the simple fact that they were in English, while Haiti itself is a bilingual country, speaking French and a French-based creole. The NGOs themselves had a top down, hierarchical structure, excluding people in the refugee camps from their decisions. The result was the break-up of Haitian families, and increasing violence against women.

His article ends:

Calling the world’s beacon of freedom a “shithole” sullies not only Haiti’s ten million residents on the island and three million in the U.S., but is an affront to human freedom and equality.

As award-winning Haitian author Edwidge Danticat argued, “today we mourn. Tomorrow we fight.”

See: https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/01/16/what-is-a-shithole-country-and-why-is-trump-so-obsessed-with-haiti/

Proud Haitians Defend Country as Free Black Republic after Trump’s ‘Sh*thole Countries’ Comments

January 14, 2018

Yesterday there were mass demonstrations in America, and expressions of outrage around the rest of the world at Trump’s grotesque comments about immigrants to America from ‘sh*thole countries’. As Mike put up on his blog, one of the countries that was most definitely not impressed was Botswana in Africa. This tiny African state, with a population of 2 million, has, as Mike pointed out, the highest growth rate in Africa, and a tradition of stable democratic government. It’s a developing nation, but definitely not a ‘sh*thole’. And the country’s authorities seemed determined to make that point when they called the American ambassador in to explain if their nation was one of the countries Trump was sneering at.

I was particularly impressed by a young Haitian woman, who appeared on the BBC news yesterday when the Corporation covered a demonstration against Trump and his racist comments in Florida. She stated that Haitians were a proud people, and that their country became the first Black republic, where the slaves overthrew their masters. She’s absolutely right. Modern Haiti was created by the ‘Black Jacobins’ under Toussaint Louverture, who organised a slave revolt inspired by the Revolution in France. Haiti had been a French colony, but they toppled colonial rule, and threw the French out. Louverture then renamed the country ‘Haiti’, rather than continue using the old French/ European colonial name, justifying the change by claiming that this was the indigenous name for it.

Lourverture’s revolution sent a shock wave throughout the Caribbean and America. It was an inspiration to Blacks struggling for their freedom, and alarmed the colonial authorities. The late 18th and early 19th centuries saw a series of slave revolts break out in the Caribbean, by enslaved people impatient for their freedom. These were ruthlessly and brutally suppressed, as the colonial authorities feared the influence of Haiti upon their enslaved subjects, and that the slaves would be in contact with the Haitian revolutionaries. And some free Black Americans moved to Haiti after they obtained their freedom. Major Moody, a British army officer, who was sent to the Caribbean in the 1820s to produce a report on whether the enslaved people of the British colonies were ready for emancipation, includes in his report correspondence between a Black American, who had done this, and his former mistress in America, who had freed him.

Haiti is a desperately poor country, as has been shown by the suffering and destruction it has sustained in recent years through a series of disasters. But much of this poverty and deprivation comes from American imperial intervention. The Americans invaded in the 1920s as part of their campaign to assert their dominance over the Caribbean, and defend their economic interests. And they’ve done the same thing at various intervals throughout the 20th and now the 21st century. A little while ago I found a piece on YouTube – I think it might have been by Abby Martin of TeleSur English’s The Empire Files, or it could have been the Real News people, which made the point that when the Americans invaded again a few years ago to overthrow the latest dictator, it wasn’t because of his human rights record. Rather, it was because he was redistributing wealth, which threatened American corporate interests once again. And the dictator’s left-wing opponent was kept from standing and taking over office through armed soldiers posted outside his house. It was the same pattern of invasion and coup that has been repeated over and over again, around the world, whenever a smaller, weaker country elects anyone remotely left-wing, or otherwise threatens the dominance of the big American corporations in their country’s economy. Just like Hillary Clinton five years ago in 2012 gave her backing to the Fascist coup which overthrew the liberal regime in Honduras.

One peculiar consequence of the American invasion of Haiti has been the rise of the zombie movie. The first of these appeared shortly after the 1920s American invasion, and left-wing, anti-colonial critics have argued that the movies represent an attempt by the country’s new colonial masters to present a picture of it as a terrifying land, steeped in superstition and black magic. Since then the zombie movie has moved away from Haiti to America itself, and under George A. Romero also developed satirical overtones criticising contemporary American society and capitalism. Like in one of his movies, the survivors seeks refuge in a mall.

Trump’s comments were offensive, and they clearly stung the pride of migrants to America, who nevertheless still felt strong bonds with their countries of origin, as well as the other peoples in the Developing World. But the young Haitian woman speaking up for her mother country made a very good point about how important it was for Black history. And if many of these countries are poor, ruled over by brutal, corrupt governments responsible for human rights abuses, one of the reasons is because the Americans have assisted these thugs into power to stop any redistribution of wealth or growth of democracy. All under the guise of protecting the world from the threat of Communism, and upholding American corporate interests. People around the world have been demanding that Trump apologise for his comments. They’re right, but it’s not just his comments that need to be critically analysed and opposed. It’s American imperialism itself, and the underlying cynical contempt for the nations of the Developing World and their people, who are there to be abused and sneered at in the interests of American corporate capitalism.