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Haiti’s deliberate portrayal as one of the poorest, most dangerous and most “underdeveloped” countries in the world is part of a continued attempt to dehumanize Black and Indigenous people, who make up over 95% of Haiti’s population. The systemic poverty present on the island is a reflection of the destabilization of Haiti, not the morality or choices of its people. Haiti’s instability is the result of centuries of colonization, not the Haitian Revolution.
The Haitian Revolution was a 13-year long uprising against slavery and colonialism by self-liberated slaves in modern day Haiti, then called Saint-Domingue. Hundreds of thousands of Africans and Afro-descendants were enslaved in Haiti due to the Transatlantic slave trade, where millions of Africans were kidnapped and transported to various parts of the Americas, then forced into slavery on plantations owned and controlled by white planters. Haitians were victorious against not only the white plantation owners on the island (in present day Dominican Republic as well as Haiti), but also the French, Spanish and British forces sent to conquer them. In 1804, Haiti became the first independent black-led republic in the world post-colonization, though colonization never actually “ended”. After the revolution, France (who was backed by the US government) demanded that Haiti either reinstate slavery or pay 150 million gold francs to “compensate” planters who had lost their “property”, AKA slaves, during the fighting (Ms. Joshi, Google Slides). Spain demanded the same of the Dominican Republic and while the DR chose to reestablish slavery and Spanish rule to prevent more fighting and future debt, Haiti chose to pay rather than give up their freedom. Both choices reflect the cruelty of European colonialism and communities trying to make the best decision for their people.
Haiti didn’t finish paying off France’s debt until 1947, 122 years later (Ms. Joshi, Google Slides). This debt, along with capital greed, has left Haiti in a state of extreme poverty. Colonial nations like France and the United States have bled the island of its resources for their own profit, leaving Haitians extremely vulnerable. “Haiti is a place, that everytime the US occupied it, they took a piece of our land, they took our riches.” This quote is from a young Haitian girl responding to an American talk show host asking a group of elementary school kids if Haiti needed help from the United States, she continued, “We don’t need the help of the US. They’re going to come here and take our stuff.” In another episode of the show, a Haitian woman responds to the statement that the white tv host had come to capture the “positive and beautiful” things about Haiti rather than stereotypes, “Make sure Trump knows that you guys are the ones who have bullied us, and have caused us to be in the state we are in.”
Natural disasters hit Haiti much harder than the Dominican Republic and other neighboring islands due to lack of relief funds as well as soil erosion from sugarcane and tobacco crops that were mass produced by the French on Haitian soil. The island has suffered many major natural disasters in the last decade, such as the earthquake and tsunami that hit various parts of the Caribbean in 2010, killing 300,000 Haitians and displacing over 1.5 million but even though it hit multiple islands, no one outside Haiti was killed (CNN, “Haiti Earthquake Fast Facts”). And in 2004, Hurricane Jeanne hit the eastern tip of the Dminican Republic but while only 19 deaths were reported in the DR, over 3,000 Haitians died in the flooding that came after.
Major economic, racial and environmental disparities between the two countries have created a social divide. Some would argue that the Dominican Republic did the “right” thing by complying with the Spanish and if Haiti had done the same, they would be better off financially in the present. But if Haiti had remained under French rule, France’s insatiable greed would have driven Haiti into poverty whether or not they were ultimately forced to pay a debt to France. The French treated Haitians as if they were in debt to them from the beginning. Neither decision can be judged as right or wrong, the only fault is in those who colonized them.
Though slavery on the island was technically abolished in 1793, slavery still very much exists in both Haiti and the rest of the world through child labor, indentured servitude, the prison system, and more. Still targeting black folks primarily as well as other communities of color. So even if the Haitian Revolution wasn’t completely successful at eliminating slavery on its own, it was an act of self-liberation and a huge push towards that ultimate goal. It was an example of how self-liberation could lead to some form of independence and freedom. News of the revolution spread across the world, inspiring marginalized and enslaved peoples to rise up against their own oppressors. “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them”.
“Everything revives the memories of the cruelties of this barbarous people: our laws, our habits, our towns, everything still carries the stamp of the French” (Toussaint Louverture, The Haitian Declaration of Independence). Haiti is not yet completely free of French occupation and colonization and systemic poverty continue to have a lasting effect on Haitian peoples. But the Revolution freed Haiti from enslavement and oppressive colonial rule which would have continued to exhaust the island’s resources even if they had complied with France’s wishes and reinstated slavery. “It is not enough to have expelled the barbarians who have bloodied our land for two centuries, we must take any hope of re-enslaving us away from the inhuman government that for so long kept us in the most humiliating torpor. In the end we must live independent or die”.
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