Until recently, the Haitian Revolution of 1804 was not given the term ‘revolution’. It was not given the same prestige that the American or French Revolutions were given that occurred in the same 30 year time period. Jeremy Popkin argued that this erasure is because of the historically, the U.S. denies the same privileges we enjoy to people of color. He also believed that this prejudice stems from similar denial of prestige to salves or lower class populations for slaves lead the revolution that occurred in Haiti. Revolutions are seen as “triumphs of reason” therefore it seems impossible to historians that slaves could have achieved so much. However, this freedom marker is imperative to understanding larger ideological shifts happening in the west to free slaves. During this same time period, abolition of slavery, and the beginning of the continuous fight for people of color’s rights began around this time in the U.S. and France.
This language shift is a crucial step in valuing all histories. So often, we ignore the histories of non-European or American states because we say there is no evidence. However, Popkin has devoted his career to looking at other forms of evidence, mainly paintings, drawings, and oral storytelling. As histories continually get erased because they are not powerful or victorious states that understand data and evidence the same way, we are losing the opportunity to learn from and understand many cultures. This denial is hurting us in the present for many people are trying to understand their place in the world and their impact on the future. Without the past, we do not fully understand problems in the present.
However, this is not just applicable to foreign countries. Before the 1950’s many non-white authors deemed the revolution in Haiti revolutionary. They were using the term because they were able to look past white biases and understand the history for what it was. They also could understand the struggle to accept giving equal rights to all people regardless of skin color because their ancestors faced similar struggles, and people of color in America still face prejudices. Ignoring this term used by esteemed authors is remarkable to me because it demonstrates that we, as a society, have not changed. We are still erasing people’s history or expertise based on their skin color. Our society is so slow to change and understand basic facts because our country was made believing in these hierarchies and biases. Yet, we speak of progress, but so much is still from the white, male perspective. This is a perspective of extreme privilege that has the ability to erase or ignore people’s history or modern works. We need to learn from our deliberate erasure of the Haitian Revolution and learn to give value to all historians, regardless of their skin color or data sources, and actively seek to understand the histories of other marginalized countries, for they have much to offer to our understanding of global history. That would be truly revolutionary.