Professor Popkin’s account of the Haitian Revolution was particularly interesting for me because I had recently written a paper in my Anthropology class about Paul Farmer’s conceptualization of systemic violence, specifically using his case study in Haiti. I wrote about the ways the Haitian Revolution has been erased from history by America, influenced by France, and so used as a weapon of systemic violence. This erasure helps progress America’s political reign. When we enact modern embargoes on Haiti, through the means of blocking the Inter-American Development Bank’s promise of a $500-million aid package, the U.S. has more leverage and false innocence when no one talks about the historic embargo we placed upon Haiti after they gained freedom from France. This exploitation of Haiti and the fierce pursuit of trade and tourism systematically builds economies where afflictions can embed. The U.S. has helped create modern Haiti—the same country we pity and send more “aid” and missionaries and voluntourist groups to.
I studied, these implications of the Haitian Revolution. I learned about the reparations from this point of view. I had not heard about Professor Popkin’s side of history in which reparations weren’t for lost slave labor. Regardless, it does not seem fair or just to me that the reparations should occur. It does not seem fair or just to me that France should continue to exploit Haiti. It does not seem fair or just to me that the U.S. should pretend it is so much better than Haiti when they are the main actors in keeping Haiti’s economy crippled and built the systemic barriers that make solid infrastructure or stable health facilities possible in Haiti.
The Haitian Revolution should be in every history textbook. I am fortunate enough that I learned about Toussaint Louverture in AP World History (though I heard a very watered down, U.S.-centric version of the Revolution). In conjunction with the teaching of this vital history, however, we must provide a complex and complete history of our involvement with France to help disparage Haiti. I do not believe an accurate telling of the Haitian Revolution can be told without looking at its effects in the present day.
However, I do wonder about history and memory. What kind of conception do students have of the Haitian Revolution who sat through Professor Popkin’s lecture who had not previously learned about the Revolution? How does it compare to my understanding? What gaps exist for me that do not for them? What truths do I hold about the Revolution that Professor Popkin does not? And vice versa? How might we discern the truths of the events from the blameless bias we each hold? I would love to have been able to sit down with Professor Popkins and Professor Besteman (my Anthroplogy professor) to discuss the discrepancies between their individual understandings of the Haitian Revolution. I would love to hear this discourse, decide between the disagreements, and bask in well-informed arguments. Moreover, what does the distortion of memory do to how we understand the events of the Haitian Revolution? In other words, beyond our own biases, what have the biases of time and past done to distort the truth?