The history of the first of the Third World countries, the first Black republic, and the second nation in the Western Hemisphere to gain its independence has never received sufficient scholarly attention. Past studies have been affected by racial bias or Marxist interpretations. Moreover, little attention has been paid to Haitian writers who have labored to understand their own past in an effort not only to seek solutions to the country’s problems, but to discover a sense of identity. Since this work addresses itself to this question, it does indeed explore terra incognita.
There are insights here, which we have only dimly been aware of, into the fundamental causes for Haiti’s failure to achieve economic and political development. The divisions between the mulattoes and the Blacks, which were rooted in the colonial past, have undergone a full ideological evolution right into the present century. Two separate histories have emerged in an effort to justify which of the two groups is the more competent to rule. The mulatto and the Black legends have provided two different perspectives on the past, and, since ideas have consequences, have affected the nation’s political life down to “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Racial unity occurred only during the war of liberation against France and during the American occupation. Except for these two periods, the question of color, underpinned by ideological debates, has plagued the country’s history. There has always been a clear separation in the Haitian mind between race and color, and nineteenth-century ideologues denied European racial theories while developing a body of political thought at home based on color divisions. An important break occurred after the American occupation when a clear espousal of Black, or noiriste, racism emerged as a product of the ethnological movement and négritude influences. As the Black middle classes came into their own in the towns, the mulatto legend declined. Noirisme began hesitatingly under Dumarsais Estimé, and then emerged with full fury under Duvalier. Haiti turned from its European roots to its African mother, but this ideological search did not, as Duvalier freely admitted, provide for the much expected economic and social development.
The great difficulty with this thesis is that it seeks to explain Haiti’s problems from the viewpoint of color consciousness alone, and it is to the author’s credit that he accepts this limitation. Haitian writers in the past, up to Jean Price-Mars, have steadfastly maintained that Haiti cannot be understood solely from this point of view. The author dismisses this as merely an expression of national pride, but it is really a plea by Haitian intellectuals for a fuller understanding of their past. It is time to take them seriously and provide for a more holistic study of the Black republic’s history. We as yet know far too little of the country’s class structure, and this is especially so for the nineteenth century, to speak of class-related ideologies. This is not to deny that they existed at least until Duvalier, and this book does a remarkable job in delineating Haiti’s intellectual history for the first time.