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Stephen Cowley laments the violence needed to overthrow a genocidal regime in Saint-Domingue and replace it with something more egalitarian. By this standard, he should also lament the Allies' violence against Germany and Japan in WWII. He claims that "a business plan of working unpaid laborers to death and then paying for new ones makes no sense." But, as the demographic evidence introduced by opponents of the slave trade demonstrated, that was precisely the business plan in the Caribbean sugar colonies. It did produce immense profits, because the value of the extra production achieved by working slaves to death for the years they remained alive exceeded their purchase price. In addition, obtaining fresh adult slaves from Africa was cheaper than rearing child slaves from infancy, because it spared slaveholders the cost of supporting slave children before they were old enough to work the fields. It is sheer sophistry to compare current British demographic realities, where birth rates are below replacement level due to voluntary birth control, and people are living longer than ever, with the demographics of slavery in Haiti, where slaves were worked to an early death. And it is racist to speak of "displacement level immigration." For all its faults, one thing the US has learned to do better than Europe is to continually refresh and invigorate itself by incorporating immigrants from all shores. Current anti-Latino hysteria notwithstanding, immigrants today are enriching the US economically and culturally, just as previous waves of immigrants have. Within a generation or two, they will come to be seen as American as those who trace their ancestors to the US further back. The UK would be well-advised to view immigration similarly, not as displacing but as enriching British culture and society. Only then will it be able to fulfill Nathaniel's aspiration for Britain to repudiate racism as a constitutive principle of its culture, self-interpretation, and construction of its historical memory.
Stephen Cowley asks "Did the Haitians not begin by massacring the whites?" Such was the racist propaganda spread by European and American newspapers during the Haitian revolution; it is shocking to see it ignorantly repeated today. Let us consider the events of the Haitian Revolution in context: 1. The French in Saint-Domingue, as the colony was then called, began by inflicting a regime on enslaved Africans that was, for all practical purposes, genocidal: the business plan of the sugar plantations was to work the slaves to death, and then bring new ones from Africa to refresh the labor force. The death rate consistently exceeded the birth rate in French and British Caribbean sugar colonies in that era, requiring constant importation of new slaves from Africa. 2. The Haitian Revolution began as a war of liberation and for racial equality, not as a race war. While the slave revolution entailed killing a lot of slaveholders, who were white, Toussaint Louverture took pains to reject racism. His 1801 Constitution, written with the cooperation of white planters, was the first in the world to declare universal emancipation. Title 2, Article 4 declared equality of opportunity regardless of race. Title 2, Article 5 declared equality under the law and abolition of racial discrimination and racial distinctions under the law. Louverture sought racial equality, not race war, in Saint-Domingue. 3. When Napoleon took power in France, he attempted to reimpose slavery on Haiti. Recognizing that the freed people would never submit to slavery again, having fought a successful war of liberation, he took the advice of his General, Charles Leclerc, to wage a "war of extermination" against the blacks, and repopulate Saint-Domingue with fresh slaves from Africa. Leclerc's successor Rochambeau followed Leclerc's plan, starting with genocide of black soldiers in the French army in Saint-Domingue. 4. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who succeeded Louverture, discovered a letter in which the white planters declared their support for Rochambeau, and concluded that they were conspiring with Napoleon to reimpose slavery. Dessalines therefore declared them enemies, and killed several thousand French whites. However, even this was not a race war against whites as such. Dessalines protected the Poles who defected from the French army, as well as other whites who declared their allegiance to Haiti. These whites subsequently became citizens of Haiti. Under the 1805 constitution, they were declared "black"--a notable repudiation of any biological notion of race, replaced by a conception of race as tied to a political project of securing blacks against racialized subordination by barring the construction of any superior racial group. You can read all about this history in Laurent Dubois' *Avengers of the New World.* Crowley's claim that black Haitians "began" a race war is characteristic of the way racism has distorted whites' historical memories, projecting the crimes of whites onto blacks. It is precisely these kinds of distortions of thinking that Nathaniel is campaigning against in opposing the whitewashing of philosophy, and of curricula in white-dominated universities more generally.
Thank you, Nathaniel, for your highly informative post. I would like to point out that there are really 2 meanings of "whitewashing" philosophy at play in Nathaniel's post, one explicit, and the other implicit. 1. Nathaniel explicitly points out how philosophy unjustly excludes philosophers racialized as black, such as Cugoano and Douglass. I heartily agree that such writers are well worth the attention of philosophers today. 2. Implicitly, he alludes to another notion of "whitewashing"--that is, covering up of scandal and crimes. Nathaniel shows how philosophy has been complicit in promoting slavery, imperialism, and racism. But the way philosophy is taught today covers this up. The explicitly racist, imperialist, proslavery texts are not taught today in philosophy classes, for the most part. Or racist passages are passed over without comment, as if irrelevant to the rest. Philosophers may try to excuse this by the distinction between intellectual history and normative philosophy. Intellectual historians need to view the history of ideas, warts and all--at least if they are doing their jobs. Normative philosophers claim to select only those works and passages for attention that are thought to have contemporary normative relevance--by which is meant, some degree of plausibility to current readers, at least at first glance, or some arguments still worth taking seriously on the merits, even if they are ultimately rejected. The difficulty with this is that it takes the texts out of context and thereby fails to come to grips with what the philosophers are really doing. Racism in the texts needs to be interrogated, not passed over in silence as an embarrassment, or something that can simply be excised without affecting the main point. It changes the meaning of what is said. Charles Mills has done important work reversing the whitewashing of philosophy with his work on the racial contract--the ways social contract theory, while ostensibly universalist, has in fact functioned as a legitimation of white supremacy. At the same time, it is important not to represent white Enlightenment figures as all racist or wholly neglectful of the injustice of racialized slavery. Some Enlightenment figures were explicitly anti-slavery and anti-racist: Adam Smith and Olympe de Gouges are exemplary figures in that regard.