¡Feliz viernes a todos!
Another week has gone by already! And just like that, we are into February. Thanks for reading again. Hopefully 2016 has gone smoothly for everyone reading! I know we are feeling the pace increase a bit here.
As February takes hold, and many classrooms turn to studies of Black History and the Civil Rights Movement, we at Vamos a Leer are turning our focus to the history of Afro-Latinos and Afro-Caribbean people. In this post in particular, I am addressing (very briefly) the widespread history of slavery and its implications particularly within Haiti and other Caribbean countries.
Besides open immigration flows, there are people of African descent in every country in the Western Hemisphere in large measure because Africans were taken forcibly as slaves and transported from Africa to the Americas from the 15th to the 19th century, used as human barter in exchange for goods, spices, and outright income. As slaves, Africans were treated as goods; they were bought, sold, traded, beaten and killed for disobeying unjust rules and regulations set by their owners. Side bar: we acknowledge that this is a difficult topic to teach, but also want to emphasize how necessary it is to have these conversations in our classrooms. For a brief overview of what to keep in mind when teaching about slavery writ large, see the article “Tongue-Tied” by Teaching Tolerance.
When Haitian slaves rebelled and stood up for their rights, overthrowing French colonial rulers and slaveholders in the process, their country became the First Black Republic. To examine the country’s amazing past in more depth, we recommend taking a look at Teaching for Change’s publication “Teaching About Haiti.” Another excellent resource is Nick Lake’s YA novel, In Darkness, which intertwines Haitian history with present-day narratives. We’ve written an Educator’s Guide to accompany it, if you’re interested in learning more.
Although this important historical period may seem long ago and far away, it has important ramifications in the contemporary world as people throughout the Americas continue to struggle with the legacy of slavery and resistance. This six-minute video by InHaiti shows a brief history of the island and explains why even after the revolution, Haiti hasn’t been able to “move on.”
And Haiti is not alone in its struggles to “move on.” In fact, many of the Caribbean countries are known to be under-developed and poverty-stricken. Since 1999, there has been talk of initiating “slavery reparations,” which would pay tribute to the descendants of slaves. The reparations could help develop infrastructure in the countries where slaves made up a majority of the population, helping them to progress and move away from such high rates of poverty and crime. However, though some political leaders have apologized for their country’s role in the trade, none of the attempts have been successful in obtaining reparation as of present. Some political leaders, for example, the Prime Minister of the UK in this video, claim that slavery is a thing of the past. But the Jamaican Slavery Reparations Commission does not see it as such.
The conversation about the ongoing legacy of slavery is a meaningful one to bring to the classroom, and our hope is that the discussion can be broadened to include experiences beyond just those of the United States. With these resources, students can learn that the mistreatment of hundreds of thousands of Africans took place in many parts of the Americas. Yet we don’t only want to highlight the trauma of this era; we also want to use it to contextualize the present day, and to use it to open a space for learning about how underdevelopment and poverty are directly correlated to the brutality that was enacted on the slaves. Moreover, in the spirit of activism and civil rights, we hope that these materials can guide students toward thinking about how actions in the present day can help redress or acknowledge the injustices perpetrated through the Atlantic Slave Trade.
With warmest wishes,