Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Blatant Racism Sparks Revolutions in Latin America (and the US of America)

When Europeans came to the Americas they took over the current populations and created their own colonies which were controlled by the European powers. By the time of the Latin American Revolutions the idea of race had become so deeply intertwined with the value of a person that people rebelled against the unjust control they were under. Looking back now on the way race was perceived by authority it seems insane that people could ever think that way, yet it is an important topic to discuss if you take a moment to actually look at our society today, the biggest difference is really how blatantly stated the racism was back then. The amount of power, respect, and rights a person got was decided by their race.
The social ranking started with the most powerful:
  • Peninsulares (Born in Europe)
  • to Creoles (European parents)
  • then Mestizos (European parent/Native parent)
  • Mulattoes (European parent/African parent) and Free Blacks
  • Natives
  • and finally African slaves were the very bottom of the social pyramid
Peninsulares = less than 1%
Creoles = 23%
Mestizos = 7%
Indian People = more than 50%
Mulattoes & Free Blacks = 8%
Slaves = 11%
This was severely unfair not simply because of the lack of reasoning in judging a person’s worth by race but also since the most powerful group of people was also the smallest.

The revolutions we discussed were the Mexican, Gran Colombian, and Brazilian revolutions; my group had Mexico specifically so this is the timeline of events for the Mexican Revolution:

Of the three different revolutions we studied there were similarities between each country’s fight for independence. Brazil, Mexico, and Gran Colombia all fought against European rule and had some points of success in their revolution, splitting their ties from Europe. However, after gaining freedom, the first ruler of each newly independent nation did not last long and quickly lost their new-found power. As each was a different situation, there were also stark contrasts between the revolts too. The revolution of Brazil was significantly less violent than the others, no major warfare broke out as a result of wanting independence. Then, in Gran Colombia, from their revolution emerged several new independent countries as opposed to just one in the others. Small countries split off from Mexico as well but not until later. Nevertheless, the main comparison between the revolutions, and the reason we learned them all together, is the involvement of racial inequalities in each rebellion. In Brazil only Peninsulares were allowed to hold high government positions, they had to rebel because if only Europeans had power the people of Brazil would never be able to change that in itself or anything else. In Mexico the Cry of Delores which began the war directly states that it will stop racial discrimination. In Gran Colombia all different people of color banded together with the common goal of fighting the Spanish to stop racial discrimination.

Today race is still a large issue. Latino, Middle Eastern, and Black people are probably the most oppressed races in America currently. They are the most likely to be stopped by police for no reason and randomly selected to get checked at places like airports. Racism is deeply ingrained into society and so common that it tends to go unnoticed by people who are unaffected by the negative consequences. They assume that if there is not direct hatred for a group of people like a straight up “I hate black people” then racism does not exist, but it does in the way that there is already a system of inequality set up to make it much easier for a white person to gain power and money than a person of color. A white man with a criminal record is more likely to be hired than a clean black man competing for the same job. The media is a strong source of subtle racism that can influence opinions about a group of people well enough to trick a whole race of people into believing it doesn’t even exist. Most characters are played by white people and once people of color come in, they play mainly characters as stereotypical as possible or at least a certain aspect of their stereotype is played up. This leads to a subconscious type of racism where we begin to assume about a person by what we’ve seen of their race in media. It also makes white features the standard of beauty and makes it hard for people of color to identify with characters they like giving them a sense of displacement. (Also, why is Jesus depicted as a white dude when he’s from the middle east?) Black people are usually played up to be more “ghetto” and are shown in the role of being less educated and more aggressive than other races. That causes a superiority vibe amongst non-black people and can lead to unwarranted treatment of other races. 

Right now in American cities across the nation people are beginning to see the injustice for themselves, a recent increase in publicity for the Michael Brown situation has called attention to the amount of uncalled for violence towards innocent black people from white police officers. However, during these protests and trials there are many white people defending the police officers actions, as if possibly robbing a convenience store is reason enough to be murdered. If it somehow was though, it would only be fair if white people who robbed convenience stores were also shot repeatedly for their heinous crime. There are many claims disputing race as a factor in the situations altogether but statistics can show the actual race targeting of crime over many years. Just because racism isn’t happening to them, many try to erase its existence altogether. I personally have heard a white person say that white people have been through just as much as other races. This is why we need to study things like Latin America’s revolutions and slavery in school. We came to this half of the globe and forced our kind into power and enslaved people of other races yet today we deny those facts and even try to keep them out of history books so we can continue celebrating Christopher Colombus and mourning the holocaust while we ignore the American genocide of Native Americans. (The holocaust was horrible and should be remembered I am just pointing out how we ignore our own past genocides) 

There is a large amount of white privilege ignored by those who have it as they continue to publicize crimes against white people over things happening to other races and deny the existence of any racism. White people often get offended by things like white privilege, they feel they are being classified as racist, that they are being grouped together and judged solely on the color of their skin, and they don’t like it. This tends to end in discussions about “reverse racism” and then the consequential argument that all racism is just racism not reverse. But both of these things are actually wrong in their own ways. There can be racist comments/actions towards white people. (I heard a kid once say black babies were smarter than white babies) However, pure racism, the actual societal oppression, does not exist towards white people. We still hold the positions of power and have privilege that cannot be rejected. The stats of this very lesson, the population %s and social ranking pyramid, show that this is how it has always been and you can’t say that we’ve been just as oppressed as other races have, since we’ve been doing the oppressing for a long time.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Toussaint DBQ

Recently in America, we had elections to vote for congress, senate, and other types of governmental leadership. Picking a leader is always a long and controversial process because there are many characteristics a leader must possess and no one ever agrees on which are the most important and if they outweigh the negative qualities of the person. Political skill, toughness, moral leadership, honesty, eloquence, compassion, and humor are all valued differently depending on the needs of the country and the personal experience of whoever is judging. Abraham Lincoln is the most popular president of the United States. He may have been nicknamed Honest Abe but his honesty was not the reason he’s so well liked as a leader, he had strong morals which resulted in the abolition of slavery in America. Haiti around the 1780s, then named Saint Domingue, was France's most profitable colony thanks to the half a million African slaves working the vast 8,000 plantations covering the island. Saint Domingue needed a someone to lead them in a war for freedom and then rule them in a way that maintains the economy and protects the people. Toussaint Louverture was exactly what they needed. He was morally strong and tough as nails while making smart political decisions for his country. Toussaint Louverture should be remembered as a liberator of slaves, military commander, and the ruler of Saint Domingue.

Toussaint’s role as the liberator of slaves was the most important aspect of his leadership because it was the reasoning for almost every decision he made as a ruler. He began his work as an abolitionist in 1791 in the war against France’s enslavement laws, as a doctor to the troops a commander of his own small group of soldiers. (Doc A) He continues fighting, gaining power and support, until the French eradicate slavery in 1794. (Doc A) The Saint Domingue Constitution of 1801, created and signed by Toussaint himself ensures the termination of slavery in a very clear manner stating that “There cannot exist slaves in this territory, servitude is therein forever abolished. All men are born, live and die free and French.” (Doc C) He remains loyal to his cause regardless of what country he’s supposedly for. Once Napoleon gains control of France the freedom of the ex-slaves is once more going to be taken away. When Toussaint learns of this he threatens fighting his own country to death saying how “if they had a thousand lives, they would sacrifice them all rather than be subjected again to slavery” (Doc B) No matter what, he prioritized liberating slaves before anything else so he should be remembered the same way, as the liberator of slaves, before anything else.

In the fight for freedom, Toussaint became a powerful military commander against slavery’s supporters. His intelligence and bravery made him a trusted leader for his troops and made them a more than capable force in their battles. In Napoleon’s conquest to enslave the newly freed people once again 31,131 troops landed in Samana, a port city of Saint Domingue, ready to fight against Toussaint’s army. But with an inspiring battle cry and brilliant plan from Toussaint himself, the cities they arrived in had been decimated and his troops had taken up base in the mountains.(Doc F)  Napoleon’s soldiers had none of the resources, campsites, or regional knowledge they planned and two years later they withdrew from the country. (Doc F) However, Toussaint’s military command was not all positive, as with any war, he had to do harsh things to establish control sometimes. Toussaint’s adopted nephew, Hyacinthe Moyse, had been appointed commander of the Northern Department and in October of 1801 there was a massacre on the Northern Plain. (Doc E) The revolting men cried “General Moyse is with us - death to all the whites.” (Doc E) Toussaint had to prevent this from happening again and so he picked out men from the rebelling troops and made them shoot themselves in the head. He also then called for the firing squad execution of his nephew and had Moyse call the fire order. (Doc E) His harsh punishment was very effective in stopping revolts. Toussaint was strategic in his battles and ruthless when needed, we should remember this part of his life for the fights it won him and the success it brought the country.

After winning the country’s independence, Saint Domingue now needed someone to restructure its government in a way that excluded slavery. Toussaint Louverture was that person. He was named governor for life in an attempt to make the transitional time of the country go a lot smoother. (Doc C) He was already trusted and well known, providing a constant for the people while changes ensued. However, while he was very important and a prominent figure, Toussaint was not the most popular ruler, hence the revolts involving his nephew. Toussaint’s constitution states that slavery is abolished but also encourages agricultural work where the owner of the land has power and workers share in the profits. (Doc C) This is not a crowd-pleaser and soon he issues a proclamation, enforcing his statements about agricultural work. Citizens can be arrested if they don’t do what they’re supposed to, managers and workers had different punishments depending on the offense. (Doc D) The new freedom had provided people with the option to not work and let themselves be impoverished if they so pleased. This led to most agricultural workers quitting, a huge issue since the island’s main source of economic wealth came from plantations and farming. Toussaint knew he was forcing the people to work under the same conditions they had before but he had to enforce it in order to prevent the country’s complete failure. It was hard for many and a questionable decision but Toussaint did lead the first successful slave revolt and keep the country strong in the face of financial collapse. He may not have made the right decision in the eyes of some people but he was a valuable leader and his impact is important to study today.

Although Toussaint Louverture made some rules and decisions that not everyone agrees were right, his moral compass was always pointing the right way and that cannot be denied from any point of view. His work as the liberator of slaves was not only the entire reason he became a military commander and later ruler of Saint Domingue, but also resulted in the most successful slave revolt ever. He freed hundreds of thousands of humans from the torturous life of enslavement and should be remembered for that accomplishment above all else. His command of the military was the next best aspect of his achievements, inspiring and training troops of unprofessional slaves so well that they defeated some of the greatest militaries in the world at the time. His leadership extended into ruling the nation he saved, his display of power may have seemed severe at times but it was what the country needed in order to prosper. His triumphant legacy should live on forever, Toussaint Louverture: Liberator of Slaves, Military Commander, and Ruler of Saint Domingue.

Document A: Created from various sources.
Document B: Toussaint Louverture “Letter to the French Directory, November 1797.”
Document C: The Saint Domingue Constitution of 1801. Signed by Toussaint Louverture in July 1801.
Document D: Toussaint Louverture, “Proclamation, 25 November 1801.”
Document E: Madison Smartt Bell, Toussaint Louverture: A Biography, 2007.
Document F: William Wells Brown, “A Description of Toussaint Louverture,” from The Black Man, His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements, 2nd edition, 1863. Engraving of Toussaint Louverture, 1802.