African Americans and the State of Haitian Studies

“African Americans and the State of Haitian Studies”

I would like to see more African American scholars writing more about Haiti’s national history & the Haitian Revolution. I believe their contribution will make a great impact–in terms of different perspectives, yet similar struggle, etc.) on the current state of Haitian Studies.

Beginning in the first half of the nineteenth century, African American writers and intellectuals were actively contributing to the field of Haitian studies; for example, James Theodore Holly

paved the way by publishing “Vindication of the Capacity of the Negro Race for Self-Governance and Civilized Progress” (1859); W. E. B. Du Bois discussed the significance of the Haitian Revolution in his Harvard doctoral dissertation, “The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870 (1896) and also published a number of articles in The Crisis magazine during the American occupation in Haiti (1915-1934); James Weldon Johnson published “Self-Determining Haiti” and “The Truth about Haiti” (four articles in the 1920s); Zora Neale Hurston, “Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica” (1938);

Rayford Logan published one of the most important works on Haiti’s diplomacy history, “The Diplomatic Relations of the United States with Haiti, 1776-1891” (1941) and “Haiti and the Dominican Republic” (1968); Langston Hughes translated Jacques Roumain’s “Gouverneurs de la rosée” (1944) as “Masters of the Dew” (1948) in English; Mercer Cook, a friend of Dantes Bellegarde, published a number of seminal articles on Haitian literature and education; Carolyn Fowler published the first biography (1972) in English on Haiti’s most important Marxist and radical communist public intellectual Jacques Roumain; Brenda Gayle Plummer published “Haiti and the Great Power” (1988) and “Haiti and the United States” (2003); Katherine Dunham, “Island Possessed” (1994), etc. I can go on and on…

African American Studies scholars, activists, writers, anthropologists, intellectuals, historians, literary scholars, religious scholars, theologians, painters (Remember Jacob Lawrence’s majestic and stunning series of painting on Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution!): the Haitian people and Haitian Studies NEED you in such a time as this!

***Do check out Brandon Byrd’s excellent new book, “The Black Republic: African Americans and the Fate of Haiti” (2019) and of course, Gerald Horne’s important work, “Confronting Black Jacobins: The U.S., the Haitian Revolution, and the Origins of the Dominican Republic” (2015).

“Harriet Tubman as the Black Moses”

“Harriet Tubman as the Black Moses”

“Harriet Tubman” is one of the best movies about Black agency and freedom and the role of faith in the struggle for justice and emancipation in the United States. Harriet Tubman, the great abolitionist, listened to the voice of God and she acted and followed the road toward freedom, as planned by God himself. Slavery is the antithesis of freedom, and chattel slavery is also the antithesis of the will of God for human beings. Tubman grasped both truths and understood that it was the will of God for people to be born and live free; as a result, she acted on behalf of God and in the best interest of enslaved Africans. She was committed to their freedom because she knew God was also committed to the liberation of the oppressed and the enslaved.

There are two revolutionary stories of freedom in the Bible. One is supernatural; the other is natural. Both are equally important and necessary for human beings to live in peace and harmony with God and each other. One is not more important than the other; supernatural freedom is as indispensable as existential freedom. Existential freedom does not have more value than spiritual freedom. Human beings need both freedoms in order to live according to what God has purposed for them and reach their full potential in life.

Both supernatural and natural freedom are the collaborative work of God and human beings. In the Christian understanding of supernatural or spiritual freedom, in and through Jesus Christ, God the Greatest Freedom Fighter, rescues people from both the dominion of sin and the consequences of sin. Christians call this act of God “salvation” or “liberation.”

The second great story of freedom in the Bible is the Exodus, in which God radically intervened in human history and through a Hebrew freedom fighter called Moses to deliver the Hebrews out of the Egyptian slavery and pharaonic imperialism. In the Hebrew Bible, the story of the Exodus is the dominant theme and most important narrative in God’s intervention in global history for the sake of human liberation and to crush down human oppression and abuse.

Everywhere slavery exists, human beings are not free; where slavery triumphs, the image of God in human beings is challenged and human dignity is depreciated. God is the Greatest Abolitionist in human history who has willed that nobody shall live in bondage and oppression. Human liberation is a divine commitment.

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“Letter from Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman, 1868

Rochester, August 29, 1868

Dear Harriet: I am glad to know that the story of your eventful life has been written by a kind lady, and that the same is soon to be published. You ask for what you do not need when you call upon me for a word of commendation. I need such words from you far more than you can need them from me, especially where your superior labors and devotion to the cause of the lately enslaved of our land are known as I know them. The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day – you in the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt, “God bless you,” has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown – of sacred memory – I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have. Much that you have done would seem improbable to those who do not know you as I know you. It is to me a great pleasure and a great privilege to bear testimony for your character and your works, and to say to those to whom you may come, that I regard you in every way truthful and trustworthy.

Your friend,

Frederick Douglass.”

Source: Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman by Sarah Hopkins Bradford.

Letter from Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman, 1868

“On Writing Book Reviews and the Ethic of Academic Kindness”

“On Writing Book Reviews and the Ethic of Academic Kindness”

When I was a doctoral student, I used to write three to four book reviews annually. Not only did I get to receive a free book, I had an amazing opportunity to learn more about my academic fields of interest from experts and specialists. When it was time for me to write my own dissertation, I stopped doing book reviews because of the pressure and the anxiety associated with the writing process ✍.

As a result, I made a commitment to myself to be a positive reviewer and not to denigrate any book or undermine somebody’s efforts to write an academic book (unless the book promotes violence and hate and dehumanize people)

Folks: writing a (good) book is already hard work and a HUGE commitment and responsibility; writing a terrible, harsh, and heartless review of somebody’s book is not a mark of rigorous and careful scholarship.

Let’s extend some kindness, hospitality, and tolerance to our academic peers!
With your pen 🖊, you can humanize the academia and make the world a better place.

“The World is Black: Harlem on my Mind and in Their Soul”

“The World is Black: Harlem on my Mind and in Their Soul”

It is very encouraging to read the students’ abstracts for my Harlem Renaissance course.

1. Some students are researching on the significance of black films in the era of the Harlem Renaissance–in negating racial stereotypes, on one hand, and on the other hand, showing how black producers (film-makers) were using their films to depict a positive black image and express black agency and subjectivity in the American society.

2. Some students are exploring black sculpture and painting to find out how it was used to tell an alternative historical narrative of the black experience in America; they view black sculpture and painting as chronicling a counter narrative to the white gaze and the demands of white publishers.

3. I have two students who are creating a play based on the social life of Black people living in Harlem: the Harlemites.

4. A student is creating a portfolio that analyzes the artistic work and (visual aesthetic) achievements of Aaron Douglas and Jacob Lawrence.

5. Another student is investigating how the works of W. E. B. Du Bois contributed to American democracy and the black quest for equality and justice in America.

Folks: this group of students in my Harlem Renaissance class is quite dynamic, bold, passionate, talented, and inquisitive.

#theworldisblack
#harlemonmymind
#harlemintheirheart
#whosaysstudentsarenotinterestedinblackhistory?

“On Xenophobia and Hope, and the Meaning of the Incarnation”

“On Xenophobia and Hope, and the Meaning of the Incarnation”

Theologian Jürgen Moltmann remarks that “Christian hope cannot cling rigidly to the past and the given and ally itself with the utopia of the status quo. Creative action springing from faith is impossible without new thinking and planning that springs from hope” (“Theology of Hope”). Henri Nouwen connects Christian hope with value and meaning and interpersonal relationship. He informs us that “Without hope, we will never be able to see value and meaning the encounter with a decaying human being and become personally concerned” (“The Wounded Healer”).

For Him, Christian hope is not abstract or theoretical, but practical, existential, and incarnational. Accordingly, “This hope stretches far beyond the limitations of one’s own psychological strength, for it is anchored not just in the soul of an individual, but in God’s self-disclosure in history” in the person of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Christian hope “is grounded in the historic Christ-event, which is understood as a definitive breach in the deterministic chain of human trial and error, and as a dramatic affirmation that there is light on the other side of darkness.” The drama of the incarnation fosters practical hope for our every day’s troubles and challenges. It compels us toward kindness and generosity for the greatest act of kindness in human history was the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Hence, hope is something that Christians know and hope is also a person Christians experience. God is kind and hope.

To be generous and kind to everyone is to act like God in Christ. Generosity and hospitality are human virtues to be praised and coveted. By contrast, xenophobia or the fear of the “other” or even the immigrant is the antithesis of human kindness, generosity, and hospitality. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (James 6:10). Xenophobia is the antithesis of the incarnation; it refuses the presence of God in the world and in our community. The presence of God is manifested through our interaction with the stranger, the immigrant, and the poor. Xenophobia not only kills kindness; it murders God in the flesh and it is certainly the greatest enemy of divine hospitality, presence, and compassion. May we become the Gospel we proclaim!

“The Moral Significance of Black Folk in America”

“The Moral Significance of Black Folk in America”

Black people are the ones who always remind and warn America about the importance and practice of justice, truth, and righteousness.

They are also the ones to diagnose America’s bankrupt institutions, ungodly systems, and unjust structures.

They are also the first to complain about the bankruptcy of America’s legal system and political organizations.

They are the same people to remind America that racism and white supremacy are two great social and spiritual demons and evils in the American society.

They are also the first to tell America chattel slavery, (Jim Crow laws) racial segregation, and lynching are/were antidemocratic, unchristian, and anti-human flourishing.

They are the same group to urge America that injustice and oppression have consequences and may lead to national decline and ultimately the destruction of a civilization and of a nation.

They are also the same people to remind America about the humanity and dignity of black and brown people and the precariousness of life and the sanctity of black and brown lives.

They are also the same people to remind America that God’s children actually live in the ghetto and their life matters, and not to undermine their collective suffering and poor living conditions.

They are the ones to compel America to change its character; to remove the stain of antiblack racism from its laws and public policies; to call America to repentance and justice; and to create an atmosphere for the possibility of racial healing and unity, shalom and reconciliation.

Black people are America’s redeemer and soul. Without Black people, America will not have a soul and a conscience. Black people are the ethical light and moral conscience of this nation.

***Have you ever wondered about the reasons (the economic and historical trajectories and the cultural and political conditions as well as the moral issues and ethical matters) that have led Black people to play these various roles and functions in American history and in the American society?

“Rethinking Life and Grace: Forgiveness and Repentance, Justice and Peace in the Amber Guyger-Botham Jean Case”

“Rethinking Life and Grace: Forgiveness and Repentance, Justice and Peace in the Amber Guyger-Botham Jean Case”

It is important that we also pay close attention to the aching heart and fragmented soul of this brave mother (Botham Jean’s) who is grieving and mourning the death of her precious son. She does not sing “cheap grace” and pronounce “quick forgiveness” without demanding true repentance and sincere change of the heart; rather, to those in the seat of power and position of influence in the city of Dallas, she is demanding justice and asking them to address the systemic corruption in the judicial process/system in the Amber Guyger-Botham Jean case. Forgiveness is a gift and should never be abused or taken for granted. To repent of a wrongdoing simply means that I will not do it again and will change my way of life no matter what the circumstance is, could, would, or will be. Some Christians in this country have a low view of forgiveness, grace, and repentance. Their passion for justice and righteousness is too weak and not revolutionary. It is a distraction to the biblical call to practice robust justice and reconciliation in society. In fact, their understanding of justice and grace is a nuisance to the biblical notion of forgiveness and repentance, and correspondingly a direct departure from the biblical vision of radical justice and reconciliation.

As a society, if we want to maintain a judicial system in this country that is reasonably fair and just to every American citizen regardless of his or her race, gender, class, or economic status, the members of the jury that reviewed the Amber Guyger-Botham Jean case should have never pronounced their final verdict based on what they thought the person (the victim who is now dead), as some of them have claimed publicly, would have liked to happen (this is carelessness judgment and it is not within the boundary of the rule of law!). The judicial system or the rule of law should be and always be the catalyst to assist the jury to decide responsibly and ethically the outcome of the trial and thus pronounce the verdict accordingly.

Let me repeat that again: The final judgement of this trial should never be based on the emotional sensibility or some preconceived notions or ideas of certain members of the jury of what they believed the victim would have wished. Yet it is always good for the jurors to also consider the spirit of the law and the claim of justice and the prospect of restorative justice to bring holistic (national) healing and communal reconciliation and peace.

Judge Tammy Kemp made a terrible mistake by not leading this trial justly and righteously. The city of Dallas took too long to process this urgent case and call Officer Guyger to trial. The 10 yr. verdict giving to Officer Guyger is not enough. She is eligible for parole after five years? This verdict minimizes the life of the victim who is now gone and undermines the importance of true justice as well as the legal implication of innocent people who could intentionally be murdered by reckless cops.

Further, the “ public officials” in the courthouse, including the Judge who hugged the murderer and handed her her personal Bible and the female Police officer who was fixing Officer Guyger’s hair, clearly sent a comforting message to Guyger that the system was against her and that she was wrongly put on trial. On the other hand, correspondingly, their calculated gesture also sent a negative message to Jean’s family that the life of their son does not have equal value and weight as compared to that of Officer Amber Guyger. When a person commits a crime such as removing someone’s life from the world, it is the role of the judge and juror to ascertain that the criminal or murder is cognizant that crimes have severe (and existential) consequences or that he or she has committed a crime against another individual, against the loved ones, the community, and God.

In Christian theology, the atonement of Christ for the sins of the world reminds us that grace is never cheap. The sacrificial death of Christ, which produces forgiveness upon true repentance, is a demonstration of God’s justice against sin. Justice & grace walk hand in hand. Forgiveness is the result, not the starting point.

Judge Kemp has failed the Jean family, the vulnerable people of Dallas, and to an extent all of us and the nation—including the vulnerable and marginalized population in this country. She had an opportunity to re-review the case more carefully and do a critical re-assessment of the jury’s conclusion and presupposition. She failed. She failed. She failed. She certainly failed to lead accordingly to truth and justice and to uphold the rule of law. Judge Kemp had the opportunity to recommend a higher sentence to Officer Guyger for her reckless and intentional crime toward Botham Jean. Judge Kemp’s decisive role in this trial will not bring greater peace and reconciliation to the existing hostility between Police Officers and the Brown and Black community in the city of Dallas and by extension in this country. Her act is consciously political and strategic, but not mediatory and reconciliatory. Based on her public and legal actions, she and her allies have taken a side, and it is certainly not the side of the victim and those who are grieving after the dance!

Finally, one thing that is obvious in the American society is that certain individuals (and a class of people, to say the least) who have the power to safeguard human life often fail to do so simply because they do not value the sanctity of life and do not consider the future possibilities and promises of life itself. Some of them believe that not all lives are equal and worth preserving equally; others hold that some lives have more dignity and value than others. This nation must come to this fundamental truth that human life (i.e. black life, the life of the poor, the life of the economically-disadvantaged) is a gift from God and is precious and should never be taken for granted nor should it ever be undermined in the judicial process or system.

ALL LIVES MATTER! YET SOME LIVES ARE MORE FRAGILE THAN OTHERS!