NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2015 Volume 15.2 - Page 59

What has this to do with Cuba? As DuBois and his contemporaries knew, most u.s. war-like aggressions were designed to suppress people of color and engineer White freedom. In DuBois’ time, American imperialists saw an affinity between “the little brown brothers” abroad and their counterparts at home. The perception that lumped u.s. Blacks together with foreign natives as potential threats still lingers in the White American imaginary, raising its unhinged head to a mirage of President Barack Obama as a Mau Mau from Kenya. Frederick Douglass asked the right question in his 1852 speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” It is a question that still rings relevant today. The speech is one of the great American documents, an unarguable delegitimization of the intent behind the Declaration of Independence. “[Y]our shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mock… — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.” Douglass upended the narrative of civilization versus savagery, a favorite trope of the racial colonizer. The bite in his words is the fiercest anti-racist language we hear until Malcolm X speaks a century later. Douglass knew some independence declarations are made to end oppression, others are made to extend it. In the case of the u.s. and the birth of the nation, the search freedom was, at its core, a search for the freedom to oppress. Since its very origin, this concept of freedom runs in the American dna. Perceptions of u.s. history that don’t take this into account are flawed. What pattern emerges if we ask, how long did it take New World nations to end slavery after gaining independence? Haiti holds one end of the spectrum, ending slavery in 1804, in synch with its victory over the French colonizers. It went on to promote emancipation at large. “In 1816,” writes Eduardo Galeano, “it was Haiti that furnished Bolivar with boats, arms, and soldiers when he showed up on the island defeated and asking for shelter and help.” In exchange for military troops and aid, Bolivar promised President Alexandre Sabès Pétion that if he was successful in his mission to decolonize Latin America, he would free the slaves. That promise was largely kept. Soon after winning independence from Spain, Venezuela, Colombia (including Panama), Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia all began ending slavery around 1815, though the process wasn’t completed in some of these countries until 1854. At the other end of the spectrum, as Horne notes, slavery in the u.s. escalated after the Revolutionary War and became more brutal. American democracy continued to produce “the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of negroes” for eighty-nine more years and maintained racial segregation for another century. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE Samuel Johnson unmasked the face that America showed the world well before the 1776 revolt. “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” When the Confederacy went to war for its independent, God-given right to decimate another people, it followed the exact example of the founding fathers. To paraphrase the definition of freedom in Ambrose Bierce’s satirical Devil’s Dictionary, freedom is “a political condition that some nations seek to enjoy in virtual monopoly.” 57 These founders of the republic sniffed the disagreeable prospect of Pan-Africanism and Du Bois’ ideal of a world-wide coalition of people of color long before the age of imperialism coaxed these ideas into existence. No matter which side of the Revolutionary War Africans supported, some were sure to benefit. There was a certain possibility for African Americans to capitalize on the discombobulation of wartime, something that the American “fathers” saw as a source of unreliability among the Blacks.