May 18th marks the 207th anniversary of the creation of the Haitian Flag by freedom fighters determined to defeat the formidable invading army of Napoleon Bonaparte to achieve independence, and declare Haiti the world’s first Black Republic. May 19th is the 85th birthday/Kuzaliwa of El Hajji Malik El Shabazz, Malcolm X, one of the most fierce, feared and revolutionary freedom fighters the African world has ever known. As the first Black Republic seeks to build a new nation out of the ashes of one of the most devastating earthquakes ever experienced in the Caribbean, it occurs to me that the proximity of these commemorations offers an excellent opportunity to promote unity between Haitians and African Americans.
I make this suggestion because as various Haitians have discussed efforts to build the new Haiti, I have been deeply disturbed by stories about how many of them were ridiculed, harassed and picked on, growing up as youth in African American communities. Kangol Kid, the first Haitian American Hip Hop artist, recounts how he avoided being identified as Haitian among his peers for years so he could fit in. The musical/cultural icon Wyclef Jean tells a similar story. Equally troubling, I have received reports that this kind of behavior is still occurring in high schools in the greater New York/New Jersey area today. While hazing “outsiders” may be a kind of “rite of passage” for new students, it is a practice which is simply unacceptable among students of African descent. It is a sign of the low level of cultural/historical awareness and group self-esteem that African American young people would belittle their Haitian sisters and brothers. Therefore, a focus/emphasis on Haitian and African American solidarity/unity is critical. Utilizing the commemoration of Haitian Flag Day and birthday of Malcolm X could be part of the unifying process. In the final analysis, it is important to promote the Pan African ideal that we are African people with a common though varied history and culture.
The Haitian Revolution could not have succeeded without unity among the various African ethnic groups that comprised the enslaved population of Santo Domingo. Boukman was from Jamaica, Henri Christophe was from Grenada, some were from Cuba and other Caribbean colonies. Despite differences of ethnicity and colonies of origin, these enslaved Africans found a way to forge bonds of unity to confront and defeat a common adversary/enemy, the invading French forces of Napoleon Bonaparte. With the slogan “Liberty or Death” and a Flag bearing the motto “L’Union Fait la Force” (Through Unity There is Strength), Haitian freedom fighters rose to become the only enslaved people in history to defeat their slave masters to create an independent nation. This remarkable feat should not only be a source of pride for Haitians, but Black people throughout the Pan African world.
As a student, Malcolm Little, the man who came to be known as Malcolm X, may have been affected by or engaged in the “rite of passage” referenced earlier. Not unlike some young Black males today who are trapped in America’s “dark ghettos,” he certainly got caught up in a life of crime and violence. As a consequence, Malcolm Little, AKA “Detroit Red,” landed in prison. Fortunately, under the tutelage of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm Little turned his life around; he was transformed from a petty hoodlum and “menace to society” to one of the foremost proponents of Black liberation in the history of Africans in America.
Malcolm X was a nationalist, pan-Africanist and internationalist. He emerged as a relentless advocate of unity among Africans in America and the Pan African world. Malcolm believed unity was an indispensible ingredient in the formula for emancipation from de jure and defacto apartheid in the U.S. and colonialism and neo-colonialism in Africa and the Caribbean. He was an uncompromising opponent of white supremacy. In Message from the Grassroots, perhaps his most powerful speech, Malcolm reminded us that “you don’t catch hell because you’re a Methodist or Baptist, you don’t catch hell because you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you don’t catch hell because you’re a Mason or an Elk…You catch hell because you’re a black man…. All of us catch hell for the same reason.” Malcolm could just as easily have said that we don’t catch hell because we’re Haitian or African American. A white supremacist system sees us as Black people. Abner Louima was not tortured because he was Haitian, nor was Amadou Diallo gunned down by the police because he was from Guinea. The offending officers saw no difference. In their eyes they were inferior, scorned Black men. Malcolm saw Black unity/solidarity as the counter and corrective of racism and white supremacy.
Near the end of his life, Malcolm formed the Organization of African American Unity (OAAU) to promote unity among people of African descent in the U.S. He was also welcomed as a virtual head of State by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on the continent where he conveyed the same message. So, as we celebrate Malcolm’s life and legacy, his vision of pan-African unity/solidarity must be shared with the younger generation. Malcolm would certainly smile on Haitian and African American young people, working together to control the politics, economics and social welfare of America’s dark ghettos, and working jointly to build the new Haiti. Indeed, as more and more immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean arrive to expand and enrich the Black community, Malcolm’s vision of unity/solidarity among all people of African descent should be the order of the day if we are to achieve full liberation. “L’Union Fait la Force – Through Unity There is Strength!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website and www.northstarnews.com. To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at email@example.com.