Ebola, Cholera, and the Epidemiology of Anti-Blackness or, Black Lives Don’t Matter

The ravages of Ebola in West Africa and of cholera in Haiti – and the world’s response to both – remind us that the scourge of anti-Blackness is savage, deadly, and global. The response to the two epidemics suggests that Black people are expendable, unprotected from the most abject and degrading forms of suffering, immaterial – waste. And it raises the question: how do we begin to build a movement claiming Black lives matter when, clearly, they do not?

The United Nations brought cholera to Haiti in the fall of 2010. The cholera bacteria was present in the fecal matter of Nepalese soldiers stationed in the country as part of MINUSTAH, the United Nations force that has militarily occupied the republic since 2004. When the soldiers’ shit was pumped from the MINUSTAH camp into the rivers of the Artibonite Valley in central Haiti, the bacteria quickly spread unchecked. To date, cholera has killed close to 9,000 people, and sickened more than 700,000.

For Haitians, cholera’s degrading symptoms – uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea – reinforce the humiliation and indignity suffered at the hands of foreigners. So too does the international response to the epidemic. Despite reams of scientific evidence proving the source of the bacteria, the UN has refused to accept responsibility for the epidemic and its consequences. Their initial action of literally shitting on Haiti and Haitians by callously dumping toxic matter into water that served as a source for drinking, bathing, and irrigation for thousands of people, was shrugged off. They have also responded to Haitian requests for aid or compensation with a cruel impunity. When Haitians and their international allies tried to sue the UN for its actions in an attempt to get redress, UN Secretary general, Ban-Ki Moon declared the organization’s immunity – and Haiti’s lack of sovereignty – by coldly claiming that the charges against it were, in legal parlance, “non-receivable” – and hence, inactionable. In essence, the assertion of non-receivable becomes a curt denial of Haitian humanity.

Similar circumstances have emerged in West Africa were Ebola has stricken primarily Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Like in Haiti, the symptoms associated with Ebola mark it as especially degrading, the disease particularly “dirty.” A virus of no known origin that is spread through contact with bodily fluids, Ebola shares with cholera certain symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea. Though while the victims of cholera die from organ failure and acute dehydration, those of Ebola often die from hemorrhaging.

But beyond the symptoms, the response to cholera in Haiti and Ebola in West Africa has been strikingly similar – though, perhaps, in West Africa the indifference to Black suffering, and the desire to preserve White life, has been startlingly blatant. Indeed, many in North America found out about the Ebola outbreak when news that two white missionaries were given an experimental drug and flown out of the Liberia to the U.S. (at a cost of $2 million for each evacuation and treatment) for further treatment. A third white U.S. citizen was flown to Nebraska for treatment. But warnings of an epidemic had been circulating since late 2013 and by the time news of the White flight reached the shores of the Americas, Ebola had already infected more than 1660 Liberians, killing scores.  As of September 18, there have been 5,300 infected with Ebola and 2,630 deaths, with most of the cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Here, again, we see a pattern where African — Black — lives are demeaned and deemed disposable. As Africans, including African doctors and aid workers were dying from the disease, three white missionaries were given the experimental drug – itself under much speculation – and flown to safety. By mid-September, when a fourth African doctor, Dr. Olivet Buck, head of the Lumley Health Center in Freetown, Sierra Leone, died of the disease, it was revealed that the World Health Organization refused to send her to Germany for treatment. At the same time, two Dutch doctors stricken with Ebola were flown home to Europe. It has also emerged that the first African doctor to die of the virus, Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, the chief Sierra Leonean physician treating Ebola, was also denied the chance by Doctors Without Borders to receive the experimental drug, ZMapp, given to the two white missionaries. To add insult to injury, the U.S. government first announced that a $22-million, 25-bed Ebola hospital was intended for foreign (read: mainly white) healthcare workers. While outrage forced the U.S. to include African health workers in its plans, it was – and has been – clear that African lives don’t matter.

The western, white, response to the cholera and Ebola epidemics ultimately teaches us that global white supremacy thrives on Black suffering, denigration, and death.  Next to the stories of Black disease as endemic and linked to uncivilized and untamed Black cultural practices – as well as the way white media revels in publishing pictures of dead Blacks – we get the construction of  “brave” and “heroic” white saviors who risk their lives for the Blacks and non-whites: the “white savior industrial complex” at its best.

Of course, there is no mention of the decidedly non-heroic relationship of the white western world to countries like Haiti and those of West Africa. As Teju Cole argues, the “white savior industrial complex supports brutal policies…[where] the banality of evil transmutes into the banality of sentimentality”: imperialism, neocolonialism, military occupation.

In a recent interview, Dr. Joia Mukherjee, of Partners in Health, explained the racism behind the west’s Ebola response by saying, “I think it’s easy for the world — the powerful world, who are largely non-African, non-people of color — to ignore the suffering of poor, black people.”

But we have to see this as more than ignoring the Black suffering poor; it is about white supremacy’s desire for Black death and Black suffering. It is about coming to terms with the fact that there is something systematic – and sinister – about Black killing globally. It is about the reality that in a universal context of anti-Blackness, Black lives don’t matter – anywhere.

This essay was originally published by The Black Agenda Report.

Image: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Riding with Death (1988). Source: Gagosian Gallery.

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Black Looks: The Haiti Feminist Series

After a ten year run, our dear friend Sokari Ekine has stopped publishing the excellent blog Blacks Looks, but she’s left us with an incredible archive of Haitian feminist intellectual, political, and cultural history. Black Looks’ “Haiti: Feminist Series” consisted of a clutch of essays, interviews, and videos with Haitian artists, intellectuals, and activists addressing a range of issues and concerns on resistance, community organizing, and movement building. We’ve collated links to the “Haiti: Feminist Series” posts below. They’re well worth checking out.

Haiti: Feminist Series 1: Women’s Movement Building and Creating Community in Haiti.

Haiti: Feminist Series 2: Movement Building and Creating Community in Haiti.

Haiti: Feminist Series 3, A Theology of Liberation: Interview with Madam Euvonie Auguste of Famm Voudou Pou Ayti

Haiti: Feminist Series 4: In Conversation with Flaurantin Marie Enise

Haiti: Feminist Series 5: In Conversation with Paulette Joseph

Haiti: Feminist Series 6: In Conversation with Souzen Joseph

Image: Sergine André (Djinn): “Untitled (2011)

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Frederick Douglass and Haiti: A Dossier

Letter from Frederick Douglass to Secretary of State James G. Blaine, Accepting the Appointment as U.S. Minister to Haiti, June 25, 1889

Hon. Frederick Douglass, “Haiti and the United States. Inside History of the Negotiations for the Mole St. Nicolas, I,” North American Review (September 1891)

Hon. Frederick Douglass, “Haïti and the United States: Inside History of the Negotiations for the Môle St. Nicolas, II,” North American Review (October 1891)

Hon. Frederick Douglass, “Lecture on Haiti,” (Speech delivered during the dedication ceremonies of the Haitian pavilion at the World’s Fair in Jackson Park, Chicago, January 2nd, 1893). [French Translation]

Frederick Douglass, “Toussaint L’Ouverture, Manuscript. Folder 1. Folder 2,” Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress (no date).

“Frederick Douglass on Toussaint L’ouverture and Victor Schoelcher,” The Open Court (1903) [pdf]

Frederick Douglass at desk in Haiti (photograph)

Title image: New York Public Library Digital Collections

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Radical Black Reading: Summer 2014

Black people have seen in the condition and treatment of the Palestinians a reflection of their own and recent statements by Black writers, scholars, artists, and activists have affirmed the history of Black solidarity with Palestine. Alice Walker, Robin D.G. Kelley, Angela Davis, Ferrari Sheppard, Teju Cole, dream hampton, Margaret Kimberley, Glen Ford, Kevin Alexander Gray, and others have all spoken to the sheer brutality meted out against the Palestinian people by the State of Israel. They have foregrounded the historical parallels between the everyday practices of violence, the modes of legal disenfranchisement, the normalization of racism, and the forms of segregation and containment through which the policies of the Israel towards the Palestinian people mirror the historic regimes of apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow in the United States. And they have been at the forefront of calls for international solidarity with Palestine and for support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against Israel – calls that have taken on an added urgency in light of the current Israeli offensive against Gaza.

For background on the history and politics of the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian quest for self-determination, The Public Archive recommends a number of recent texts. In The Battle for Justice in Palestine, Ali Abunimah, editor of the Electronic Intifada, places the complex local politics of the conflict into global context while describing the impact of the neoliberal turn on the practices of occupation. The collection Palestine, compiled by Funambulist editor Leopold Lambert as part of his fantastic publication series, offers a critical take on the cartographic, spatial, and architectural elements of settler colonialism. In Nablus: City of Civilizations [pdf] architect Naseer Rahmi ‘Arafãt conjures a meticulous oral and architectural history of the city of Nablus, a cross-roads of Arab civilization that has witnessed almost complete destruction as a result of occupation. The late Edward Said’s The Question of Palestine remains an eloquent and ethical classic while in the Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge, Israeli historian Illan Pappé, author of the earlier The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, provides an  uncompromising investigation into the ideology of Zionism and its manifestation in the practices of Israeli settler colonialism.

For more on the specific question of Black solidarity with Palestine, the Black on Palestine Tumblr is a must-follow archive of videos, links, essays, and excerpts. In Black Liberation and Palestine Solidarity, published by the excellent Atlanta-based autonomous publishing house, On Our Own Authority! Publishers, Lennie Brenner and Matthew Quest offer a clear-eyed and unflinching read of the politics and rhetorics of the Black freedom movement in its encounter with Israeli settler colonialism. The longer and broader history of the question of solidarity between the African diaspora and the Arab world is recounted in Alex Lubin’s comprehensive The Geography of Liberation: The Making of an Afro-Arab Political Imaginary. Sohail Daulatzai’s Black Star, Crescent Moon: The Muslim International and Black Freedom Beyond America examines how African Americans have seen themselves as part of what Daulatzai calls the “Muslim Third World” and shows how radial, internationalist, and anti-imperialist modes of Blackness, from an era stretching from the Cold War to the War on Terror, have found alliance with Muslim struggles for freedom.

A number of recent monographs have approached a different question of solidarity, alliance, and affiliation within the Black World: the question of solidarity through the history of sound. Shana Redmond’s Anthem: Social Movements and the sound of solidarity in the African diaspora, examines Black song and Black citizenship in the soundtrack of Black protest. Tsitsi Ella Jaji’s Africa in Stereo: Modernism, Music, and Pan-African Solidarity reads the reverberations of African American music across the Black Atlantic through its influences in Senegal, Ghana, and South Africa. Gaye Theresa Johnson writes of solidarity and sound in The Public Archive’s new favorite city: Los Angeles. In Space of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity: Music, Race, and Spatial Entitlement in Los Angeles, Johnson explores the history of racial conflict and inter-racial alliance between Blacks and Chicanos in L.A. from the 1940s to the present and the sonic and spatial strategies of solidarity. Meanwhile, a more traditional group of texts have recovered the history of Black Internationalism and pan-African struggle of the of the Interwar years: Hakim Adi’s Pan-Africanism and Communism: The Communist International, Africa and the Diapora, 1919-1939, Gerald Horne’s Black Revolutionary: William Paterson & the Globalization of the African American Freedom Struggle, and Holger Weiss, Framing a Radical African Atlantic: African American Agency, West African Intellectuals and the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers, a book whose use of Soviet archives is unprecedented.

Finally, two recent texts look at the impact of revolutions in the Caribbean on the practices of solidarity in the international theatre of the Cold War. David Scott’s Omens of Adversity: Tragedy, Time, Memory, and Justice considers the history and historiography of the collapse of Grenada Revolution and its impact on the Caribbean left. In Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria, and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991, Piero Gleijeses examines the resonances of the Cuban victories in Angola and Namibia on the struggles to dismantle apartheid in South Africa. Scott offers an account of failed revolution; Gleijeses one of success. Both offer lessons for Palestine and the Palestinian solidarity movement.

Enjoy the summer.

The Public Archive’s prior readings lists: Radical Black Reading: 2011. 2012. 2013. Reading Haiti: 2011. 2012. Radical Black Cities: 2012.

Image: Naseer Arafat, A very old bookshop in the old city in Nablus, West Bank.

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Match Jamaique-Haiti, Port-au-Prince, 1926

Match Jamaique-Haiti – Les Anglais menacent le but haitien. (1926). Annuaire general d’Haiti; C. Celestin, B. Danache, directeurs. Source: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture / General Research and Reference Division

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John Brown and Hayti

John Brown was not a madman to shed blood when he knew the penalty for so doing was his own life. In the opening he had sense enough to know better than that, but wanted the citizens of Virginia calmly to hold arms and let him usurp the government, manumit our slaves, confiscate the property of slaveholders, and without drawing a trigger or shedding blood, permit him to take possession of the Commonwealth and make it another Hayti. Such an idea is too abhorrent to pursue.

Andrew Hunder, representing the Commonwealth of Virginia, The Trial of John Brown, Charlestown, Virginia, Monday, Oct. 30, 1859.

… [John Brown] had posted himself in relation to the wars of Toussaint L’Overture; he had become thoroughly acquainted with the wars in Hayti and the islands round about; and from all these things he had drawn the conclusion, believing, as he stated there’ he did believe, and as we all (if I may judge from myself) believed, that upon the first intimation of a plan formed for the liberation of the slaves, they would immediately rise all over the Southern States.

Testimony of Richard Realf (Officer with John Brown’s Provisional Government), before the Senate Committee Investigating the Attack at Harpers Ferry, January 21, 1860.

The journals contain the following letter from VICTOR HUGO, which he had written in response to a communication addressed him by three citizens of Hayti, in Paris:

HAUTEVIILE HOUSE, ISLE OF GUERNSEY, Dec. 28, 1859.

CITIZENS OF THE REPUBLIC: I thank you for the eloquent terms in which you have addressed me. Your words reach my heart. A white and a black Republic are sisters, the same as a white and black man are brothers. There is only one humanity, because there is only one God. The French Republic had negroes among the representatives of its people; and that is the one thing that made it above all glorious.

I have been sadly deceived in that fraternity of races, the Southern States of the American Union. In killing BROWN they have committed a crime which will take place among the calamities of history. The rupture of the Union will fatally follow the assassination of BROWN.

What an event! What a disaster!

I am afflicted at heart in thinking of this crime and this fault.

As to JOHN BROWN, he was an apostle and a hero. The gibbet has only increased his glory and made him a martyr.

Black and white, all brothers, all equal, let us rally more and more around that principle of all principles — Liberty. Your friend, VICTOR HUGO.

I love your Republic. Let your people know it.

In Jacmel, Gonaives, Cape Haytien, Cayes and Port-au-Prince, religious services had been held in commemoration of JOHN BROWN, and Le Progress published appeals calling on the people to subscribe liberally for the benefit of the widow of the executed man.

Le Progress also contains an address to the “Philanthropists of America,” in which special allusion is made to Albany, N.Y., in the following terms:

“Citizens of Albany, the cannon you fired to commemorate the death of JOHN BROWN has reechoed in the hearts of Haytians and of the strangers in our land, and reverberates through our fields and cities. Your energetic protest against an act of barbarity does you the greatest honor, as it evidently proves that there exist in the American Republic courageous men devoted-to the holy cause of the freedom of the blacks. Receive, then, the sincere thanks of the citizens of the Republic of Hayti — a Republic that its enemies on another continent represent as always in ruin. Albanians, the Haytians are without prejudice: they receive without hesitation all who come to join them. It is by our conduct, and by that alone, that you can find arguments capable of refuting the assertions of those enemies of humanity who decry us.”

Letter from Hayti, New York Times (March 3, 1860)

From Le Progres, in Hayti, comes an article calling upon people to go to “the subscription offices opened in every town, to honor the memory of John Brown and glorify our race….From the opposite shores of our harbor our fathers, the brave soldiers of 1804, are contemplating us.  They are touched with joy and delight.” March 16, 1860

“John Brown in Hayti,” The Liberator (March 16, 1860)

Image: Augustus Washington, John Brown with Subterranean Pass-Way Flag, Quarter-plate daguerreotype, circa 1846/1847. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

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France, the West Indies, and the History of Slavery

http://hitchcock.itc.virginia.edu/SlaveTrade/collection/large/E030.JPG

The French Revolution was a bourgeois revolution, and the basis of bourgeois wealth was the slave trade and the slave plantations in the colonies. Let there be no mistake about this. “Sad irony of human history,” says Jaures, “the fortunes created at Bordeaux, at Nantes by the slave-trade gave to the bourgeoisie that pride which needed liberty and contributed to human emancipation.” And Gaston-Martin the historian of the slave trade sums up thus: though the bourgeoisie traded in other things than slaves, upon the success or failure of the traffic everything else depended. Therefore when the bourgeoisie proclaimed the Rights of Man in general, with necessary reservations, one of these was that these rights should not extend to the French colonies. In 1789 the French colonial trade was eleven million pounds, two-thirds of the overseas trade of France. British colonial trade at that time was only five million pounds. What price French abolition?

JR Johnson [CLR James] “The Revolution and the Negro,” New International, (December 1939)

The only branch of industry in the kingdom, that remains flourishing, is the trade to the sugar-colonies; and the scheme of emancipating the negroes, or at least of putting an end to importing them, which they borrowed from England, has thrown Nantes, Havre, Marseilles, Bordeaux, and all other places connected secondarily with that commerce, into the utmost agitation.

Arthur Young, Travels During the Years 1787, 1788 and 1789, Undertaken More Particularly with a View of Ascertaining the Cultivation, Wealth, Resources and National Prosperity of the Kingdom of France (1794)

Image: French Slave Ship, La Marie-Seraphique, Saint Doingue (Haiti), 1773, (Image Reference E030) as shown on The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.

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Black Folk in Dark Times: Storified

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