Privilege in Haiti: Travails in Color of the First Bourgeois Nation-State in the Americas

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Who are the elites in the poorest country of the Western Hemisphere? Do Haiti’s elites constitute themselves in a Blackness vs. Whiteness/Mulattoness opposition? In investigating these questions, this ethnography encompasses in the object of study the nation’s middle classes educated in Western ways, and it arrives at an analysis of social relations among privileged national subjects within and across boundaries of color. Its central thesis is the material unity in privilege of Haiti’s colorist fragments. Noirisme, a fundamentalist strain of Haitian black nationalism that reached hegemony in the dictatorship of François Duvalier in the 1960s, is in marked retreat in contemporary Haiti. Its lingering influence nonetheless continues to foster a black qua black sociality among privileged black nationalists. Mulatto nationalism, as political project and public discourse, lapsed into irrelevance sometime around the mid-point of the 20th century. Mulâtrisme, the ensemble of presumptively mulatto worldviews, is reduced today to an obsessive measurement and reproduction of approximations of whites’ somatic features, and arrives at a mulatto qua mulatto sociality. Notwithstanding the political instrumentality of the colorist fragmentation, through competencies in Western cultures, the fragments recover societal cohesion in the reproduction of privilege, and in colorist thought and action, over against the interests of the vast monolingual poor Creole-spekaing majority. The analysis sees one effect of the fragmentation in the rupture of a potential moment of liberal politics in the privileged classes at the boundary of color.

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