Saturday, January 31, 2004

Two centuries after independence, Haiti is the battered pauper of the Americas, unimaginably destitute and corrupt. Yet L'Ouverture's spirit hovers over this bicentenaire, and he remains a potent symbol. Haiti's was perhaps the most radical of 18th-century revolutions, yet Britain has shown scarce interest in its anniversary. Elsewhere, though, he has been commemorated. In Little Haiti, Miami, children revere him as the "First of the Blacks", and voodoo shops display effigies of the Black Napoleon with his cavalry sabre and tricorn hat. At Miami's Toussaint L'Ouverture Elementary School, meanwhile, the Haitian red and blue bicolour hangs above a plaque engraved with the liberator's defiant words to Napoleon: "In overthrowing me, you have cut down only the trunk of the Tree of Liberty. It will spring up again by the roots for they are numerous and deep."

-- From Ian Thomson's profile of Toussaint L'Ouverture, published in today's UK Guardian.

Also in the Guardian: a profile by Bonnie Greer of the writer Andrea Levy, daughter of Jamaican immigrants to Britain (her father was on the Empire Windrush), in which she talks about her new novel, Small Island, partly based on her parents' experiences in the 1940s:

"My parents came from a class in Jamaica called 'the coloured class'. There are white Jamaicans, black Jamaicans and coloured Jamaicans. My parents' skin was light. They were mixed race, effectively. They came to Britain with a kind of notion that pigmentation represented class. They didn't necessarily have more money or education, but because they were somehow closer to being white, this was seen as a badge of pride." Levy laughs gently at this: "My parents arrived here and were surprised to discover that they were considered black. They thought that people would look at them as white. That sounds very funny now, but it can set up quite a conflict in a family. I was growing up knowing that things were so completely different. I didn't have any subtleties of shade. If someone didn't want to be my friend because I was black, that was it."

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