socialization of suffering in the Haitian Revolution
in august of 1791, a black insurrection against the system of legalized chattel slavery broke out in the french colony of saint-domingue.
the white reaction was immediate and brutal. black people — revolutionaries alongside bystanders — were tortured, massacred, and killed in droves. many were targeted on sight and viciously attacked under the presumption that they must have been aiming to kill whites. innocence could not save them.
this socialization of suffering — the proliferation of systemic violence amongst those who bore no responsibility for the crisis that was the outbreak of the Haitian Revolution — sharpened the battle lines of the insurgency. many black people, realizing that there was no guarantee of safety in claiming non-involvement in insurrectionary activities, chose to join the Revolution due to this onslaught of repression. they realized that they were involved in the social conflict whether they liked it or not, and presumably figured they had little to lose and much to gain by making this choice.
the term “socialization of suffering” emerged to describe the escalation of a violent struggle against oppression as a deliberate attempt to force an apparently passive population to become partisans (preferably on the side of the revolutionaries). while many have criticized this strategy, it must be kept in mind that an oppressive status quo is already a state of violence. “peace” in saint-domingue meant a society where half of the people were born in Africa, because a constant stream of newly captured slaves had to be shipped into the colony to replace those who were killed by the “normal” functioning of a slave society — those executed for any perceived slight against slavemasters, those worked to a premature death, those slain by disease, starvation, and the psychological trauma of life in captivity.
all the disappointments of black life in Haiti after the triumph of the Revolution in 1804 must be considered in the context of the utter horror of black life in colonial saint-domingue, along with the persistent onslaught of anti-black violence directed against the newly independent nation and its inhabitants in the centuries since the 14-year-long liberation war.
to flatly reject socialization of suffering as a liberatory strategy is to accept the banalization of suffering under 14 centuries (and counting) of antiblackness on earth.