Whiteness and Plantation Power: Race, Space, and Capital in Haiti

Authors: Sophie Moore*, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
Topics: Social Theory, Cultural and Political Ecology, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: Haiti, race, historical geography, Americas, racial capitalism, colonialism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Directors Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In rural Haiti, white Land Rovers raise clouds of dust as they bounce down rutted roads. White faces peer from the cars’ windows, rolled up tightly against the swirling grey dust. Sacks of imported white rice, the USAID logo woven into the fabric, sit stacked like fortress walls in every market. Calls of Blan! Blan! identify foreigners (of any phenotype) as “white,” the generic term for an outsider. Today as in colonial Saint-Domingue, whiteness signals the persistence of a system of plantation power. In the Middle Passage and then in the cane fields of the Antilles, racial difference became both the defining criterion in the distribution of Atlantic wealth and power derived from plantation production, and an optic, a way of seeing the world organized by a racial hierarchy (Scott 2004; Fischer 2004; Mignolo 2011; Palmié 2011). In this paper, I argue that current theorizations of the world-making effects of the plantation — gathered under the conceptual rubric of the plantationocene (Haraway 2015; Tsing 2016; Moore 2017) — elide the plantation’s function as a race-making institution. I contend that such conceptualizations’ focus on the plantationocene as a particular inflection point for the ecological devastation and global crises of the present owes a debt to Afro-Caribbean ways of thinking through the historical relations between race, space, and capital (Trouillot 1998; McKittrick 2013). I draw from ethnographic research conducted on Haiti’s high Central Plateau to elucidate what Afro-Caribbean theorizations of plantation power offer to understanding the ongoing reproduction of white supremacy.

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