I was asked to fill in today as the professor was at a Chair’s meeting with the Dean. I had a plan: talk about the Haitian Revolution in the context of the Age of Revolution and in relation to the American and French Revolution. I wanted to bring the students around to understanding the 200 year history of the American – Haiti geopolitics. That’s a lot to cram into 15 minutes. It was more of getting the students to understand the deep historical connection of place, to understand their own implicatedness in the plight of Haiti today. The Haitian Revolution did not exist in a vacuum of time and space – it was a deeply complicated and multi-layered revolution about freedom, race, class, and personhood. It was about freedom from France (or not – depending on which general you follow) and from each other.
That the Pearl of the Antilles left a massive void where half the world’s coffee and sugar were concerned led to the reopening of the South Carolina slave trade and a marked increase in slave traffic all along the Americas and in the Caribbean, including Cuba. But the Haitian Revolution also (partially) birthed revolution in Gran Colombia and uprisings in Cuba.
Wait – that’s tomorrow’s talk – i’ll get ’round to that later.
Plan for today, part de deux: Show Aristide and the Endless Revolution. I’ve watched it four times online on Youtube. There is a remarkable section with Maxine Waters (one of my new Heroes of All Time) that was missing from the 60 minute VHS student version. I suppose they decided that students shouldn’t see a strong black woman throw down with a panel of powerful white men…? I don’t know. The VHS version that our library holds was a watered down version of what is available online. Most of the punchlines that i was leaning on to place the second part of my talk were missing. Foiled!
But that’s not the matter – actually. Before we got there, the VHS machine decided not to work. It was one of those days.
So i bolted into lecture, part de deux while the Classroom Support Services fixed the cables in the back of the console. That was unfortunate. I was missing 40 years of set-up. I’d taken them through to the American Occupation from 1915-1934. And onto the Duvaliers. But poorly – i was waiting for the film.
It was a wonderful opportunity to talk about my research. I’d intended to go over my notes through the film, so had to free form. I missed a lot of important points – but it did open up the conversation with the students. I think mentioning Sean Penn probably helped.
It was both an enlightening moment (i barely read my notes) and a frightening moment (i think i wandered aimlessly though the 20th century). But mostly, it rekindled my passion for thinking about Haiti.
The difficulty with being a graduate student is the number of ways that we are pulled from our studies through the intricacies of the process. I didn’t end up doing a Regional piece in my exams. In fact – i could have pushed them out for a few more months and probably done two full more sections – one on Critical Race and the other on the Caribbean. The exams finished and i immediately set to work on my syllabus for next quarter and on getting my IRB through.
I realized recently that graduate school is like a series of pushes to the edge of the precipice. And each time we jump, we move that much closer to becoming the kind of professors and academics we want to be. It’s a fascinating process. Each time, i think i might tumble into the hole, at just the right moment, i take that deep breath and jump – only to find that no matter how hard the landing – the reality is: i’m still standing. We’re all still standing.
Today was one of those jumps – it was rocky and messy, but i got there – even if a bit bruised and bloody. After watching two job talks in the past two weeks, i’ve really come to understand the importance of talking in front of people – of fielding questions, of being, well, just ourselves in all of this. But also, that we have to find a way to hang on to all of those passions, balance them against each other as we weave not only the complexities of graduate school but also of the totality of the stories we are here to tell, of the theoretical mobilizations that we’re meant to bring forward, even as we are remembering to grow within ourselves.
And the best bits? all of the fantastic support we receive – my dear co-TA Magie and her encouraging smiles, the students who ask questions, a nod from the professor, the “standing meetings” of tea with colleagues, the intense explorations of the things that matter most to us…it’s what makes our world go ’round.