Work In Progress

Haiti, Liberia and Ethiopia (1914-1945): Black sovereignty in a white world. Musab Younis 

Haile Selassie demanding the intervention of the international community at the League of Nations in 1936 following the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.
Haile Selassie demanding the intervention of the international community at the League of Nations in 1936 following the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.

Work In Progress Seminar. 14.02.2018

On Wednesday the 14th of February Musab Younis, a  Lecturer in International Relations at Cardiff University, presented a paper entitled Haiti, Liberia and Ethiopia (1914-1945): Black Sovereignty in a White World’ at the ISRU biweekly Work In Progress Seminar. Musab Younis completed his PhD at the University of Oxford and has taught at Oxford and SOAS.

This ‘Work in Progress’ paper looks at the experience of the three black sovereign states during the interwar period. It explores how a politics of time (or chronopolitics) was employed by the white-dominated international system to undermine the embodiments of black sovereignty. The paper also examines also how a series of oppositional discourses on time were mobilised by populations and anti-colonial movements across the world.

Musab argues that in order to understand the international system’s racial hierarchy we need to recognise the importance of chronopolitics. Racialised chronopolitics refers to the way in which these pockets of black sovereignty were discursively constructed by the international community as being ‘backwards’ or ‘stuck in time’, in turn acting to legitimise the ‘civilising’ attempts of the international community. Therefore, a racialised temporal discourse served to legitimise attempts to undermine these symbols of black sovereignty. For example, the United States’ occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934 was portrayed as ‘saving’ Haiti from its cultural and economic backwardness, while the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 was framed as a modernising and civilising mission. Musab highlights instances of racialised temporal discourse in popular culture throughout the period of study. For example, he quotes Lothrop Stoddard who, in 1914, wrote of how the black man ‘when left to himself, as in Haiti and Liberia, rapidly reverts to his ancestral ways’.

This utilisation of racialised chronopolitics was used to justify the violation of black sovereign territory during the period of the construction of the modern international community. For Musab, this analysis bringing together race and time allows us to understand the current racial stratification of the international system.

Musab also highlights the way in which discourses about time were mobilised in an oppositional sense by black sovereign states or black intellectuals. In the black discourse surrounding Haiti for example, there was a tendency to draw connections between the American occupation and the ‘struggles of people of African descent’. This contributed to create a relational picture of ‘a global racial order that saw black struggles as unified in an anti-colonial present’. This temporal discourse was found in African American intellectual movements, pan-African thinking, and in black literature from European cities such as London and Paris, such as in the sonnets dedicated to Ethiopia that were written by the African American poet J. Harvey Baxter. We can see therefore how chronopolitical discourse was used by much of the international community as a means of undermining black sovereignty, and yet was also reformed and re-utilised by anti-colonial and black intellectuals to refute this suppression and reassert their legitimate sovereign claims.

Musab’s overall aim is to contribute to the debate concerning the connection between race, time and sovereignty, and to add complexity to the theoretical understanding of these concepts in international relations and postcolonial studies.

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