Sat, 23 Mar 2024 Feature Article

The Right to Bear Arms

The Right to Bear Arms

For most of human history, societies have been ruled by despotic tyrants who treated the masses like the scum of the earth. Kings and queens made some grandiose claims about ruling by divine right and then proceeded to act like little tin gods whose every whim and fancy had to be obeyed or there would be hell to pay. Running afoul of monarchs was a sure route into the afterlife and few there were that dared to cross swords with the ruling elite in their society.

Religion pretty much sanctioned the despotism of monarchs and pursued its own totalitarian control over the bodies, minds, and souls of the masses. Any one stupid enough to challenge crown or church was hauled before the courts -if they were lucky- and charged with treason against the crown or the gods. Either way, both life and limb were in extreme jeopardy resulting in the masses meekly following the dictates of church and state.

It was a revival in the study of the pre-Christian civilizations of Greece and Rome that fueled a revival of learning in Europe. This revival or Renaissance challenged the political and religious status quo of the day. People started thinking new thoughts and coming up with new ideas about how to live their lives and how to refashion the world around them. The Renaissance eventually gave birth to the Age of Exploration and Discovery and to the plague in human flesh known as Christopher Columbus.

Ironically it was people of color from North Africa who reintroduced the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans to the Europeans. The Moors, like the Haitians centuries later, proved that African armies could beat Europeans and take over their land. After defeating the Europeans, the Moors did for Europe what ancient Egypt did for Greece and Rome. The Moors, like the ancient Egyptians, were far more advanced than the Europeans in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. They also helped the agricultural sector in Europe by improving and expanding the Roman irrigation system and by introducing new crops.

In the seventeenth century many Europeans parted company with the absolutism of the Roman Catholic Church and the Papacy. The Protestant Reformation unleashed a new wave of religious thinking in Europe. Martin Luther convinced many Europeans that they were all priests and that they could approach the god of the Europeans directly without the need of the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. Once the absolutism of the church was broken it was only a matter of time before the divine right of monarchs would be put to the test.

Perhaps one of the most memorable events associated with the French Revolution was the beheading of Louis XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette. After losing their minds the king and queen literally lost their head to the blade of a guillotine. During the revolutionary period, both the papacy and the monarchy were abolished in France. The French went so far as to part company with belief in the god of the Europeans in favor of belief in the Goddess of Reason.

Both Protestantism and the new wave of Republicanism that swept across Europe elevated the individual to center stage. The rights of the individual became more pronounced as shouts of liberty, equality, and fraternity echoed in France and beyond. This new chant of liberty, equality, and fraternity was so loud that the enslaved population of the Caribbean Island of Haiti started dancing to its rhythm.

If the French and the American Revolutions were justified then no sane human being could argue that the Haitian Revolution was not a million times more justified. The French and Americans patriots may have felt that they were being treated like slaves by their monarchs. Living conditions might have been hard and the Americans did have a point about being taxed without representation in the court of King George III of England. French and American grievances might have been justified but their living conditions were infinitely better than that of the enslaved masses in Saint Domingue.

Chattel slavery in the New World was barbaric at best but the French in St Domingue took their barbarism to new lows. Commenting on this barbarism C.L.R. James states that enslaved Africans would have their whipping interrupted so that salt, pepper, cinders, and hot ashes could be poured on their bleeding wounds. Limbs, ears, and private part were severed. They were roasted on slow fires, buried alive, and sometime filled with gunpowder and exploded. The brutality of chattel slavery in St Domingue took its toll on enslaved Africans. Every year in excess of 40 000 new enslaved Africans had to be imported due to the high mortality rate. It is estimated that by the time of the Haitian Revolution approximately half a million enslaved Africans has already perished in St Domingue.

The Second Amendment in the American Constitution recognizes a relationship between freedom and the right of citizens to bear arms in a free society. Caucasians were therefore granted the constitutional right to bear arms in the fledgling American state. Enslaved Africans in the US were not classified as citizens and were forbidden to bear arms on pains of death and other stringent punishment. In case you missed it, in America after lts revolution, the right to bear arms only applied to Caucasians.

The fear of slave revolts drove many Caucasian Americans to a state of lunacy. Even in the face of existential threats to the American nation, the American political leadership wrestled with the idea of allowing people of African ancestry to bear arms in defense of the Disunited States of America. Black militias that had proven themselves in times of crisis were quickly disbanded once the crisis had passed. Caucasian militias were routinely assigned the task of searching the dwellings of enslaved and free Blacks so that all weapons could be seized.

A similar conundrum existed in the Caribbean where it was expected that every European would own a gun and be willing to use it to put down any Black uprisings. Laws were passed that strictly prohibited enslaved Africans from possessing guns or weapons of any kind. Caucasians were entitled to gun ownership as a prerequisite for self-defense. Black people, as property, had no right of self defense and therefore no need of weapons to defend themselves. It is rumored that in most Caribbean countries today, people of European ancestry still exercise their right to bear arms while the majority Black population has to jump many hurdles to own firearms.

The images coming out of Haiti are jarring to most because many of us are not use to seeing so many Black people bearing arms and using said arms to pursue political and economic objectives. Regrettably, many people of African ancestry seem to have swallowed hook line and sinker the idea that Black people today do not have the right to protect themselves from other ethnic groups or from oppressive Black governments that regularly and illegally use state violence against the Black masses.

In a world where might is right, pacifists will continue to be slaughtered like innocent lambs on the altar of racist, political expediency. If a second Trump led America pans out in the November elections, Black Americans may be forced to emulate the Haitian people and take to arms in defense of their communities and persons. In the Caribbean, repressive Black governments might also force the citizens into the streets in mass protest movements. On the continent of Africa, the guns will not go silent as political mismanagement and corruption continues to rob African citizens of a dignified future.

As the human family set sail into an uncertain future, it is not inconceivable that the torch of freedom will be extinguished in many places where it now burns brightly. As the social contract between those who govern and those who are governed is broken beyond repair, it is highly likely that the global masses, inclusive of Black people on the continent of Africa, in the Caribbean, in the US and in Europe will have a Haitian moment as the struggle for survival goes into over-drive.

Lenrod Nzulu Baraka is the founder of Afro-Caribbean Spiritual Teaching Center and the author of The Rebirth of Black Civilization: Making Africa and the Caribbean Great Again.